Versatile grits no longer just Southern

Judy O’Daniel’s Country Gourmet column appears weekly in the Times-Journal.

To those of us raised in the South, a real breakfast consists of grits and other dishes. Eating grits is practically a religion, and a breakfast without them is unthinkable. Three-quarters of the grits sold in the U.S. are from the coastal states stretching from Louisiana to the Carolinas, an area known as the “Grits Belt.”

Grits are one of the first truly American foods. When Sir Walter Raleigh and his men met and dined with the local Indians in 1584, the two groups used food and drink to communicate. One of his men wrote about the boiled corn they were served.

When colonists arrived in Virginia in 1607, the Native Americans offered them bowls of this boiled corn substance. The Indians called it “rockahomine,” which the colonists later shortened to “hominy”. The Indians taught the colonists how to thresh the hulls from their dried yellow corn, a year-round staple. Thus, began our love affair with grits.

As industrialization overtook the North and rural life expanded in the South, it was only natural that the growing of corn here produced the grits that we have grown to love. As time passed, this locally grown product became even more important. Many Southern families survived the Depression era by eating grits since they were plentiful and inexpensive, easily made and filling.

Today, grits have been transformed from a regional survival food into a preferred food in many homes and a gourmet selection offered at some of the finest restaurants in the U.S. For example, in the Low Country of South Carolina and particularly Charleston, shrimp and grits has been considered a basic breakfast for coastal fishermen for decades during the May through December shrimp season. For the last ten years, this dish has been dressed up and put on the menus of some of the fanciest restaurants.

The versatility of grits has spurred its growth and acceptance so that they are no longer served as just a side dish for breakfast. Now prepared in a variety of ways, they can be served for any meal. Cheese grits are often served with fried fish as well as for breakfast and brunch. Shrimp and Grits and Sausage and Grits can be served at any meal. Whether as a side or the main entrée, you are only limited by your imagination.

Sausage and Grits Casserole

  • 1 lb. sausage, hot or mild
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper, combination red and green
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1-cup grits
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 8 oz. Grated cheese, Cheddar or Mexican blend
  • Brown sausage; add onion, bell pepper and celery and cook until tender. Drain.

Cook grits in water and salt. When done, add soup and stir. Add sausage mixture to grits and soup. Pour into a 9x13-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Top with grated cheese and bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

Cheese Grits

  • Grits
  • Velveeta Cheese
  • Butter

Cook desired amount of grits according to package directions. When done, add slices or cubes of cheese until grit are yellow and cheesy colored. Add butter, if desired, according to taste.

More water, or some milk may be added, if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Grits should be creamy, not stiff. The best way to determine if this dish is as “perfect” as you want it to be is to taste it before serving.

— Judy O’Daniel’s Country Gourmet column appears weekly in the Times-Journal.

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