To many Southerners grits are a revered food, akin to barbeque in that most everyone has their favorite brand of grits or preference of white grits over yellow grits or vice versa, or “special” preparation technique. My own father, who was a child of the Depression (the real one) had a funny saying, “grits are groceries”, which to him meant they filled up your belly and are good enough to have at any meal. Good quality, properly prepared grits can make a meal.
Basically grits are the same thing as polenta (if you are familiar) but technically they are not the same. Grits can be either stone ground or hominy style, dried corn that treated with an alkali in a process and then ground. I am not a hominy-grits lover really, I prefer mine stone-ground. According to Anson Mills (located right here in South Carolina) grits and polenta are made from two different types of corn. Here is their explanation:
“Dent or Flint? Corn is classified by the type of starch (endosperm) in its kernels. The premier mill corn of the American South, known as dent (the name derives from the dent that forms on the top of each kernel as it dries), has a relatively soft, starchy center. Dent corn makes easy work of milling – it also makes phenomenal grits.
Flint corn, by contrast, has a hard, starchy endosperm and produces grittier, more granular meal that offers an outstanding mouth-feel when cooked. One type of American flint – indigenous to the Northeast – was, and remains, the traditional choice for Johnny cakes. In Italy, flint has been the preeminent polenta corn since the 16th century when Spanish and Portuguese treasure hunters brought Caribbean flint to the Piedmont on ships.”
So there you go. I also have been told that in Italy, polenta can also include other grains besides corn. The grind for polenta is finer than that for grits and the cooking technique is also different. So yes, polenta is ground corn – as are grits – but they are not the same thing.
As far as brands of grits, I have eaten many different brands of both white and yellow varieties and I’m open to trying ones I find during stops at road-side stands or country stores. My mother buys Jim Dandy brand grits – the white type and obviously that is the type I grew up eating. After I flew the coop, I stuck to Jim Dandy mostly, but Quaker and Adluh brands found their way into my pantry. (Adluh is a local South Carolina mill and they make very good products but can be hard to locate as they not carried much out of SC. See the side bar for a link).
In my twenties, I was gifted some stone ground grits from Nora Mill, located in Helen, Georgia. I have been lucky to try both their white speckled grits nicknamed “Georgia Ice Cream” and their yellow speckled variety over the years – all are delicious! Once I tried stone-ground grits it was impossible to go back to anything else. Sorry Jim Dandy!
When we lived in Alabama I purchased McEwen & Sons (Wilsonville, AL) stone ground grits and found they were also quite good. Their products are organic and they even sell blue stone ground grits. My current pound bag o’grits is from Palmetto Farms located in historic Galivants Ferry, SC. This is a 3rd generation mill operation that began in the 1930’s. I enjoyed the texture and corn flavor of these grits so I’ll be buying more of these in the future.
- Use stone ground grits: If you live in the South and your grocer has a “locally grown” section see if they carry grits milled nearby. If not, order a pound of grits online from any of the purveyors I mention above.
- Keep your grits cold: Freezing in fact. Grits are best stored in an air tight bag/container in the freezer.
- Do not buy instant grits: Friends do not let friends buy and eat (pluh!) instant grits, for obvious reasons…
- Cooking: Even if your grits are “quick cooking”, cook longer than advised on the instructions. A pot of grits needs at least 20 minutes of slow cooking (and stirring) after the initial boil.
- Salt: If you add cheese and/or stock to your grits do not salt them until very near the end of cooking. Otherwise you could end up with some salty grits.
- Have fun with your grits! Once you have the basic cooking technique down, experiment and try grits with cheese or fresh mushrooms or better yet mushrooms and cheese! Add herbs, sausage, or vegetables – whatever you think would tempt your palate.
- Grits aren’t just for breakfast: Although they are delicious in the morning try them for supper with grilled fish, seafood, roast pork or game, like quail. Pan roasted quail was a favorite of mine when I was younger. Add my Mom’s creamy pan gravy and a biscuit and the post-hunt sideboard was complete.
- ½ heaping cup stone ground grits
- 1 1/2 cup plus extra water
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock or broth
- 1/3 cup plus light cream
- salt & pepper
In a medium saucepan with a lid, heat 1 cup of water and 1 cup of stock. Stir or whisk in the grits. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to low. Place lid on the saucepan and allow to cook on very low heat for 8 minutes or so. Stir grits and add water (1/4 cup). Allow to cook with lid on for another 5 minutes. Stir again and add more water (1/4 cup). Allow to cook 5 more minutes and stir. Add more water of necessary. Cook another 2-3 minutes* with the lid off until the consistency is a little thicker than you prefer. Stir in the light cream and season with salt & pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes approximately 2 cups of cooked grits. This recipe can be double, tripled, or quadrupled.
* At this point you can continue slow cooking the grits all day if you like – just keeping add more water (or other liquid) and stirring every so often. If you allow the grits to cool they will congeal, however.