SAVORING THE SOUTHERN STAPLE
BY DEENA C. BOUKNIGHT
Non-Southerners may not understand the culinary obsession with grits. But for the true Southerner, grits are a staple – thanks, originally, to Native Americans. According to Culture Trip, the dish “was introduced to European explorers in 1584. During surveillance of the new lands in North Carolina, Sir Walter Raleigh and his men dined with the local Natives. One of the men, Arthur Barlowe, wrote about the ‘very white, faire, and well tasted’ boiled corn served by their hosts.”
Stone-ground corn, or hominy, is boiled and mixed with salt, butter, a little cream, and cheese, if desired, for savory palette partakers. Omit the cheese and salt and add a little sugar to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Anson Mills, established in Columbia to maintain true traditional grains, has its own recipe: Simple Buttered Antebellum Coarse Grits. The recipe is described on the Anson Mills website as “Big Daddy grits with big flavor and a mouth feel that really grabs your attention.” Read more about Anson Mills and their heirloom seed revival in the current Jan/Feb issue of CMM!
Coarse grits are different than the 5-minute variety available at most grocers. They take time to cook, at least an hour, but are home cooks and chefs’ choice when it comes to serving grits alone or as an accompaniment with shrimp, greens, eggs, and other dishes. Coarse grits also make the best grit cakes, maintains Anson Mills.
Culinary-minded Southerners will enjoy cooking up a pot of warm, steamy grits that taste like home.
Simple Buttered Antebellum Coarse Grits
6 ounces (1 cup) Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse White Grits or Antebellum Coarse Yellow Grits
Spring or filtered water
Fine sea salt
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the grits in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (preferably a Windsor saucepan) and cover them with 2 1/2 cups water. Stir once. Allow the grits to settle a full minute, tilt the pan, and skim off and discard the chaff and hulls with a fine tea strainer. Cover and let the grits soak overnight at room temperature. If you are not soaking the grits, proceed directly to the next step.
Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the first starch takes hold, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of water in a small saucepan and keep hot. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1 1/2 cups water or more in four or five additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they were not. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, stir in the butter with vigorous strokes. Add more salt, if desired, and the pepper.