There’s one food that says “Southern” more than fried chicken, fried okra, sweet tea or a “mess” of greens. That’s grits.
Uncultured folks in northern climes often ridicule us for our ground-corn porridge, which has a tradition going back to Native Americans, the original inhabitants of what’s now called the South. They’d grind their corn with a stone. None of my online historical sources say Native Americans ate their grits with a fried egg and bacon, but I’m sure they’d have enjoyed it.
Many Southern communities developed around gristmills, where farmers brought their corn for grinding. The fee paid to the miller usually was a portion of the ground corn. Like gold, grits were a form of currency.
I think the best grits still are stone-ground. Each “grit” is slightly bigger, courser and more flavorful. A bunch of them together on your breakfast plate are delicious with a pad of butter, egg, bacon, sausage or country ham and toast with blackberry jam.
Grit? Let me point out that Lay’s tater chips are not the only thing you can’t eat just one of. Grits can be white or yellow, depending on the color of the corn. You’re not limited to eating grits for breakfast only. My wife even made a delicious grits pie, which tastes a lot like coconut custard pie.
By adding cheddar cheese and butter to your grits, you have a perfect side dish for any seafood. The best cheese grits I’ve had are found at Skipper’s Fish Camp in Darien. Their cheese grits are so good, I save a few spoonfuls for the end of my meal, so I can retain that wonderful taste for the drive home.
To make cheese grits, you’ve got to first make grits. For whatever amount of grits you use, add more than four times that much water. Bring to a boil, adding salt and pepper. When this lava-like solution starts to thicken, add butter and cheese. I like a lot of both and prefer a cheddar-jack cheese and sometimes a little mozzarella.
For breakfast, I’ll fry a couple large eggs over-easy in the bacon or sausage drippings, then add them to my grits. If I’m enjoying grilled fish and shrimp for supper, I like to turn up my plate and allow some of the juice from my seafood to drip into my cheese grits.
No, I don’t care what other restaurant patrons think of me playing with my food. I will, however, resist the temptation to lick the last bit of grits from the bowl.
Grits and sausage gravy make a heavenly combo. Whenever she makes sausage gravy, my wife prepares biscuits and grits. I mix some gravy in my grits and a lot over my biscuits. This combination of biscuits, gravy and grits are a hungry man’s breakfast, though hungry ladies can appreciate it, too.
I mentioned frying my eggs in bacon or sausage drippings, but deliberately didn’t mention country-ham drippings. Country-ham drippings are off-limits. My wife uses ham drippings to make red-eye gravy. If you’ve never had red-eye gravy in your grits or drizzled on a country-ham biscuit, you need to get out more often.
To make red-eye gravy, add some fresh coffee to the pan with the country ham drippings. Stir, adding a tiny bit of all-purpose flour. I emphasize a tiny bit. You want it to be a dark-brown soupy mixture that’s so good, you can pour it on a Brussels sprout and make that awful, green eyeball tasty.
Northerners often ask a question similar to the question asked by the Israelites about the manna from heaven. They say, “What is it?” This similarity has led some to believe that grits are that manna from heaven.
I think, however, because Moses had to beat a rock with a stick to get water for his people, it would have taken a miracle of biblical proportions to get enough water in a desert to make grits for that many people, six days a week.
Since the Bible says nothing about this miracle, I tend to agree with the website, GAgirl.com. This unidentified lady says grits are formed beneath the Earth under extreme heat and pressure. It takes 1,000 years to form one grit. Moreover, she says most of the world’s grits are mined in Southern Georgia, the entrance to which is guarded day and night by armed guards and attack dogs. It makes sense to me. Grits still are as good as gold.
In 2002, Georgia declared grits to be the Peach State’s “officially prepared food.” I like that. Grits are a Southern thing, made by Southerners for Southerners. Yankees can enjoy them, too — so long as they keep their snobby comments to themselves.
Email Murray at email@example.com.