Grits are a staple in Texas, but before I went there and tried them, I didn’t understand their appeal – I just didn’t get them. First of all, they present a grammatical problem: is “grits” singular or plural? No one ever offers you a single grit – it’s always a bowl or a pile (“pahl”) of grits. Maybe it’s a Texas thing – like “y’all,” which refers to one person, versus “all y’all,” for persons plural. I’ll just call ’em grits – if it’s all the same to all, y’all.
Where do grits come from? When I was a kid, “grit” meant granules of sand or rock. If you found grit in your food, you spit it out and rinsed your mouth. Chickens eat grit because they need it to help them digest their food (a convenient necessity given that they generally eat directly off the ground), but grits are something else.
According to Wikipedia: “Grits refers to a ground-corn food of Native American origin, that is common in the Southern United States and mainly eaten at breakfast. Modern grits are commonly made of alkali-treated corn known as hominy.”
Hominy? Isn’t that what Ralph Kramden stammers when he’s at a loss for words?
The Wiki definition continues: “Grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world such as polenta or the thinner farina.”
Exactly – grits resemble watery couscous. Or, if prepared on the thicker side, a bowl of wallpaper paste. That’s not so far-fetched, by the way – wallpaper paste can readily be made using common corn starch.
To add insult to injury – or rather, starch to starch – eggs (“aigs”), in Texas restaurants are served with toast and home fries, as well as grits.
Frankly, I felt a little silly asking for grits. After all, I was ordering an egg-white vegetable omelette (the menu suggested the more manly “Hold the yolks, pardner”), and Canadian bacon (“city ham” on the menu, not conceding anything to our northern neighbor). Then I asked for rye bread, which made the waiter cock his head quizzically.
“You mean wheat?”
“No – do you have rye?”
“Wheat or white?” (Pronounced “what.”)
The unspoken question, apparent from the waiter’s slack gaze, was, “What the hell is rye?”(Pronounced “rah.”)
So, to lend some Texas cred to my East Coast milquetoast egg “what” omelette, I ordered a bowl of grits. Then, confronted with that steaming pile of gelatinous, tasteless mush, I did what anyone with pluck (or grit – or grits, for that matter) would do – reach for the spices and condiments. First, a sprinkle of salt and pepper overall. Then I had a shake of hot sauce on one spoonful, a dab of butter on another, and a slice of city ham with the next. This was getting to be fun. To carry on the maize theme, I even tried a spoonful with a squirt of maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup (“flapjack surp”), and it was pretty good.
I was starting to git grits! On their own, grits have little personality, and virtually no flavor. But as a substrate for spices, fats and unhealthy sweeteners, grits are magic – gladly taking on all flavors and conveying them to the tongue in a creamy soup that swirls happily around the mouth before sliding complacently down into your belly, warm and comforting as a fuzzy lapdog.
But are grits good for you? Years ago, these cute kids’ toys called Weebles were promoted with the advertising slogan, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Weebles didn’t fall down because they couldn’t. Being egg-shaped, they merely rolled in place on their robust rounded bottoms. I suspect eating too many grits would eventually give you that Weeble look – along with heart disease, diabetes, and the need for hip replacement surgery, not to mention blown-out knees, varicose veins, and arthritis.
Git it? If you “git” grits, and eat them too often, grits will git you. But they’re not generally on the menu in any East Coast eateries, and I’m not rushing off to the supermarket to hunt down hominy for my breakfast porridge, so if I want to cultivate obesity, joint pain, and a propensity for heart disease, I’ll have to stick with old-school, Jersey-diner home fries cooked in bacon fat, and served with sass by a waitress shaped like a Weeble.