Memories From The Past
By Kenny Stallard
Growing up with a mother from South Georgia, grits was a staple in our home. We ate them as a main dish, not a breakfast cereal or side dish with butter and milk. Our grits always had gravy of some type or a meat/sauce over them.
Grits have become popular with the cooking shows and some cooks act as if they were the discoverer of grits. They even tout the Italian version, polenta. The only difference between the grits now available at the grocery stores and polenta, is that the grits are mostly made from white corn and polenta is made from yellow corn. I can remember both color grits being sold, the only difference being on the label, "white hominy grits" or "yellow hominy grits"
Basically, grits are ground corn. More properly, they are hominy grits. Hominy was a way of preparing dried corn to make it editable. Back in homes and maybe even early caves; heating and cooking was by wood fires, the ashes from the fires were collected. These cooled ashes were placed in a wooden ash box. Water was added to the collected ashes and allowed to trickle down through the ashes into a bucket or trough. The dried corn kernels were then soaked in the lye water. The kernels would swell, bursting free of the hard husk. The resulting soft kernels were separated from the husk, rinsed several times to remove the lye water and then cooked, usually with meat seasoning, salt and pepper. Hominy was dried and used later by boiling in water to reconstitute. Dried hominy could now be easily ground as needed, using a wooden mortar and pestle in the home. Now days, we just buy a box at the supermarket.
One of our favorite ways to eat grits was to make a large skillet of sausage gravy. The sausage for this gravy was not from plastic tubes you get from the supermarket; the kind you have to add cooking oil to so you have enough renderings to make a rouge for your gravy. This sausage was from home killed hogs, ground and seasoned, then canned for later use. If it was store bought sausage, it was purchased at a local store, carved off of a large lump of sausage, placed in a paper tray and wrapped with butcher's paper.
The sausage was fried to just before being crisp and flower was added to make the rouge, browning just long enough to cook out the raw taste of the flour and finish cooking the sausage. This gave a white gravy with sausage bits dispensed in the gravy. A large plate of grits were then cover with a generous amount of the gravy, salt and pepper added to personal preference.
In the evenings for supper (not dinner), we might have grits with creamed salmon. Sometimes it might be grits covered with what we boys called soupy fried potatoes. Soupy fried potatoes were made by frying sliced potatoes with salt and pepper in a generous helping of meat grease. Just as the potatoes began to brown, a cup or two of water (depending on the amount of potatoes) was added and the skillet covered. This mixture was allowed to simmer, steaming the potatoes well and forming a gravy from the starch leached from the potatoes. As a variation on this, sliced onions were sometimes added to the potatoes and sautéed for five or ten minutes before adding the water.
Usually we had these meals when my dad would not be eating with us due to shift work schedules. He was not a great fan of grits, though he did learn to eat them with butter.
This has been several years past, but I still like grits as above or grits with fried eggs, runny yellows of course or cheese grits.
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