Get Your Mitts on Some Grits!

You could call this story, “guilty as grits.” A memorable scene in the 1992 film “My Cousin Vinny” involves the defense lawyer humorously trapping a prosecution witness in a contradiction by using the cooking time of grits. The witness testifies that his breakfast took him five minutes to prepare, but the lawyer Gambini  sets the record straight that the recipe for regular grits requires 20 minutes of preparation time, not five minutes.

Well, now that cook time depends on the grits to be consumed. Most commonly found are “quick” grits (yellow or white) in which the germ and hull have been removed. Grits are usually prepared by adding one part grits to four parts boiling water, sometimes seasoned with salt or sugar.

They are usually cooked for 5–10 minutes for “quick” grits, so the lawyer Gambini needs to do his homework.   Now, whole kernel grits do require 20 or more minutes to be ready to eat, or until the water is absorbed and the grits become a porridge-like consistency. Whole kernel grits are sometimes called “speckled.” As the boiling water transforms the ground kernels into a porridge, the water boils until enough water is absorbed or vaporized to leave it semi-solid.

As grits expand when they are cooked, they need to be stirred periodically to prevent sticking and forming lumps. They may be served with grated cheese, butter, sausage or country ham red-eye gravy. Grits have also been known to be served with fish such as fried catfish or salmon croquettes. Shrimp and grits is considered a breakfast delicacy in the Low Country of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Another popular variant is Charleston-style grits, where the grits are boiled in milk, instead of water, to give them a creamy consistency.

'Grit' and Bear it!
Although many conjure up thoughts of the South, grits are actually Native American origin. Mainly regarded as a breakfast fare, grits consist of coarsely ground corn, or sometimes alkali-treated corn (hominy). Grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world, such as polenta, or the thinner farina.

Grits can also be fried in a pan or molded to create a firm block; the resulting block can be cut with a knife or wire, and the slices fried in a fat such as vegetable oil, butter, or bacon grease. The word grits derives from the Old English word “grytt,” meaning coarse meal.

This word originally referred to wheat and other porridges now known as groats in parts of the U.K., maize being unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages. The word "grits" is one of the few words that may properly be used as either singular or plural in writing or speech and can be used with a singular or plural verb. The word grits referring to a food, should not be confused with “grit,” which can mean either “courage” or “a small particle, like fine sand.”

Grits have their origins in American Indian corn preparation. Traditionally, the corn for grits was ground by a stone mill. The results are passed through screens, with the finer siftings being grit meal, and the coarser being grits.

Many communities in the United States used a gristmill until the mid-20th century, with families bringing their own corn to be ground, and the miller retaining a portion of the corn for his fee. In South Carolina, state law requires grits and corn meal to be enriched, similar to the requirements for flour, unless the grits are ground from corn from which the miller keeps part of the product for his fee.

Three-quarters of grits sold in the U.S. are predominantly in the South, stretching from Texas to Virginia, which is also known as the “grits belt.” The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002. Similar bills have been introduced in South Carolina.

Now that's a culinary resolution to beat the band!