First published November 9, 2022 by the Morning News and SCNow and reproduced here with permission.
Mostly amused, I watched several folks at breakfast the other day. Now, even though I did not eat grits apart from Philadelphia Hominy Grits until 1980, I love them. In particular this morning, I was amused by all the many ways they ate their grits, some with great care and process: some folks ate them as a side item as if mashed potatoes, some carefully cut them up into pieces, some mixed them with eggs, some ladled on sugar, others lots of salt. One guy carefully first mixed a bowl of warm grits with shredded cheese, then spread the mixture on a plate, then carefully cut up sausage patties to mix in with the grits, then added Texas Pete hot sauce, mixing in twice. I like to eat grits plain, in a bowl, or mixed in with “over easy” eggs.
Astonishingly, in 1976, South Carolina declared grits the official state food, stating that grits is a ‘symbol of its (South Carolina) diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality… [and it] has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income. A man full of grits is a man of peace.’ Since 1949 the definition of grits and the components have been defined by South Carolina law in Tittle 39, chapter 29. Apparently St George, SC, eats the most grits per person per year and even hosts a three day Grits Festival climaxing in a grits barrel diving contest.
Grits probably go back thousands of years in South American history. The North American indigenous peoples were eating grits by the time the Europeans first arrived, serving them to the colonists. Tradition says the Muskogee Tribe, mostly settled in the Southeastern part of North America, served them to the English who loved them and soon introduced them into Europe, although not much seen in Europe anymore. The grits were ground from dried maize and served as a porridge. The name is said to come from the old English word “grytt” or “grist.”
Nowadays grits are ground from dent corn, whether white or yellow. Stone ground grits: the germ is intact so the grits have distinctive taste and are coarse; Quick grits: more finely ground; Instant grits: precooked and dehydrated, easily rehydrated with hot water; Hominy grits: the corn is first soaked in lime or lye to soften the hull, then removed to dry and ground; Heirloom grits: a variety of colored corns (blue, red, etc,…). The ground corn is cooked with water and some salt and is naturally creamy, although many cooks add milk, or chicken broth, or cream, or butter, or fruits, or olive oil along the way. Shrimp and grits has become an international favorite, but some chefs also serve grits in vegetable casseroles or as baked cheese grits or as cheese grits souffles. You could probably publish an entire book on the different recipes and styles for Shrimp and Grits.
Stone ground grits are the most nutritious. A cup of cooked grits is about 180 calories, 4 grams of protein, 38 carbs, 2 grams of fiber and many minerals: 13% of daily required Niacin, 12% Riboflavin, 8% iron, 25% folic acid, 7% Vitamin B6, 5% Magnesium, 4% Zinc and 4% Phosphorus. Grits have been touted for their anti-oxidants that can protect from cataract and skin damages. The grits’ minerals and vitamins can protect from other eye damages and some anemias. Of course, grits are gluten free.
I have some amusing stories about grits.
About three months after moving to South Carolina, Shirley and I spent a weekend up in Colonial Williamsburg. Well, I ordered a bowl of grits, only grits, for lunch one day, nothing else; the waitress was irritated because of my Western accent thinking I was making fun of Southerners; I had to assure her that I really did like grits enough to just eat them alone for lunch, before she would serve me.
One summer in Canada, son Andrew and his friend Spence cooked up slow spit roasted pig, chicken bog and grits for our neighbors; about 50 folks showed up and we soon ran out of grits, and there was a noisy outcry; too bad, we really were out of grits.
Once again traveling to Canada, with some boxes of instant grits (can’t buy them in Canada), the border guard at the Toronto airport carefully shook one, not recognizing what they were. I laughed and told him “It’s like Cream of Wheat only made with corn.”
A close friend and I had breakfast together with some other folks every Thursday morning for many years; he joked to me once that he was very skeptical that I really liked grits; so, I told him that I would never again eat grits in his presence, and indeed I never did (but plenty when he wasn’t around).
A large section of the AMA called the Southeastern Delegation including 17 States has had a “Grits Report” at each AMA of the biannual meetings at the Monday morning breakfast, originated by Georgia’s Dr. Joe Bailey in 1999 and now carried on by Dr Bill Clark (since 2014). The Grits Report was started to make fun of hotel kitchens outside the Southeast by grading the quality of that morning’s grits (of course, required at a Southeastern Breakfast), but have morphed into an important part of the Monday morning agenda, highly anticipated, sometimes even with audiovisuals. Dr Clark likes to say he is just looking for “Grits like his Momma used to make.” In 2017 Drs Clark and Coy Irvin (from Florida, but once lived in Florence) put together a mostly serious 20 page monogram on grits, the history and how to cook them.
Who can tell me what means “Well, bless/kiss my grits!”???? (from the 1974 movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” by Martin Scorsese, Robert Getchell, Aubrey Maas and David Susskind with Warner Brothers and the TV series “Alice” on CBS Television from 1976 to 1985).
Quotes from Wikipedia and other internet sources.