When your grandmother is the “Grits Queen” not liking “Southern Porridge isn’t an option.
As a Texas girl with a southern mama and grandmother, I was raised with a keen and enthusiastic appreciation of brunch, although we called it Sunday dinner. It was the meal you ate at noon right after you got back from church. In its purest form, it was a salute to carbohydrates. Nothing was safe from being battered or deep-fried. Even bacon got coated in a mix of brown sugar, eggs and flour and then was plunged into a pool of hot, bubbling Crisco.
The final flourish was rolling the bacon, which now resembled a hybrid of chicken tender and fritter, in cinnamon sugar and then dipping it in honey. I’m surprised no one had a cardiac episode at the table while they were eating. But then again, it was the late 70s and my grandpa’s preferred dining style was a forkful of food and then a drag on a Lucky Strike cigarette. Suffice it to say; the health movement had not permeated my grandparent’s house yet.
The one brunch food I had no appetite for was grits. I thought they were horrible — like, pretend to eat it and spit it out in your napkin, horrible. This devastated my grandmother. She had a reputation for being the “Grits Queen,” and she was proud of that moniker. In her mind, every southern woman had to be the master of three things in the kitchen: biscuits, gravy and grits. Not only could I not stand to eat grits, but there was also no way I wanted to learn to make them.
This lead to my grandmother staging what I would today call an intervention. She had the female family members gathered in her kitchen and each one shared with me how my shunning of grits hurt them deeply. (Did I mention I was still in elementary school?) The result of this exercise was me vowing to learn the art of making grits at my grandmother’s side.
It was a cooking lesson I wasn’t looking forward to because, in my opinion, grits were gross. They’re the equivalent of eating raw cornbread batter – tasteless and grainy. Seriously, blech. Even as a child my food theory was that if you have to work that hard to make something edible, then it’s the lord’s way of saying don’t bother. It’s the same reason no one should eat Cream of Wheat — it takes a pound of sugar and butter to even make it palatable. Grits are even worse.
First, hominy grits (the OG in the grits category) are just plain old corn kernels (my grandmother was all about the Boone County White) that have been tortured with some sinister substance like lye. (Do you know what lye is? It’s what our ancestors used for soap. I’m just going to throw it out there that if we moved on to lathering up with Irish Spring, why are we still using lye for food prep?) Once the lye bloats the corn kernels to three times their original size (kind of like my family after eating deep-fried bacon) and they look a little like teeth ripped out of someone’s mouth by a serial killer with a dental fetish, you then haphazardly grind up the teeth (oh sorry, I mean corn). After that, you have to soak the mixture in water and then add half of the stuff in your pantry and refrigerator to make it appear to be something a human should consume.
Based on all of this, was it wrong for me to just want to be left alone to savor the caloric splendor of bacon dipped in a brown sugar batter? Of course not, but I loved my grandmother, so I faked it. I put on an apron and vowed that I could conquer my fear of grits. Ugh, I embraced the creepy corn and went through the motions of grinding, soaking and making a “porridge” that looked like jaundiced papier-Mâché goo that had been left out on the sidewalk in mid-July. That was the easy part. The hard part was sitting down with my grandma to enjoy the “fruits of our labor.”
I took the smallest spoonful I could get away with and realized that, with my grandmother and two great aunts staring at me, I wouldn’t be able to pull the old spit out in the napkin routine. I was going to have to actually eat my grits. Then something magical happened – yuck turned into a very relieved me thinking, “Praise God, I don’t think I’ll die from eating this.” These grits tasted almost decent. My female relatives cheered when I smiled and took another very, very small bite.
I felt euphoric like I had passed some sort of generational test — and I had. I was now part of the sisterhood of grits.