Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Grits: It Just Ain't For Breakfast

*from my culinary "mostly true life" archives*

Grits. Not an easy subject for a Colorado-based Yankee to broach. To hear it told, grits are symbolic of the South, like pecan pie, home, guns, women, mama, NASCAR and college football. Absolutely NONE of which is to be taken lightly or in jest down yonder. It's a sin, comparable to not opening a door for a lady, pooting in church, or saying "huh?" when references are made to Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Though, if you're a cultural and culinary Yankee barbarian like me, then it's probably expected by my southern acquaintances.

For those who have no dietary experience with this southern staple, allow me to briefly sum up what grits are: it starts life as corn. White corn. If it isn't a hybrid corn, it gets that color realizing what it's being prepped for. Then it is either ground up or soaked in lye water. They used to make soap out of lye. It'll clean anything. Not that they leave the lye in the grits, in the case of soaking (used on hominy grits): after a couple of days, the hominy is rinsed until the lye is gone. At least, that's what they say.

While I didn't delve into the recipe end of grits, I'm sure there's no end to them, like uses for zucchini: plain grits, cream of grits, grits soup, grits tortillas, fried grits, baked grits, grilled grits (don't ask me how), grits as a side dish, grits as a main dish, biscuits and grits, cheesed grits, grits pie, grits bread, etc. Back in my formative days, I first heard Granny (The Beverly Hillbillies) make reference to "possum grits"; I thought she meant the last facial expression on a possum a half-second before a pickup truck turned one into a roadside buffet for crows.

Fortunately, I had limited exposure to grits in my formative years. But then came a day in the late 1980s, and I had an unexpected, a near life-altering experience with them. It was at a restaurant in a Ramada Inn, overlooking I-75, just west of Sweetwater, TN. I had ordered my customary artery-hardening breakfast without a careful examination of the menu's fine print. My rather stunning waitress brought -- along with eggs, bacon grease and toast -- a bowl of what looked like thick, gritty mashed 'taters. Being somewhat testosteronally distracted, I half-heartedly asked her about the 'extra'. She, in a seductively sweet southern accent that melted my attention span, told me that it was grits and was included with the order.

Now, there are many foods I hated in my youth that I came to appreciate later, like broccoli and asparagus, drowned in melted cheddar cheese. So -- and because my waitress was a babe with great eyes and other parts -- I decided to give it a try. With no thought other than to get her phone number and her father's permission to marry her, I took an ample spoonful of grits and shoveled them home.

*Whoa*... I'm not sure how a mind-numbing brain lock and full 90 degree eye-crossing are medically explained, but that's where I found myself the instant the grits hit my tongue. Every alarm bell in my sensory system went *Buzzer...Warning, Warning*, yet I was stuck: I feared to swallow, yet I couldn't spit it out (the retch-force of the pending salvo might have carried to and through I-75, causing a multi-vehicle accident). Turning blue, I never thought I'd see single images again. I was convinced I was going to die like this: with a mouthful of grits, and my tombstone would read Grits and Couldn't Bear It.

But I had to do something, before the ever-heavier lump on my tongue ate my brain like a Billy Bob Thornton movie.

And then it became even more imperative: the no-longer-future mother of my children was coming back. Realizing that something had to give to save a rapidly-fading chance at winning this stone babe's heart, I had no choice. I became a very temporary in-crisis Catholic, crossed myself...and swallowed.

There were no words to describe it in the dictionary. I checked later.

When she arrived, my threadbare composure was barely concealing the WWE-style gopher Texas cage match now taking place in my stomach:

"How were the grits, hon?" she purred.
"Uh..." was about all that came out, since I didn't want to follow up with something solid.
"Y'all jst ask if ya want more, sugah".

And as she walked away, she giggled. She knowd. Another danged fool Yankee bit the grits. I reckoned I could put the phone call to her father on permanent hold.

At any rate, I know some great folks from the South. I know them to have great charm, traditions and heritage. I know them to be proud, industrious, chivalrous and upstanding. And if they eat grits, I know them to be incredibly tough and durable.

As for me...I suspect I now know where Stephen King got his idea for the horror story, Children Of The Corn. 'Course, he's a Yankee, too. Far as southerners are concerned, 'nuff said.


Blogger Two Dogs said...

Having grown up in Mississippi and lived here for all but six months (while I was imprisoned at the underwater bar at the Ramada in Fort Walton Beach, Florida) of my forty-four years, I can attest that you do not develop a taste for grits. I do not like it, as grits are most definitely an "it," not a "them."

