Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grits and Bear It

Gastronomically speaking, there’s not much in the world that I love more than grits, and apparently I’m not alone in my admiration. The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002 and a similar bill has been introduced in South Carolina with Charleston’s The Post and Courier proclaiming in 1952, “An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, grits should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of grits is a man of peace.” My husband is not that man.

I come by my love for grits honestly; I grew up in the south where grits are fit for every meal. Any diner worth its salt will offer a choice of hash browns or grits with your breakfast, and if you want more you can always add a monkey bowl of grits as a side order. You’ll regularly see “shrimp and grits” on a menu, as well as with other kinds of meat, and especially cheese, but rarely vegetables.

Grits can be served hot or cold, porridge-style, or cubed and fried, but my favorite is simply hot and made a bit soupy with some butter, salt, and pepper. Grits are international, in Italy it’s called polenta and considered gourmet (hey, it’s basically the same thing) and in South Africa I was thrilled to find “pap”, a traditional porridge made from ground corn, so in a word – grits. Despite this far reach, grits can’t seem to make it over the Mason-Dixon line. My years living in the northeast after we returned from a few sun-soaked years Florida were dire; any trip south of DC required an early stop at a roadside Waffle House for a fix.

It was on our first trip together while dating that our grits rift was exposed. I shrieked with excited at the site of the first Waffle House, he – not so much. “What are grits?” he asked, I tried to explain but suggested that he just order them and find out for himself. He refused and despite never having tried them (he was born in New York; upstate – not the city – but as far as grits are concerned, it doesn’t make a difference), he knew he didn’t like them (huh?). “Ok, that’s fine, but you’re not getting any of mine!” That didn’t seem to bother him.

I didn’t give up; convinced that homemade grits, the kind that take 20 minutes to cook, would do the trick. Once he tasted that, he’d be a convert and bye-bye hash browns. Nope. He refused to season it, took one bite and almost spit it across the room. “You have to season it” I said, “just add a half a stick of butter and a handful of salt.” He disappeared back into the kitchen and returned to try again. Another bite and the same reaction, “What did you put on it?” I asked. “Some maple syrup and brown sugar” he replied. NO! What was he thinking? I explained that grits are savory; this is not oatmeal! But that was the end of it and he’s never eaten them again. Now he revels in telling all our friends that I like to eat ground-up corncobs, the part of corn that the cows won’t eat.

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