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Grits - What Are They?
Grits sounds really disgusting to someone who has not been exposed to them as most Southerners have. Grit brings up images of sandpaper or dirt. I was raised in the Northeast but my entire families (both sides) are from the Southeast and a big part of my childhood was spent 'down South'. Grits to me is one of my favorite comfort foods. As a child at Grandma's house I would wake up to a big pot of grits cooking every morning. Granny Lula in her eighties then would wake up long before anyone else and get a pot of grits cooking. She cooked them in a double boiler for slow cooking and by the time I finally got up I would get a bowl of creamy goodness.
Grits have their origins in Native American culture and are made of ground corn. They are then boiled until they absorb the water and sometimes finished off with some milk to add to a creamy texture which comes from cooking slow and long. The word grits comes from "grytta" meaning coarse meal and does not refer to corn explicitly.
Traditionally the grinding of the corn was done by stone grinding at gristmills usually situated next to running water the giant stones were powered by water running a large wheel which in turn powered the grinding stones. The ground product was then passed through screens with the finest being used as corn meal and the coarser being used for grits. The miller's fee would be to keep a portion of the milled product. There are still some gristmills in operation that you can visit and purchase product from. Mingus Mill near Oconaluftee just 2 miles north of Cherokee, NC is the one I have been to several times and is fascinating from historical perspective and produces a mighty tasty product.
Stone ground grits are preferred by chefs for the added texture it has and compliments many an evening entree in the South. An excellent breakfast porridge type dish for the breakfast time it can be a side or the main staple like oatmeal. It is great with butter, salt and pepper. Do not mistake it for a breakfast cereal such as oatmeal. Sugar does not compliment it at all (just a personal preference).
During the American food renaissance in the late 1970's and early 80's fried grits became a popular side dish for entrees. The grits were cooked, let to cool by which they would congeal and then cut or stamped into shapes then fried till crispy and golden on the outside. Yellow grits contains the whole kernel while white grits has the hull removed. Hominy is made from a certain type of corn which is a larger kernel.
In Italy polenta is synonymous with grits and is usually prepared by baking. Working in the restaurant business back in the 70's and 80's if served I would have to explain to customers what polenta was. Saying it was like 'baked grits' usually did the trick. I did have one couple from New York that I had to explain 'Grits is like polenta'.
One of the most famous grits recipes is "Shrimp and Grits" found in most coastal towns in the Southeast. Charleston's Middleberg Plantation is where I've sampled the best this side of making it myself. For an evening meal we sometimes add some goat cheese to make a wonderful side dish.
As far as I know there is no singular of Grits...you do not eat grit or at least I do not! A wonderful and historical dish grits is still a staple among the Southern US from the Southeast through to Texas.