Home What Are You Eating? The Grits and the Glory

The Grits and the Glory

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I can remember, every Saturday morning, my mother would call me downstairs to eat breakfast. Eggs, sausage, and a nice big bowl of grits.

 

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Spicy Smoked Shrimp and Grits with Arugula

Ohh… yes.

She used to put cheese on them, but it didn’t matter. If you made them right, you had this big, creamy, epic batch of goodness that you couldn’t wait to scarf down.

The only problem is, grits aren’t supposed to be scarfed down so easily… especially in large portions. Either by size, by fiber or by the sheer caloric richness, something should stop you.

Grits, traditionally, are not “instant.” They aren’t “quick.” They’re not “quick cooking,” and they certainly can’t be described as taking “no time” to cook. (Frankly, I’d question the amount of processing of anything that all of a sudden, with the assistance of food manufacturing, now cooks “in no time.”)

Grits – and its sisters hominy and polenta – are all derived from Blacks’ cultural relationship with Native Americans. When Africans would escape from slavery, they were warmly welcomed by Native Americans who gifted them with “the secret” of corn. Roast an ear of corn, then boil it with hickory ash. The corn, lightly ground, could be cooked in a giant pot with lots of liquid to make a a creamy porridge; the starchy insides of the ground corn could be expected to release and thicken the mixture.

While this explains how the newly-freed escapees learned the glories of grits, what about those still enslaved? The idea of word “traveling back” feels hard to swallow, especially when there were so many more pressing things to discuss. However, it did. Slaves who found freedom – or slaves who were never, actually, slaves – were taken captive and taught what they’d learned to others in their flock. Slaves were traded, as were their skills and knowledge. And, quite honestly, if a slave was given “one peck (7lbs) of corn meal, three pounds of meat and a half-gallon of molasses” to last them a week, you can bet they were definitely experimenting with ways to get the biggest bang for their peck… er, buck.

And, let us not forget that Blacks came from both Africa and the Caribbean – I’m just sayin’. If you had access to corn, chances are you were boiling it and grinding it up to see what could be done with it. Not everyone’s porridge was wheat.

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Spicy Shrimp and Grit Cakes

Very few companies make grits the old school way – the way that preserves the health benefits that the grain actually can impart; the way that, if you stored your grits improperly, would result in you finding rude little critters in your stash; the way that, as strange as it sounds, requires almost 8 parts of water for every one part of grain; the way that takes almost two hours to cook the entire batch. But, when you find that exceptional batch of hominy… you realize why it was standard. A fourth of a cup of dry, quality corn meal may weigh 1/10th of a pound – that pound might cost you $2.50 – and can yield almost a cup’s worth of food after being cooked. $0.25 a meal? You can’t tell me that’s not beneficial.

Grits – minimally processed ones – aren’t simply pure carbs. There’s protein in there and, depending upon who makes your ground up grits, they may contain a minimal amount of oil. You can definitely cook yours with plain water, but that – like most foods – runs the risk of tasting like pure cardboard, proper seasoning of not. If you’re making a meal out of your grits, in order for it to be satisfying, you’ll need to add fat.

That’s where cheese, milk, and butter came from in becoming additions to grits. Those of us who had a history of adding sausage to our grits – pardon me as I raise my hand – were also vying for a way to add fat to our grits, as that’s what adding that meat did. (Lets we forget, fat is actually necessary for proper vitamin absorption.) Because the purpose of adding the cream is to add fat to the dish, alternative milks wouldn’t work well, and Greek yogurts – though they seems promising – would be sucked up by the swell of the dish while cooking. It’d definitely add protein, just not fat… which, we need to be comfortable with admitting, matters.

Also, they’d need to be organic. Since close to 100% of all corn made in the US is genetically modified, you’d need non-GMO corn for your grits. Anything less is… well. Less.

When I spoke of polenta and grits being sisters, they are… in sort of a “same mother, different father” kind of sense. Both come from dried and ground kernels of corn. Both result in creamy-textured dopeness. Both are experiencing major gentrification right now… and both come with their own emotional baggage.

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Cayenne’d Grit Cakes with Chicken and Tomatillo Salsa

Just like grits for Black Americans, polenta carries its own baggage for Italians and Mexicans. For many, it represents a time of eating ground up corn because you couldn’t afford anything else. There’s an attachment to being able to live in a way that allows you to safely turn up your nose to polenta, and know that you’ll still have a moderately full refrigerator to go home to at night. The same could be said for some Caribbeans who frown upon eating porridge, because it represents an era where you didn’t have anything else. My mother, who grew up with 6 siblings on a one-person income, refuses to even consider buying navy beans. In fact, I remember her exact words:

“They were a dollar a pound. We used to eat them every day. I’ll be damned if I eat them now.”

