“True grits, more grits, fish, grits and collards. Life is good where grits are swallered.” —Roy Blount, Jr.
One of the many great things about attending the annual Southern Foodways Alliance symposium is that I get to go down to Oxford, Mississippi, and see some of my favorite people on the planet. I often stay with friends who turn the event into a reason for a weekend house party—a way of entertaining that always seems to turn guests into members of the family. The secret is letting everyone contribute.
Take breakfast, for instance. Whoever was in charge of the pound or so of bacon* on the griddle hustled to get the grits working as well. Stone ground and sweet smelling, they were from Georgeanne Ross, a.k.a. Oxford’s Original GritGirl. About ten years ago, her husband, Freddie, cobbled together a restored 1912 Fairbanks Morse flywheel engine and a 1910 Meadows Stone Grist Mill, and soon the couple’s new hobby had turned into a business. (Note to self: Find this sort of hobby.)
By the time the bacon was done, an ambitious early riser had returned from the garden with a bowlful of cherry tomatoes, which were unceremoniously dumped onto the bacon-slicked griddle to cook almost until they burst. Of course, you could use your favorite skillet, too.
Meanwhile, a small, opinionated committee huddled around the grits. Proximity to the coffeepot was the excuse, but, in truth, everyone wanted to be in on the action. Grits are not difficult to cook—you basically stir them into boiling liquid (a combination of water and milk, in our case), bring everything back to a boil, and then simmer them much longer than you think.
But, as with a good soup, attention must be paid.
The thing is, exact measurements are tricky. The usual proportion is four cups liquid to one cup grits, but it depends on the kind of grits you have—stone-ground or supermarket—how fresh they are, and so on. If you are at all phobic about seat-of-the-pants cooking, then make grits every morning for a week and you will get over it.
I grew up eating white grits, so I was struck with how yellow these were—just as sunshiny in color as the eggs that were keeping another pal busy. A long phone chat with Georgeanne yesterday afternoon revealed that yellow grits are common in Mississippi since it is a big yellow corn–growing state, and the brighter the color, the fresher the corn. She purchases her supply from local growers through co-ops and mills it to order every other weekend.
“Corn is so perishable, I never let my products sit around,” she said. “And I have a schedule. People need to understand that sometimes they have to wait for their grits.” (Don’t despair when you read on the website that she sells wholesale only; she will indeed ship to individuals.)
Yellow corn varieties are also higher in starch than white varieties, and because these grits are so fresh, they contain lots of starch.
If you tend to shudder at the thought of starchy food, take a moment to really think it through. This polysaccharide produced by all green plants is an energy store. It is the most important carbohydrate in our diet. We need it to thrive. Eat grits, not energy bars.
And one advantage of starchy grits is that they turn beautifully creamy without much (if any) added fat in the form of cream or butter. You can really taste the deep, sweet earthiness of the corn and understand why it is sometimes referred to as a vegetable grain.
All you need is some scrambled eggs, bacon fried pancetta-crisp, tomatoes that have collapsed in on themselves in a juicy heap, and some of your favorite people on the planet.
* New discovery: Oscar Mayer turkey bacon rocks.