My introduction to grits occurred in the sixth grade.
My family had moved to North Carolina from Virginia. We were oatmeal people (at least my mother was). I never have been able to eat oatmeal without lots of sugar in every spoonful. I was so relieved when I learned you could get oat goodness in Cheerios – much easier to swallow!
My best girlfriend in sixth grade was Sue. Her mother was a grits person. I was taught to be a polite guest, so when Sue’s mother served me grits, I let her give me a generous portion. I watched the rest of the family sprinkle a little salt, add a pat of butter and spoon on a greasy concoction of ham drippings and fresh-brewed coffee. This was red-eye gravy. In the bowl the ham drippings and coffee form a dark red center, while the lighter grease from the ham separates into an outer ring. It makes a sort of bull’s eye; hence the name, red-eye gravy.
“Well, how do you like my grits?” Sue’s mother asked.
Oatmeal was never like this. Oatmeal was thick and rich and gaggy (unless it had lots of sugar). Grits … well, they had a thinner consistency, not much flavor except for the salt, butter and gravy. And they had a gaggy quality all their own. I was not a fan.
“Oh, very nice,” I replied in my best Eddie Haskell impression. “Very tasty.”
“Good. I just knew you would like ‘em,” she beamed as she grabbed the pot and gave me another heaping helping.
Somehow I made it through my first grits encounter. Sue and I remained friends for many years, so you know her mother made a special effort to serve “my favorite” grits every time I stayed there. It pleased her to see me gobble up a plateful.
I continued to eat grits without complaint, never letting anyone except my mother know my true feelings. Now here’s the strange thing. Eventually I grew to love them! I really mean it. I loved grits – so much so that when I was pregnant with my first child and very ill, one of the few foods I could eat — and that would stay with me — was grits! God has His ways.
When my son attended college in Florida, there were students from all over the country and from many different countries. You can imagine their confusion about some of the foods that were available. In the cafeteria line one day a young man pointed at the steam tray full of white-ish, solid, but liquid-y breakfast food.
“What is this food?” he inquired.
“Grits,” my son answered.
“What are grits?” he further inquired.
“Well, it’s ground-up hominy … corn. It’s good. Just put butter and salt on it.”
Anxious to try this Southern delicacy, the young man addressed the cafeteria worker, “I will have a grit, please.”
When my husband and I were stationed in Germany, he worked with people from all over the United States. On holidays and special occasions we tried to host the single soldiers, knowing they would appreciate a home-cooked meal. One of the guys received a country ham from his mother in South Carolina. He asked me if I would fix a meal around it. So I did.
We had country ham, scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits with lots of butter and jelly, grits and red-eye gravy. One young soldier from California was entranced by the fare set before him. He ate everything with gusto.
“I’ve never had anything like this. This is delicious!” he told us. Then he asked, as only a nineteen-year-old with a touch of homesickness would, “I don’t suppose you would have any avocado?”
“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” – Psalm 63:4-6 (NIV)