The frustrating irony of all this is that if you were to consider this – the unwillingness to include traditionally inexpensive dietary staples – in the discussion about the expensiveness of healthy eating, you have to accept the facts: we’re rejecting healthy, inexpensive staples because they represent poverty to us. Little do we realize, that they were staples during lean times because they were inexpensive. That’s the point.

So, when you see a restaurant offering things like grits (or, in fancy speak, polenta), or things like ox tail, gizzards, tongue, hoof, brains and the like? That upscale attitude… is more about the price. Of course it makes sense to offer these things to wealthier people who may not’ve had to eat it growing up; they don’t know that it (and its various ways of being prepared) come from poor folks. Pay $0.79 per pound for turkey neck, put it on a plate with some kale, sell it for $19. That’s major profit. It’s smart. You, and your hang-ups about poverty, be damned.

But can grits actually serve as a part of a healthy diet? We’re talking about a minimally processed product, so of course it can. As long as you’re watching your portions, grits can not only be an inexpensive staple in a healthy eating routine, but you can enjoy them in numerous ways. My favorite, of course, is making little cakes out of them and frying them – believe it or not, because you’re only crisping the outside and not frying it all the way through like a chip, you wind up using less fat in frying them than you would if you were making a pot with cream or cheese. More on that later.

And, by later, I mean my next post.

How do you like your grits?

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40 comments

KANEKA February 5, 2013 - 3:30 PM

I need those recipes… Yes, ALL THREE!

Alicia carter May 20, 2016 - 3:41 AM

I do to

Laura February 5, 2013 - 3:49 PM

As a vegan, grits and polenta are two of my favorite creative meal bases when I’m jonesing for something comforting during winter months. I like my grits with organic non-GMO whole grain rice milk, a little oil, nutritional yeast (for cheesy taste and major vitamins), greens, tomatoes, chickpeas, garlic, and salt – and my polenta more or less the same, with the addition of mushrooms and basil, and the substitution of big white beans.

Keyea February 5, 2013 - 3:51 PM

Funny, I was having a conversation with one of my co-worker’s about grits this morning. He’s from Alabama, I’m from NY and we live in Maryland. We make our grits completely different. I cook my grits in water, afterwards I add butter, cheese, and ground pepper. My co-worker uses chicken broth to cook the grits in, layers the bottom of the bowl with sausage and polenta. The premise of our conversation was “can you eat grits if you give up sugar/ or simple carbs for one month?”

AshBash February 5, 2013 - 4:58 PM

mmmm…..o how i love my grits! i like mines w/home made veg or chicken stock steeped with 1 or 2 habinero peppers and ab a teaspoon of cheddar!

Jas February 5, 2013 - 5:07 PM

My mouth is watering. Can we PLEASE have those recipes!?!?

Michelle February 6, 2013 - 12:53 PM

I was thinking the same thing Jas. What happened to the recipes? LOL

oliviadaughter February 5, 2013 - 5:29 PM

Prior to my healthy lifestyle, I loved grits with sugar, cream, bacon or sausage and can’t forget cheese. My portion size was way too large. I also liked cheesy eggs.

I rarely eat grits now because I can’t image them tasting good without one or more of these ingredients. I do eat oatmeal and have learned to have oatmeal without sugar and cream opting for raisins or 1/2 banana.

I love your posts

JustMe February 5, 2013 - 6:23 PM

I LOVE grits so I’m looking forward to healthy ways to incorporate them into my diet and any recipes. I could lick this page! lol

Katia February 5, 2013 - 7:49 PM

I use only stone ground grits (Nora Mills, Anson, or Carolina) 1 part grits to 4 parts water (salted). I cook them for at least 45 mins and finish them off with a table spoon of butter and 1/2 cup of extra sharp or smoked cheddar. These work really well as cakes as the cheese helps them get super crispy.

mimi February 5, 2013 - 10:33 PM

forget about the grits and the long story. CAN I GET THE RECIPE FOR THAT SPICY SHRIMP?
oh my Lawd, it is making my mouth water.

Rasheeda February 5, 2013 - 11:20 PM

My grits are cooked in boiling water. I put the butter (non dairy) in the water while it boils, then add my grits. Add cheese, a little sea salt and pepper, and we have a meal. Eaten with a fresh piece of baked salmon and… Well, you know 🙂

Nell February 5, 2013 - 11:34 PM

I am so glad that you posted this because I had actually stopped eating grits because of the carbs…oh how I miss them and I don’t even do all of that butter and other stuff in them….I like them with a little bit of vanilla my grandmother used to fix a big pot with milk, sugar, and vanilla (there was nothing better to me as child) and I used to love them cold (YEP!!!) Now I can eat them with pepper or what spices I want to put in them…thank you, thank you for letting me know this.

niksmit February 6, 2013 - 1:13 PM

I boil mine with just water. Then I add a little salt, a little more butter, and a lot more black pepper. Lastly, I garnish with a few strips of bacon or a salmon croquette (or two).

christine February 6, 2013 - 1:51 PM

Ok, that;s it! I need one of you ladies to make me so grits..these sound amazing..The one and only time I had them they were this gray mushy madness shudders

Renee February 6, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Wow. Please share the recipes!!! Looks great!

