Now, the non-southerner in me thinks back on a routine that George Carlin did about how to make grits. It was a long, quickly intoned set of instructions of how to flip, fry, mash, cook and otherwise prepare the grits, ending with "Throw them out, cuz you can't eat them d*mn grits!" (Cue laughter.)
All my life I've had that in me. When I got to the south all I could think was that in order to eat grits, real grits, it was going to take considerable fortitude to get past my palate, much like Scottish Haggis* (and I've never had Haggis.) You can imagine my surprise when I learned that grits is made of corn. Corn? Ok, says I, I love corn. Why wouldn't I love Grits? So, I decided to try them.
The first time I saw grits on my plate, I thought it was some mistake. We had gone out for breakfast and the menu said 'grits' with every meal. When the dish came, I thought again: "You can't eat them d*mn grits!" There was this strange mess in one corner, an off-white color, with the consistency of mealy pudding. 'This is corn? Some sort of Southern Breakfast Corn Mush?' (Oh yeah, maybe Carlin was right.) But I had endeavored to be a good Southerner and try them, so I quickly put a forkful in my mouth and reached for a glass of milk to wash it down.
And then the flavor hit me.
Corn. Delicious, flavorful corn. A bit bland, but most definitely there. No need to wash this down quickly. It was there to savor. I glanced around to see others in the restaurant adding such things as butter and sugar (yes, sugar!) to their grits. (Even salt and pepper, if you've a mind...) I considered how I like my corn on the cob, with butter and salt, but this seemed something different, something new, something special. I went with a touch of butter and a touch of sugar. Again, a forkful.
More flavor. Was it possible?
Yes. I finished them off that day and make them a breakfast staple whenever possible.
Over the years, I've found the exact amount of sugar (half teaspoon) to the exact amount of butter (about a whole teaspoon) and although I don't have grits much these days, it's no longer the scary "You can't eat them d*mn grits!" affair it was when I first arrived. In addition, I've found more than one restaurant that serves grits in new and exciting savory dishes for both lunch and dinner.
Grits gets its name from 'grist.' In the South Carolina Low-country, the uncooked ground corn is known as "grist", and the cooked dish is "hominy." (Hominy? I dunno, thirty or forty, I expect. Yes, I joke. Keep reading.) This is distinct from the usual use of the term hominy. Grits are either yellow or white, depending on the color of corn.
Originally cooked with a weak lye solution to separate the corn from the hulls, you can cook your own grits at home with just a bit of practice - and that's no lye. (Yes, that's another joke. Feel free to share it with anyone who is a groan adult. Oh look another joke, I could do this all day, but let's move on.) There are literally hundreds of recipes on the Internet (what did people do before the Internet?) but I find using the directions on the side of a package of store bought grits to be the best. (Yes, store bought. Don't look at me like that! I'm doing the best I can here!)
It's simply grits, water and a touch of salt, stir as you bring to a boil and set aside to thicken, much like cooking oatmeal. You can have it with breakfast or as a meal in itself. In fact, I read recently of a wedding with a Grits Bar. (I. Kid. You. Not. Grits served in a martini glass with many different things with which to top or add.) And, no, you don't have to ask, it was a very Southern Wedding.
I won't go into how to cook Haggis*.
*Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach for cooking and serving.