I. love. grits. They make me smile.
I did not know what grits were until I was seventeen and a married woman--well, that's a stretch because it's difficult to think of seventeen as a woman. Still, I was married and had a young son and was learning to cook and keep house. My (first) husband was raised in Texas and he wanted grits for breakfast.
"What's that?" I asked. "It sounds like dirt."
To some people that might seem like an accurate assessment. People are pretty evenly divided between grits lovers and haters. If you're in the same place I was 40 years or so ago you're probably thinking, "Wait--what's she talking about? What are grits anyway?"
I'll back up and explain as best I can. Grits are made from corn--yellow grits are produced if the whole kernel is used, and white grits if the exterior of the grain is removed. When corn is milled, the finer-milled portion becomes corn meal, the coarser becomes grits. You can read a detailed explanation of the milling process here. The corn is dried to a specific moisture content before being milled. I doubt the native Americans who originated grits would have been able to tell you the percentage; they probably had their own test to determine when the corn was right for milling. You can read even more about grits at Wikipedia.
Since I was newly married and still in that husband-pleasing phase, I learned to cook grits. There were no "quick grits" back then. Cooking a pot of grits meant 20 minutes of careful boiling and stirring to produce the thick porridge-like substance without scorching. It was about like cooking cream of wheat, except that the propensity to burn is even stronger with grits.
I remember my first taste of this odd food. Yuck. "There's no flavor," I complained.
"You don't just eat them," my husband explained. "You've got to mix them with your eggs."
Oh. I tried it. Better but still not nearly as good as all his fuss would make one believe.
Over the next year, however, I too became a grits lover. Breakfast was not complete without them. I became adept at cooking them and rarely scorched a batch. No cook would want to do that, since a pan that has burned grits in it is one hard to clean pan. Easier to toss it and get another, honestly. Except for that wastefulness thing.
As soon as my young sons could eat table food, they got grits. The boys loved them too. They would run into the kitchen with happy little faces every morning yelling, "Eggs and toast and grits!" Grits were a cheap way to fill them up too, costing a little less than a box of oatmeal back then.
One of my best memories of my sons at that age started as a typical breakfast morning. We often played a game of "damming" up the egg yolk with the grits. They would push the grits around on their plates, soaking up and damming the yolk as it spilled from their over-easy eggs. It was fun and a sure way to get them to eat all of their breakfast.
On this morning the boys were playing egg-dam as usual when I heard something a little different. It was the sound little boys make when they're playing cars and a car gets stuck. R-n-n-n-n-n, r-n-n-n-n, r-n-n-n-n kinds of sounds. Puzzled, I stuck my head into the dining room to see what they were doing.
"I'm stuck!" Jon yelled to George. "Pull me out, Bud!"
"Okay," George yelled back. He picked up a small toy truck by his plate, slapped it down in Jon's grits and began driving it through the tough terrain, making appropriate mudding sounds as he went. "R-r-r-r-r-r-r-n. R-r-r-r-r-n" went his truck, as Jon's continued to dig itself deeper in his grits with good spinning-tires sounds.
What did I do? I'd encouraged them to play with their food by damming the egg yolk and now they were just taking it another step by adding other toys. So I stood by and let them get Jon's truck out, then took the toys to wash up.
The boys just ate their eggs and grits, proving the adage that a little dirt never hurt anyone.
Nowadays I admit to being lazy and using instant grits--they're fast, I don't have to worry about burning them and it's easy to make the right portions. I've also been known to carry those little packets of instant grits in my purse if I suspect I might be somewhere at breakfast that doesn't serve them. (Just ask the waitresses at the Downtowner Restaurant. I'm still lobbying for them to carry grits on the menu.)
And every time I eat my grits, I remember those little boys and their toy trucks, playing with their food on a bright spring morning.
That's why grits still make me smile.