T.R. February 6, 2013 - 3:28 PM

I LOVE grits and had bought a package from Trader Joe’s and was astounded at how long it took to cook them, so this post came right on time. NOOOOOW I understand. I hadn’t made them because of the time factor.

I love mine with cheese and butter. Mmmmm mmmmm good. Can’t wait to make them this weekend. :O)

Ashley February 6, 2013 - 6:13 PM

I’m trying to get my husband to join me in my efforts for better health and the easiest way for me to do that is with what I cook! However I was concerned because his most requested dish from me is Shrimp and Grits. Glad to know that there’s a way to make his favorite dish work for our health. I look forward to future posts…. Hopefully ones with recipes to go with those delicious pictures.

*hint hint*

diamondgirl February 7, 2013 - 1:44 PM

I love grits!! We were poor and had them every morning, Monday thru Friday. On the weekend it might be cold cereal. We couldn’t afford milk everyday.
But, now that I’m trying to eat healthier and lose weight, I was under the impression that grits was one of those “white” foods you should not eat. So, are you saying its all right to have grits every now and then?

Erika Nicole Kendall February 7, 2013 - 4:15 PM

As long as you are watching your portions and being mindful of your caloric intake, absolutely.

Alice April 19, 2013 - 6:16 PM

Please provide the recipes for all three. Thanks

Margaret February 11, 2013 - 2:24 PM

Oh that first one looks delicious! I actually made shrimp and grits on Saturday. It was a nice filling meal for a snowy day!

Dee March 5, 2013 - 4:28 AM

Grits, scrambled eggs, bacon with black pepper and a side of toast. 🙂

Dee March 5, 2013 - 4:36 AM

oh and butter!!

SavvyMom March 10, 2013 - 10:26 AM

I am a clean eater of the PRIMAL variety and I don’t eat grains but 3 times a year…and yes, GRITS are the grain that I eat happily!

kinyetta March 10, 2013 - 11:01 AM

can you please post or give a link to the recipes. I would love to see the grits cakes.

Shon March 10, 2013 - 11:23 AM

I love grits, but Ilike everyone else I would love those recipes as well.

Janine March 29, 2013 - 12:34 PM

We got ‘vegan soul food’ by terry bryant and it has an amaaaaaaazing Cajun tempeh and grits recipe. Highly recommend!!

Kenyetta June 4, 2013 - 10:04 PM

Love my grits with coconut oil! YUM!

Lee June 28, 2013 - 12:06 PM

Thanks to all of you for those recipes. l am a grits junky.

Maria October 2, 2013 - 10:26 AM

l love eating grits I eat it every morning. I usely add butter honey and cinnamon or butter cheese and cinnamon every now and then I might cut up some thin slice turkey lunch meat in mine a little something different.

Riley Tea March 20, 2014 - 11:54 PM

Erika, I am very glad to have stumbled upon your website and this article. You make such a good point in trying to help people understand that it’s not about restricting your diet, but in implementing the right foods (in the right form – whole) and making them delicious so you don’t feel like you’re lacking. I believe that the key to being healthy is to listen to your body, respond to what it’s asking, and give it what it needs. It’s important to listen to the voice that will ultimately satisfy you (present and future time.) When it comes to eating, I believe in listening to the body over the mind, but the mind needs food too. Grits can definitely feed both!

mellicent ear June 30, 2016 - 9:18 PM

omg do you have the recipes for these three??/

Molly B. September 16, 2016 - 10:28 AM

Well, I cooked mine in an iron skillet to leach iron into the grits this morning, and cooked them with olive oil and garlic, so I’d use way less butter. So, healthy as processed, instant grits can be?

For me, eating grits doesn’t stand for poverty, they stand for: I’m southern, and that’s my food culture, and it’s okay.

Delish, in fact.

Thanks for the educational article! Can’t wait for more!

Carrie Clark November 14, 2016 - 6:30 PM

Thank you for grinding down on the grits issue. The only thing I can add to all the posts is my trick for creaminess which is to cook them 1:4 grits to water and then, just before serving, beat in some whole milk in place of butter. No, it’s no the same but it does the trick for me.

penny Wicker February 14, 2017 - 11:42 AM

love this site

Carrie Lee February 18, 2017 - 1:07 PM

So happy to find this site!

Jaychante80s November 16, 2017 - 9:23 AM

Anyone else remember cream of wheat? I just started craving it once the conversations about grits began.

Danny December 9, 2017 - 9:46 AM

Oh yes cream of wheat was perfect , growing up in my home my mom cooked alot of cream of wheat and yellow grits……

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