I’ve been asked to write something on the subject of “Southern Living” for what’s been titled The She Writes Southern Writers 4th of July Countdown Blog Tour. Phew, that’s a southern fried mouthful. But hey, here in the south we’re used to chewing on some real gritty morsels. And speaking of grits, let’s consider the southern love affair with that oh-so-misunderstood food group, the grit. It’s a group because it’s always referred to as grits (plural) and because it’s always accompanied by other foods. Which makes it a group. Grits and gravy, grits and eggs, grits and pancakes, grits and peanut butter, grits and foie gras.
Oh no, that just slipped out of my Mastering The Art of French Cooking and into my cholesterol busting Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible. In her food bible, Paula Deen has some great grits recipes by the way. Of course Paula Deen does not hit you over the head with her grits. They do not, in fact, show up until chapter two, recipe number 97, Eggs Baked with Grits and Ham. But they do make a second appearance in chapter three, recipe number 149, Grillades and Grits and again in chapter ten they appear as recipes 233 through 235 inclusive under Original Grits, Cheese Grits, and Cheesy Tomato Grits.
In addition to grits, Paula Deen just loves cheese – with just about anything. Hey ya’ll try a tasty Cheddar, Pepper Jelly and Pecan Cheese Ball, or as a starter perhaps a Dr. Pepper Pecans Cheese Straw at recipe numbers 20 and 22 respectively.
Now for the grits uninitiated, it’s time to clarify just what the grits are. And here we turn not to Ms. Deen, although she is certainly the current doyenne of the full on fat fest that has always been synonymous with southern cooking, but rather to our friend Messrs. Wikipedia who explain grits thusly:
“Grits (also sometimes called sofkee or sofkey from the Muskogee word) (I hate to double parenthesize but who ever heard of SOFKEE?) are a food of Native American origin common in the Southern United States and mainly eaten at breakfast. They consist of coarsely ground corn, or sometimes alkali-treated corn (hominy). Grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world, such as polenta, or the thinner farina.
Grits are usually prepared by adding one part grits to two-to-three parts boiling water, sometimes seasoned with salt or sugar. They are usually cooked for 5–10 minutes for “quick” grits or 20 or more minutes for whole kernel grits, or until the water is absorbed and the grits become a porridge-like consistency.”
Did you movie fans note the precise timing required when cooking grits in this invaluable scientific type Wiki document? If so you will no doubt be reminded of the scene in My Cousin Vinny where Vinny vanquishes the prosecution with his cross examination of the grits cook who, Hollywood surprise-wise, turns out to be a real boon to the defense. So you see how grits turned into an American instrument for good and a cultural icon all without the fanfare and self promotion normally associated with becoming a legend.
I will add one interesting note from my extensively gritty research. Folk wisdom contends that dry grits, scattered near foraging ants, can be used as a pesticide by causing the ants to ‘explode’ as the grits expand inside them. Hmmmm. Food for thought, diet-wise. For more detailed info on grits please see wikipedia.org/wiki/Grits.
Now in case you were thinking that grits couldn’t possibly reach any higher level of notoriety, I’m here to tell you that you would be dead on wrong. Yes, you heard it here first (I hope). Welcome to The National Grits Festival. Yes. True. With pictures from past years, even. Giant tubs of grits. With people slopping around inside like babies in a kiddie pool. This is G rated folks so don’t go clickin’ around thinkin’ you can get off on grits. They are not that kinda food group. And shame on y’all’s for thinkin’ such a thang.
Now in its 27th incarnation, this year’s grits festival was held on April 13, 14, and 15 in St. George, SC. Past year’s recipes read like a glitzy who’s who of the grits world, including but not limited to Deep Fried Grits-n-Cheese, Low Country Shrimp & Cheese Grits, Fried Grits Cakes with Sausage, The Green Valley Spa’s Shrimp & Grits, and Gooey Butter Grits Cheese Cake. Yum, where’s my ladle?
With all that cheese and bacon and ham and deep fried whatever, I’m sure you’re thinking that for a healthy heart diet these grits are just about the worst food in our galaxy. And how wrong you would be. I would not be touting the value of grits as a southern staple if I did not feel perfectly righteous in my zeal for this misunderstood grain – is it a grain? Let’s see. According to our good neighbors at LivingStrong.com, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has grits as a low-fat, cholesterol-free food. Grits can be used as a breakfast or as a dinner entrée (replacing those other boring old entrées like salmon, pasta, or – gasp – tournedos). Grits are also a good source of fiber and full of many vitamins and minerals, namely iron, thiamine, folic acid, and niacin. Again, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database, grits have only 0.5 g of fat per quarter cup serving and are not a major source of saturated, trans, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats.
Which leaves unanswered the question of whether grits are (is?) a grain. So let’s see what popcorn.org has to say (remember grits come from corn). And I quote: Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product.
So that’s it. Grits are a grain. And if you don’t add sugar, butter, cream, cheese, bacon, ham, foie gras, or ice cream, and you don’t fry or do anything but boil your grits, you’re looking at a healthy food product that will provide you with good nutritional value. And if you add all that other stuff, grits will still provide you with good nutritional value and a lot of fat – and a calorie overload that would have sunk the Titanic before it ever reached the iceberg. But hey, who’s counting? This is Southern Living at its cholesterol-packed zenith.
One final word about grits comes down to pronunciation. In the north, grits – in the extremely rare situation that you find them offered on a menu – is a one syllable word. In the south, however, if you don’t order greee-itz, you’re likely to get a blank stare and a befuddled “What’s thayat y’all want, hon?” from your diner attendee.
Feel free to share this post with friends, or enemies, either one. And tell Paula Deen “Hey” for me when you see her.