“What’s that white stuff on my plate? I didn’t order that!” observes any Northerner who goes South and orders breakfast in a southern restaurant for the first time. Northern folks don’t understand grits. Grits come automatically with breakfast in the South whether you order them or not, like butter with bread or cream with coffee.
Seasoned travelers nod knowingly, and offer advice, “It’s sort of like cream of wheat.” Well, not exactly. Grits are normally thicker – not to mention the obvious fact that they are made of corn, and cream of wheat is made from another grain. If you want to really irritate a Southerner, just compare grits to cream of wheat – or anything else in the world.
Grits are a mystery food. We can always spot a Yankee by their reaction to grits. They are the ones picking at the white lump with a fork while politely tying to avoid gagging for the rest of the meal. The Yankee will make a mental note to be sure to tell the waitress not to serve any grits next time. The waitress will make a mental note to bring more grits. Something has to be wrong with the first batch if they are not being eaten.
Grits are a regional food of the South. In the situation of eating grits, I’m rather inclined to side with the North if it won’t start another war. I can eat grits with enough sugar and determination; however, a good ol’ boy will eat them with only a bit of salt and butter and a smack of the lips – or will pour bacon grease on them. Of course, Southerners will eat about anything with bacon grease on it.
If you know how grits are made, you will probably be even less inclined to indulge in their ingestion. They are made from mashed up hominy. What’s hominy? Well, it’s dried corn that is soaked in lye water until the husks come off and the kernels puff up. The lye is drained and the puffed corn rinsed to remove the lye. It sounds a lot like a death wish to me.
Folks in the South don’t worry much about getting poisoned from things like lye. They like lye so much they even used it in their homemade soap in the olden days. Some claim it is the best cleaning soap there is. The lye soap my grandmother used to make would clean dishes, laundry, hands, and possibly remove your eyebrows if you used it on your face. Maybe they eat grits to keep the lye away from the soap makers.
Southerners like living dangerously, though, and eat other poison foods as well. Pokeweed, for instance, is a traditional Southern dish cooked in spring as greens, something like spinach. Again, it involves much rinsing to remove the poison and much bacon grease to make it eatable. I really don’t advise trying it unless you know what you are doing, have a Southern mama to advise you, or have a husband you’ve been wanting to get rid of anyhow.
Southerners are as proud of grits as they are of cornbread. There are other ways to make grits without the lye process, but they don’t seem nearly as fun or challenging. You can grind white corn and use the fine part as white corn meal and the larger particles for grits. Some folks have actually made grits into a specialty item, adding cheese, frying grits pancakes, and making grits casseroles. No matter what you do to grits, however, they are still grits.
I hope I won’t lose my membership card to Southern culture over my distaste for grits. Lord knows, I’ve eaten enough cornbread and can whip up a fine crockpot of black-eyed peas with ham hocks should the need arise. Surely that and my southern drawl should be enough get me through any Mason-Dixon identity check.
But, please don’t get me started on okra or I’m sunk.
Any thoughts on grits? Like ’em? Hate ’em. Never seen ’em?