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rooted: Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty (of Grits)

Shrimp and grits go with South Carolina like Forrest Gump and Jenny—minus the toxicity, but with a similarly interesting backstory. Join me as I begin my column series “rooted” with a deeper look into the most well-known dish of South Carolina: shrimp and grits.

You may even get some recipes, if I can ever learn how to write things down (New Years Resolution circa 2014). Please bear with me, I’m trying to become a decent human.

Let’s start with the base of shrimp and grits…the grits themselves.

The origin of grits comes from the Native American Muskogee tribe’s preparation of an Indian corn similar to hominy. This corn, like today’s grits, was ground in a stone mill until a “gritty” texture was formed.  The word “grits” itself is derived from the Old English word, “grytt”, meaning coarse meal. This corn was used as a source of currency, as it was involved in trading between the Native American’s and the settlers in that area.  This will be covered more later, as the history of shrimp and grits can be found in this period as well.

What we, in South Carolina, know as grits is hominy grits. It is a type of grits that are made from hominy: corn that has been treated with an alkali in a process called nixtamalization with the cereal germ removed (yes, I’m a nerd). More specifically, nixtamalization is the process for preparation of maize (corn), or other grains, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution (usually limewater), washed, and then hulled.

As with anything in life, we are then faced with options within the types of grits. Just kidding, we aren’t.

In theory, you COULD buy instant grits…but you’ll be breaking my heart, and I hold grudges. You could also buy quick grits, which is somewhat alright. But I’ll still be moody and ghost on you for a while as I heal from the emotional wounds you’ve just inflicted. Or, you could just buy some high quality, stone ground grits from any number of incredible mills we have in this state. You know, do the right thing…remember, Jesus is watching.

If you are still reading, thank you. The “issue” with real grits is that they do take some time and attention (maybe my spirit food is grits?). Here are some basic rules:

  • Use milk. If you must use water, please use a lot of butter and any fatty dairy you can, i.e., any dashes of cream or whole milk you can spare. One of my many weaknesses as a human is not writing recipes down…but I would guesstimate a 5-1 ratio of liquid to grits.
  • You will want to be cooking this very slow and stirring often.  Nobody likes cleaning a grits pot—well, in reality, you would have to use the “soaking method” here, and leave the pot soaking in water for a day (or until you remember it’s there).
  • Personally speaking, I add butter both at the beginning and the end of the cooking for a little extra flavor and cholesterol.
  • You’ll need to be adding salt during this process because salt is life (not “Salt Life”!). I am not shy with some roasted garlic as well. Garlic is why I get out of bed in the morning.
  • If you’re really into treating yourself, cheese can, of course, be added. Because why shouldn’t you add cheese to everything? (Slight sarcasm here…as Americans, we slather cheese on everything. It is kind of crazy.)

Now that we have the base settled, let’s let this information digest for a week. Practice your grits, send me pictures, tell me I know nothing of what I speak, grab a Snickers and calm down, and come back next week for the next chapter: the origins of shrimp and grits.

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