Folks who aren’t from the South invariably aren’t familiar with grits. When they come for a visit, they often twist their eyebrows into a John Belushi-type look after they spot them on their breakfast plate.
I have kinfolk who live somewhere up close to Canada. They’ve missed out on one of life’s lovely pleasures by judging grits without actually trying them.
It’s time that the stigma was removed from this amazing delicacy. Let’s do that. We’ll start with a definition.
The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers the following:
noun, plural in form but singular or plural in construction
Coarsely ground hulled grain especially : ground hominy with the germ removed.
That’s the scientific explanation, but let’s clarify. Grits come from corn, which through the distillation process has proven itself to be a joyous vegetable. So, grits could have been whiskey, but wound up a tasty food instead.
Let’s not hold that against them.
Grits don’t come from the entire corn kernel, just the outside, which is called the gyrt. I’m not sure how they got grit from gyrt, but I’m guessing some of that whiskey may have been involved.
According to the official history keeper of grits, Southern Living, the Native Americans were likely one of the first to discover their value. They ground the gyrt into a meal, which was then made into a type of porridge.
Little Red Riding Hood got busted because of the comforting, sleep-inducing benefits of a steaming hot bowl of grits.
Grits are a bit like gravy when it comes to introducing folks to all things Southern. The culinary unchurched are quick to decline an offer of grits or gravy, but if you can get that first bite past their front teeth, their resolve tends to wane and they eventually see the light.
As for preparing grits, there are as many opinions about what’s right and wrong as there are when you ask someone in the South how to prepare BBQ. But, the general grit consensus is that you need a 3-to-1 ratio of water to grits, and then you add salt and some butter. That’s before you decide whether to add shrimp, cheese, or tomatoes.
Folks from Louisiana are especially creative with their grits. I’ve never had a Louisiana grit dish I didn’t like, but I have learned not to ask for identification of the meat they include. Some things are best left to the imagination.
Above all else, it’s important to remember that grits ain’t oatmeal. We Southerners do not put sugar on our grits. If you are caught doing this below the State of Missouri, you’ll be asked to leave and to take your sugared grits with you.
The other thing to remember about preparing grits is they’re like most Southerners – tough. So, you’ll need a whisk, a strong arm, and a bit of stirring to soften them up. You can also use whiskey, a strong arm, and a bit of stirring to soften them up, but that’s usually saved for happy hour. However, in Louisiana, there are no time restrictions on preparation methods.
The one thing most Southerners agree on is something we never agree to: instant grits. They make them, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat them. Matter of fact, it’s considered uncouth to serve or eat instant grits. Many a marriage has been called off due to this social faux pas.
However, if you’re in a bind and have no other option, instant grits, on extremely rare occasions, are acceptable. For example, one of our children was in a third world country and didn’t have access to a Cracker Barrel, so we sent her some instant cheese grits.
We often credit this care package with bringing her back alive, although it took some real grits to get her completely back to normal once she was stateside.
People like to make fun of grits, but history is full of examples of the respect that they’ve been duly given. Let’s take a look at a few:
We grit our teeth.
Flo, a TV character from the 70s, loved grits so much that she invited everyone to kiss hers.
John Wayne had True Grit.
And GRITS stands for Girls Raised In The South.
I may have seen that last one on a t-Shirt.
The important thing to remember is that grits are part of a balanced Southern diet. When prepared correctly in front of potential in-laws, they can save your future marriage and possibly put you in line to inherit a tractor and a brush hog.
If you need some help preparing your grits, you’re welcome to visit. We’ll be glad to show you how. Just leave your sugar at home. If you want to bring your whiskey, that’s perfectly fine. I’ll invite my friends from Louisiana.
©2020 John Moore
John’s books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on Amazon and on John’s website at TheCountryWriter.com. His weekly John G. Moore Podcast appears on Spotify and iTunes.