Grits, the quintessential southern food, are so versatile that they can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and are so popular that there are almost as many grits recipes as great gumbos. Grits became essential to southern cooking at least in part because almost all farming people—Indian, white, and black—grew corn; they have remained popular in part because they are so easily adaptable to different tastes. Success in preparing grits is all in the flavor-enhancing seasonings and delicate hand of the chef. Too much seasoning, as in red pepper, can bring tears to the eyes of grits lovers, while too little produces a bland blend that begs to be dressed up.
And dressed up grits dishes are—as shrimp and grits, garlic cheese grits, grits soufflé, grits and greens, seafood with roux over grits. The list is as extensive as the creative cook wants to make it. Craig Claiborne, a Mississippi native and a longtime food writer for the New York Times, offered numerous recipes using grits in his best-selling cookbooks. Grits are not the in-home breakfast staple they once were, perhaps because they have also been claimed by dark-wood-and-candlelit uptown restaurants, as exemplified by dishes such as the popular shrimp and grits.
Grits are a corn product, coarsely ground and served in many different ways. Grits are tasty, healthy, and easy to prepare—even easier if the cook knows the secret of cooking them. The true grits aficionado will not use instant grits (as memorably depicted in the 1992 movie My Cousin Vinny) or overcook them to the “mushy” stage. Knowing how to cook and enjoy grits involves taking a tradition born of necessity and turning it into both a treat and a point of regional pride.
- S. R. Dull, Southern Cooking (2006)
- John Egerton, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, vol. 7, Foodways (2007)
- Sylvia Higginbotham, Grits ’n Greens and Deep South Things (2005)
- Sylvia Higginbotham, Grits ’n Greens and Mississippi Things (2002)
- Susan Puckett, A Cook’s Tour of Mississippi (2005)