Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Don't Debate Them, Just Eat Them: Grits Are Great

I honestly don't know which debate is more intense when it comes to the often-misunderstood, sometimes wrongly-hated corn product known as grits.

We have one group that is fervently anti-grits and despises the grounds that grits walk on (if grits could walk).

Then there is the second, grits-loving group, which is divided into two grits-eating sub-groups: sweeet or savory.

There's yet a third group; those who have heard about grits but never tried them, and possibly don't have even the slightest idea of what comprises grits. The lack of grits knowledge on the part of many people played into a rather funny scene from the movie My Cousin Vinny.

To quote Joe Pesci in the scene above, "What is a grit, anyway?"

First it's never singular, always plural. Always grits, never grit.

Grits are essentially a thick porridge made from dried corn that has been ground into a coarse meal and then boiled in water. Even though known as a Southern staple, grits were actually a Native American invention originating in New England.

One of Sir Walter Raleigh's men, Arthur Barlowe, wrote of the "very white, faire, and well tasted" boiled corn that was served to him when he dined with the local natives. As newcomers settled in Jamestown, Virginia, the natives taught them how to make grits, establishing it as a staple in American cooking.

A classic American food enjoyed by millions, with a history going back centuries: why, then, do so many people hate grits?

Comments I've heard and read from many grits haters mention things like, "the consistency of coarse sandpaper" or "tastes like wet cement". It's obvious the problem here is that these unfortunate souls tasted grits that were not properly prepared.

Think about it. Grits are made from corn. Most people love corn. However, corn alone is not very flavorful, unless you are fortunate enough to get some Silver Queen fresh off the stalk. When we prepare corn, we nearly always add something to it... butter, seasoning, sometimes even milk and sugar (for creamed corn).

Such is the case with grits. They need a bit of help to bring out their flavor. And above all they must be cooked properly. If your grits are the consistency of sandpaper, they either haven't been boiled long enough, or the cook has resorted to abominable instant grits, the flavor and consistency of which are at best mediocre.

If your grits taste like wet cement, they just need some seasoning. Most people add salt, black pepper and butter to their grits. It's also common to stir in some cheese, ham or bacon bits, and even a bit of stewed tomato.

Here is where we get into the classic debate among grits eaters: savory or sweet?

As a devoted follower of the "no sugar in grits - ever" camp, I’m convinced that the appreciation for savory grits requires a Southern upbringing, or being raised by someone with such an upbringing. Those who treat grits as a breakfast cereal, using sugar, milk, and sometimes cinnamon or syrup, are more often from the Northern states.

In the long run it doesn't really matter how you prepare them as long as you appreciate the greatness of grits. I strongly urge any grits-hating readers to give them a second chance. Cook them yourself or find a friend who knows how to.

I do advise the grits neophyte to stay far away from so-called instant grits. First, they are very inconsistent in cooking time. Second, their grainy texture never truly goes away (hence the falsehood that grits are like sandpaper). Third, they are usually very salty and loaded down with fake cheese, phony bacon bits or faux ham pieces. Avoid!

Don't confuse quick grits with instant grits. Quick grits are simply grits that have been ground somewhat finer than regular grits in order to shorten the cooking time from the usual 10 minutes down to about five. Instant grits have been precooked and then dehydrated.

I personally cannot comprehend a culinary world without grits. My parents hail from Georgia, and their families had been there for generations. I was born and raised in rural North Carolina. Therefore, my love of grits comes naturally.

You people in the savory vs. sweet debate, get over it. If you're a grit hater, give them another chance, done the right way.

There's a whole 'nuther battle over white grits vs. yellow grits, but I'll save that for another day.

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