GRITS: County#039;s latest fall festival

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 20, 2004

They come in fine, medium and coarse grinds, in yellow and white. Some like them with salt and others prefer sugar, but butter is almost always desired. There are slow-cooking and quick-cooking varieties. (The instant ones are really rather suspect). They are fat-free, gluten free and cholesterol-free (until you add that butter).

Grits - they’ve been called &uot;southern ambrosia.&uot; (They’ve also been described as &uot;a combination of aquarium sand and wallpaper paste&uot;.)

We beg to disagree with the latter sentiment. Grits and sausage, grits and bacon, grits and biscuits – what would a traditional southern home-style breakfast be without that staple, grits? Grits qualify as a comfort food. They bring those of us who are southern transplants living in Yankee Land a feeling we are &uot;back home again&uot;.

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Next month, we’ll be talking turkey.

However, with the Greenville GRITS Festival just around the corner (Oct. 30, folks, don’t forget!), we think it’s time to talk grits, y’all.

Singular or plural?

First of all – is it &uot;grits is&uot;, or &uot;grits are&uot;? Actually, according to food historian and lecturer

(and grits lover) Annie Crenshaw, it’s both – depending on the sentence structure.

&uot;Grits is a plural noun, but it is used as both singular and plural, depending on the specific usage. When it’s used to describe a conglomerate unit, a &uot;single&uot; thing, it’s singular,&uot; explains Crenshaw.

For example, both of the following sentences are correct:

n These cheese grits are really delicious!

n Grits is a traditional southern dish.

Where did grits come from?

Grits (also known as &uot;hominy grits&uot;) did not come from the Old World as so many of our dishes did. We have to give credit for grits to the Indians, who first shared with the Jamestown colonists a mass, or mess, of soft, steaming maize seasoned with animal fat.

The Indians called it &uot;rockahominie,&uot; a name the settlers shortened to hominy. The word grits most likely comes from the Old English &uot;grytt&uot; meaning bran, or perhaps from &uot;greot&uot;, the Old English word for something ground.

Grits vs. hominy

So what’s the difference between grits and hominy? An extra step or two, it seems.

&uot;Grits are actually made from hominy; they are NOT just ground corn,&uot; stresses Crenshaw. In fact, this &uot;simple&uot; southern dish turns out to be pretty labor and time intensive.

&uot;Hominy is made from flint or dent corn. The kernels are allowed to dry on the cob, then removed and soaked in a solution of water mixed with baking soda, lime or wood ash,&uot; Crenshaw explains.

The solution causes the corn kernels to soften, swell and turn inside out. Once the hard hull parts are removed, the remaining kernels are de-germed by friction (rubbing or grinding). The end product, Crenshaw says, &uot;ends up looking like soft white popcorn.&uot;

After it’s dried, hominy is ground fine into grits and also into &uot;masa harina&uot;, the flour used to make authentic corn tortillas.

&uot;Hominy doesn’t have to be dried; you can also eat it as a vegetable dish with salt, pepper and butter – it’s delicious,&uot; says Crenshaw.

Left over grits?

Have you ever wondered what to do with leftover grits before they have congealed in the pot? Here’s a recipe from Guy Friddell of the Virginian- Pilot that may solve that dilemma. Friddell calls it &uot;a great way to introduce grits or eggs to those who don’t care for either of these viands.&uot;

Guy’s Grits Cakes:

Grease the inside of a drinking glass with butter. Pour the grits into the glass and let them sit and solidify overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, upend the glass and out will fall the column of grits. Slice into disks, dip them in egg batter, and drop them into a frying pan greased with bacon drippings, butter, or whatever. (Sounds delicious…not heart healthy, but delicious!)

Cookbooks on the subject include &uot;Gone with the Grits&uot;, &uot;Good Old Grits Cookbook&uot; and the &uot;Grits ‘R Us&uot; Cookbook (all available through

Famed grits

It isn’t just cookbooks that are based on grits.

The southern staple has also appeared as a key element in movie plots, Crenshaw says.

In the hilarious &uot;My Cousin Vinnie&uot;, a movie set in a fictional small town in Alabama, part of the plot hinges on the time it takes to cook REAL grits (the slow-cooking kind, not quick or instant grits). &uot;It’s a very funny movie and a great analysis of the time it takes to cook grits!&uot; Crenshaw enthuses.

And of course, there was the bold and brassy southern-born waitress Flo on the old sitcom, &uot;Alice&uot;, whose sassy retort was, &uot;Kiss my grits!&uot;

Grits were also spotlighted in a documentary back in the 1970s. In &uot;It’s Grits&uot;, Stan Woodward traveled around the South talking about grits. According to Crenshaw, the 44-minute film features everything from a kosher grits diner in South Carolina to a man who likes grits mixed with (of all things) chow-chow and peanut butter.

If you want to try out a veritable smorgasbord of grits dishes (shrimp grits? cheese and onion grits?), be sure and come to Confederate Park on Saturday, October 30 for the Greenville GRITS Festival. If you have a fabulous grits recipe, bring the dish and the recipe to the park that morning for the Great Grits Cook-Off.

And keep eating those grits!