Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grits: A Southern Comfort Food

Another idea for a post has been generated by reader comments!

Grits, which were mentioned in yesterday’s post, are a mystery to some: what they are, how one eats them and what the heck is so special about them.

I believe it’s one of those “you had to have been there” situations. You either grew up eating them and think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, or else you take your first bite and say, “what’s the big deal? They taste like white glue paste." I think it's an acquired taste.

We Southerners love our grits and have been eating them for centuries. Native Americans were already grinding their plentiful corn harvests into a coarse meal that they boiled and ate year-round when the first European explorers arrived. New settlers quickly learned to depend on ground corn – in the form of cornmeal and grits – for survival during those early days.

Today the term "grits" commonly refers to "hominy grits," but actually "grits" is a term for any coarsly ground grain, like rice, oats, corn, etc. Hominy grits is coarsely ground corn (larger particles than corn meal). A more finely ground form of corn becomes corn meal, from which we make our cornbread, and an even finer grind is polenta (well known in Italian cookery).

The traditional way to eat grits is as breakfast side dish with eggs, biscuits, and ham/sausage/bacon. There’s the Old Fashioned Grits that are cooked about 20 minutes, a quick-cook type that’s ready in five minutes and instant grits. Stay away from the last two mentioned. Easily prepared, grits are slowly stirred into boiling water, turned down low  and stirred regularly throughout the cooking period to ensure they don’t stick to the pot. They expand when cooked so a few tablespoons will yield a large portion. Salt and butter are the traditional additions, but lately cheese is an acceptable addition as well.

Beryl is correct; grits tend to take on the flavor of whatever is added. But still they have a unique texture -- soft and creamy -- and a corn taste. They are the ultimate comfort food, in my opinion. And what tastes better than butter?

I have heard that some people actually like sugar in grits but that’s not my thing, nor would I consider fruit or nuts; I save that for my oatmeal or yogurt.

I have been making a grits casserole for several years, and it’s a very popular dish for brunches or mid-morning feasts. Cheese, sausage and beaten eggs are added to the cooked grits and the mass is turned into a casserole dish and baked until golden. With a hint of hot pepper as seasoning, it is quite divine!

I had Shrimp and Grits the first time several years ago and fell in love with that dish. People who grew up in the low county of South Carolina are quite familiar with it, as this breakfast dish has been traditionally made with what was readily available: shrimp caught by local fisherman and grits ground at local gristmills.

Shrimp and grits have become sophisticated fare these days. They feature the addition of ingredients such as gourmet mushrooms, fancy sausages, wine, herbs and sautéed bell peppers. Fancy restaurants are serving this dish and it commands a large price!
Photo Credit: Amazon

 I never realized there were so many ways to prepare grits until I bought “Glorious Grits,” a Southern Living magazine cookbook a couple of years ago. I haven't tried any of the recipes just yet, but some of them look promising. A sampling includes a grits frittata, spinach soufflé-stuffed grits roll, grits bruschetta with tomato salsa, bread recipes using grits and even cakes, bars and cookies using grits. But my favorite sounding recipe is the Lime-Marinated Shrimp with Bean and Mango Salsa over Grilled Grits Cakes. This is similar to the Shrimp and Grits dishes I’ve had in restaurants and I’m going to try it soon. If you could like the recipe, leave me a comment and I’ll provide the full recipe in the response block.

Just a few fun facts related to grits:

The term “Kiss My Grits” was first uttered by Flo, a waitress in the TV sitcom “Mel’s Diner.” It was a nice way of saying “kiss my rear.” Since the 1970s, the term has become part of the American lexicon.

The word "grits" is one of the few words that may properly be used as either singular or plural in writing or speech and can be used with a singular or plural verb.

A memorable scene in the 1992 film "My Cousin Vinny" involves the defense lawyer humorously trapping a prosecution witness in a contradiction by using the cooking time of grits. The witness testifies that his breakfast took him five minutes to prepare, but the lawyer Gambini, furiously but humorously, traps him in a contradiction by asking him what type of grits he eats. When the witness states he only eats the regular type, the defense lawyer points out that the recipe for regular grits requires 20 minutes of preparation time, not five minutes.

Grits have been touted as a fire ant killer, the idea being that you sprinkle grits on an ant mound, the ants eat them and the grits expand and the ant explodes. This has been laboratory tested and proven to be false.

Have you eaten grits? Do you like them? What are some regional food specialties where you live that may not be familiar to those living elsewhere?


  1. Hello Sanda

    You are right when you say grits are an acquired taste. I have had them for breakfast. Your recipe for shirimp and grits with a little hot sauce sounds delicius.

    Poutine is popular in Canada, french fries, with gravy and cheese curds, a Quebecois dish that seems to have moved to different provinces.

    Have a great weekend

    Helen xx

  2. Good morning Helen
    Just finished my breakfast of grits and eggs! I have heard of Poutine but have never eaten it. I am always game for trying new foods so will order it
    If ever I see it offered. Perhaps that will have to be in Canada though?
    Thanks for stopping by! Have a good day creating your special works of art!

  3. Had to look the word up, and if I understood correct, we use grits to make porridge.
    I remember my grandfather eating the porridge with a spoonful of butter placed in the middle.
    Maybe he added salt or sugar or both, and then some milk.
    The porridge is common over here, only I never liked it. I remember trying to swallow it, only it came straight up back to the mouth, ugh.

    1. Porridge can be made from many grains, including corn, as in grits. Funny how if we did not like something as a child we never learn to like it. Bad association, especially if we were "made" to eat it. Life is short; we should eat what we enjoy.

  4. Think I first her the word used in 'Muder she Wrote' with Angela Lansbury enjoyed that series.

    It reminds me of the ghastly Tapioca (frog spawn) that was our name for it as children,urrrgh.
    Agree with Mette maybe same as our porridge oats which I have for breakfast in the Winter with honey...the Scots eat their's with salt added.

    Have you had Yorkshire pudding,Parkin or Brandy snaps? They
    were part of my Yorkshire vists as a child.

    Thank you for clearing up the mystery of the grits. Ida

    1. I used to watch Murder She Wrote. Angela Lansbury reminded me of Miss Marple. I enjoy tapioca once in a while. Enjoyed the porridge when I visited Scotland. Yorkshire pudding I have made to serve with roast beef. Learned about it from reading British novels. Love it! Bot Parkin and brandy snaps were unknown to me.. We have ginger snaps, which is a spice and molasses cookie (biscuit to you)

  5. Love those grits! It truly is a "comfort" food to me - when nothing else sounds good, grits will always do - so wonderful with lots of butter AND cheese!

    1. We "get it honest" liking grits; another saying that may not be familiar to all. Meaning we inherited our taste for grits from parents.

  6. I would love that Shrimp and Grits recipe, please. Grits have nothing in common with Tapioca, which is a root made into gelatinous pellets, cooked as a pudding, usually. They also put tapioca in the bottom of cold tea in ethnic tea shops in Portland, Oregon. And maybe a lot of other places, but Portland is the only place I have had it. (I liked it!)
    Thanks for the reminder of Flo, the waitress. What a great character. I am excited to get back to Tulsa and try cooking grits myself. One question, do you have to worry about bugs getting into them in the pantry?

  7. Beryl, I'm going to email it to you. It's quite lengthy and somewhat detailed. I have heard of that tea with tapioca in the bottom but have never drank it. I have never had a problem with buts in the grits, but I do keep them in a sealed glass jar for safety sake.


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