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THE TRUTH ABOUT GRITS

Excerpted from BEING FROM THE SOUTH DOESN'T MAKE ME STUPID!

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR
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If there is any food anywhere which is given absolutely no respect outside of the South it has got to be grits. A staple food south of the Mason Dixon line and a subject of derision in the north. Why? Maybe itís just misunderstood, after all, they donít seem to like sweet tea, collard greens or catfish very much either.

In the north breakfast usually includes some kind of greasy, fried potatoes called hashbrowns. And they have the nerve to say that Southern cooking is all fried. If that is not enough, they have some other strange breakfast foods. Cream of wheat and oatmeal come to mind, though the former is much worse than the latter.

Around Philadelphia they serve something called scrapple. Its called that because it contains the scraps of meat that are not edible in any other form. This is also fried. Nobody could actually explain scrapple to me, but it looks bad.

In any event, letís talk for a minute about grits. Grits come from corn. This is probably not a newsflash to anyone in the South. The good folks who maintain the Grits Page on the Internet provide a little more information. They say that cornmeal and hominy grits are made from mature white or yellow corn from which the bran and germ have been removed. Exactly what the bran and germ are, and how in the world you remove them is beyond the scope of my educational efforts, and besides, do you really care? What we know is that grits are good and there must be hundreds of ways to fix grits. (fix-Southern for prepare)

Normally I use a special recipe for fixing my grits. It is on the back of the Jim Dandy box and involves water, salt and grits. You can make grits thin enough to suck through a straw or thick enough to use as mortar. A little on the thin side and they mix well with fried eggs. You might want to put butter and pepper on your grits once they are on the plate. And this is just the beginning.

A couple of quick stories will illustrate some of the problems Southerners have about grits. In the Navy we used to have either grits or Cream of Wheat every morning. The problem was that you couldnít tell which it was and there wasnít time in the line to find out. So every day I would take a spoon and gingerly taste the white matter on my plate. Some days it would be the wonderful taste of grits and others the repulsive Cream of Wheat. My guess is that some of my northern friends did the same thing with opposite expectations.

While living in Fairfax, Virginia, my wife and I would often eat breakfast out on the week-ends. On one occasion I ordered my usual breakfast with grits, which had to be ordered on the side. That alone always frosts me, when South of the Mason Dixon line, even a little, grits should just come with breakfast. Now thereís a law Congress really should pass.

Eventually the waitress brought out a bowl filled with a lumpy, white mass of something. She said it was grits. To make matters worse, they were cold. A quick note here, if you are served cold grits in any restaurant, immediately leave. You have been insulted.

The waitress also brought a glass of milk. Since milk was not ordered, I asked what it was for. She said some people like to put milk on their grits with sugar. The thought of this will make any true Southerner sick.

One of the great things about grits is that they are just as good the next day. Put leftover (always make enough for leftovers) grits in a flat bowl or pan, cover them with clear plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator. The next morning cut them in small pieces and roll in corn meal. Fry until golden brown and enjoy. Now there are a lot of other ways to use grits. A little red eye gravy over your grits is very good. You can also make a casserole with cheese, sausage or about anything else you can dream up. Isnít a casserole just another way to eat leftovers? Anyway, keep reading to learn more about grits, collards, catfish, cornbread and Southern life in general.

© Jack Kean 1998

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