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Kiss my grits: An anthropologists tale of acquiring the taste for a southern favorite

June 7, 2014

As an English girl, I didn’t grow up eating grits. A traditional breakfast with my mom’s family was boiled eggs and soldiers. My dad is from Missouri and grits were not a part of his diet either. When I returned to South Carolina in 2008 and was reintroduced to grits, they started to grow on me. I rarely order them as a side for my breakfast. The quick grits that most restaurants make don’t appeal to me. They are often lumpy, runny or too something. But I began experimenting with different kinds of grits making shrimp and grits or grilling eggplant and serving it on top of a bed of feta grits.

I also met a number of people who work in mills producing high quality grits in South Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina is the home of a number of mills that are returning to the art of milling corn, rice and other grains. Because of this, I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of grits. As I’m living in the cotton belt these days and rice is the state’s top agricultural export, I know it might be odd that I’m writing a blog about grits, but there is more to it than the grits themselves.

photo 1I recently acquired a number of items from Anson Mills. Some of the grits and grains are for sale to the public and some are specialty items available wholesale. I’ll write more about Anson Mills in my next post. I was most intrigued by the Speckled Whole Grain Yellow Grits. The most common version of grits found in supermarkets is “quick” grits in which the germ and hull have been removed. “Speckled” grits are whole kernel and most of the natural germ and bran are preserved in the cool stone-grinding process, enhancing the nutrition and flavor of the grits.

I returned from South Carolina Thursday night with an empty fridge and a ton of grits. I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest grocery store. The Cash-Saver is close, but it’s produce isn’t the freshest. I came home with crimini mushrooms, spinach and a zucchini. I grabbed a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes from the cabinet, sauteed some garlic, onion and chipotle pepper in a pan, added mushrooms and later spinach. I put this over the slow cooked speckled grits for a delicious meal. The grits were amazing. I loved the creaminess combined with the texture of the different sized grains. photo 3I saved the leftovers for grit cakes!

The decisions we make about what we are going to eat and what we avoid are culturally specific. These decisions are connected to ease of acquisition and preparation. Taste, age, concerns about health, income, and ethnic background all play a role. Looking at the tradition of milling corn provides a way to examine the reintroduction of a cultural practice of preparing foods. On a more personal level, it offers a look at how tastes change and the things we can create with minimal ingredients. Stay tuned for more about grits, foodways, and other happenings in southeast Arkansas.

 

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Jamie Chad Brandon's Home on the Web... an anthropologist living, researching and teaching in Arkansas

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