Since we met almost six years ago, I’ve introduced my husband to a number of foods near and dear to my (Southern) heart. In some cases he was skeptical. When I first mentioned grits, for example, he shrunk back in horror, recounting the tale of the only time he’d tried grits. On a visit to see his grandmother in North Carolina, his family stopped at a roadside restaurant where he and his sister both ordered grits—which, according to him, was the most horrible food he’d ever eaten, next only to shrimp (he’s not a shellfish lover). So when I suggested early on in our relationship that I wanted to make grits, his face soured and he said, “I’ll try anything once!”
Lucky for me, my husband is adventurous (at least enough to try something twice) and I make pretty decent grits. A grit, for those of you unfamiliar—don’t worry, I get the question all the time—is the coarser half of what is produced when corn (or hominy) is dried and then ground in a stone mill. The finer half then becomes cornmeal.
When Europeans first started settling the South, they adopted some Native American corn-based food traditions, grits included. Corn is an easy crop to grow and grits are easy to produce, and both are inexpensive, which is part of the reason why grits have remained an important part of Southern food culture for so many generations. They are also easy to prepare: simply boil one part grits in two parts water with salt for 15-20 minutes. Grits are the perfect food for many occasions because of their versatility: they’re a blank slate for all kinds of culinary escapades.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy this super food is with shrimp. Shrimp and Grits is a coastal Carolina tradition whose origins trace back to fishermen’s lunches. These days you can find Shrimp and Grits served in upscale restaurants, and it’s a dish that never fails to impress guests when you prepare it at home. My husband loves my jalapeño grits, a spicy, cheesy dish that marries the heat of jalapeños, the woodiness of mushrooms, and the creaminess of grits. Grits are also delicious with truffle oil and big, beautiful mushrooms; as a creamy accompaniment to braised short ribs or brisket; chilled, battered and refried; or prepared simply with just a little butter and salt.
The grit, friends, is a beautiful thing.
Editor’s Note: Have you ever tried grits? What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?
Elena Rosemond-Hoerr is a photographer and writer based out of Baltimore. Born and raised in North Carolina, Elena writes about Southern food culture, blending stories and recipes to bring a piece of the South to everyone. You can find her delicious recipes on her blog, Biscuits and Such, and follow her food musings on Twitter @biscuitsandsuch.