Instead, most civilized restaurants here will also offer hasbrowns or some other form of breakfast potato. Choose them instead. Southern hashbrowns kick ass.

Folks that do like grits, oddly enough, put butter, milk, honey, salt, pepper or sugar on them. That is weird and I would rather just eat a pat of butter or wood.

21 September, 2008 07:57  
Blogger Jack K. said...

Being Northern born and raised in the South near different Army posts, I learned to eat grits. At first they are a tasteless mess of gritty stuff in your mouth.

However, there is a multitude of recipes that are very good. The last time I ate them was at a breakfast the morning after the wedding of the daughter of friends. We were in South Carolina. One of the numerous dishes was grits with shrimp and cheese. It was fantastic.

Sometimes the circumstances surrounding your first of anything will determine your response to it. There are quite of a few exceptions to that last sentence, think shots. snerx.

21 September, 2008 12:06  
Blogger My Name is Cat said...

the grits served with breakfast usually are pretty terrible, there is nothing better than shrimp and grits.

My Yankee husband won't eat it unless I call it shrimp and polenta, though.

21 September, 2008 18:33  
Blogger Hale McKay said...

I grew up in the south, just south of the Mason Dixon. Even after 18 years of trying them in every form conceivable - including with shrimp - I could not and to this day, still cannot sit at the same table with grits!

I will eat whole hominy corn with melted butter and pepper.

But I sure do miss the homemade biscuits and gravy!

21 September, 2008 23:12  
Blogger Jack K. said...

Shrimp and polenta? Great idea.

22 September, 2008 04:44  
Blogger Debbie said...

Well, you have to doctor grits up you know. A little salt, pepper, butter. Cheese grits baked are good too. I'm not a big fan, but I have cooked them and I have eaten them on occasion.

But if you compare them to Farina, Cream of Wheat, and other strange gruel... grits come out on top.

(Gruel: "Please sir, can I have mooooore?") ha

I'm in Tennessee remember.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

22 September, 2008 12:22  
Blogger Herb said...

When I was in the Army in basic training a guy got me to try grits at breakfast with a couple of glops of jam. okay. I agree with the farina, Cream-Of-Wheat, Oatmeal comment. If I were at someone's house in the South and they served them, I would be polite and eat them, but it's not something I would order on purpose. I never heard of all the other recipes, but being from central Wisconsin I'm pretty much a certifiable Yankee. Now if you was talking about cheese...

23 September, 2008 04:42  
Blogger Mayden' s Voyage said...

Grits out of a pot are as hot as lava and need lots of salt, if not cheese- and gravy is even better. I promise you- if I ever make grits and you come to dine with the likes of me...
you will love them :)

23 September, 2008 16:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love grits with butter or with butter and gravy. Yum!! Gosh, I should make some tomorrow! Wanna join me for breakfast, shugah?

23 September, 2008 23:07  
Blogger Serena said...

As a GRITS (Girl Raised In The South), I like grits -- preferably with lots of real butter.:)

27 September, 2008 19:02  
Blogger Seane-Anna said...

I LOVE grits, mostly because I am one: Girl Raised In The South.

22 July, 2009 20:02  
Blogger Little Lamb said...

G.R. I. T. S.

Girls raised in the Soutn

23 July, 2009 04:52  
Blogger The Dental Maven said...

Look. You can "doctor," "dentist," and even "podiatrist" grits. And they're STILL gonna be inedible.

23 July, 2009 05:16  
Blogger Debbie said...

A neighbor's grandson is staying with them for the summer. I asked him what they had for breakfast, he said "cream of wheat". Haven't heard of anybody eating that in a long time. Of course his grandparents are OLD. he

Deborah F. Hamilton
Right Truth

23 July, 2009 09:20  
Blogger Cheffie-Mom said...

I live in the South, but I'm definitely not a fan of grits! LOL!

23 July, 2009 12:29  
Blogger Frank Baron said...

A southern friend send Hilary some grits a few months ago. Neither of us Great White Northers had ever tried them before.

I might again.


23 July, 2009 23:25  
Blogger Andy said...

Skunks, Louisiana boy here. I love grits now, but didn't when I was a kid...but then that goes for a lot of foods.

If you ever try yellow grits, you'd like them a lot better than the plain white ones. They aren't ground as fine, and taste better.

Regardless, you can't just eat grits plain. Plenty of salt & butter...and it don't hurt to stir in a couple of slices of American cheese just as they're finishing cooking. Mmmmmmmighty fine!

24 July, 2009 07:20  

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