Study a still life of Southern cuisine and a bowl of grits will be on the table next to the fried chicken, sausage gravy, and deviled eggs. A corn-based dish that had its origins with Native Americans, grits are so connected with Southern eating, they can be found on menus from breakfast diners to catered up-scale events.
Where better to learn more about such a traditional favorite than at a local quilting bee?
"I don’t cook ‘em, but I eat ‘em,” said one busy quilter. She recalled a trip she and some companions made years ago "up north.” They traveled to New York, eager to see the sights. Their first morning, they visited a store’s food counter and discussed the menu’s lack of grits. The cook, a New Orleans native, offered to help.
"If you go buy me a box,” he said, "I’ll cook ‘em and eat ‘em with you.” They did just that and enjoyed a taste of home and helpful tourist advice each morning of their stay.
Another quilter remembered her family’s fried grits. They would save the leftovers from their creamy grits in a jar and pan fry them the next day. "It was just a cost saver and grits don’t reheat well.”
Most of the ladies agreed they like their grits plain and creamy with some butter. One remembered the first time she tried shrimp and grits. "It was at a wedding in South Carolina,” she said. She was surprised to see the humble pantry staple in such a fancy setting.
Another quilter said she loved shrimp and grits and recommended the Old Orange Café in Orange, Texas, where the dish is part of their lunch menu. Someone else said the dish is her brother’s Sunday brunch favorite at Pujo Street Café, Lake Charles.
One woman stopped by to check on the sewing progress and added to the conversation. "My aunt had the best cheesy grits and I’ve been looking for a recipe to match it my whole adult life.”
Here are two tried-and-true grits recipes for her and all grits lovers:
Baked Cheese Grits
By Sally Garber in Pirate’s Pantry
1 cup grits
2 cups water
½ stick butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup Coon brand cheese
½ cup Cheddar cheese (Longhorn)
1 tsp salt
2 drops hot sauce
Cook grits; they will be stiff. Stir in butter, milk, eggs, grated cheese, salt, and hot sauce. Pour in baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes. Serves 6.
Wesley’s Gulf Coast Shrimp and Grits
From Southern Living
1 ½ cupmilk
¼ cup+ 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ cupuncooked quick-cooking grits
4garlic cloves, minced
¾ cupdry white wine
½ cupfreshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbspminced fresh chives
1 ½ tspsalt
¼ tspblack pepper
30unpeeled, jumbo raw shrimp (2 1/25 count)
1/8 tspground black pepper
¼ cupextra virgin olive oil, divided
3garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbspminced shallots
1pt. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbspfresh lemon juice
1 ½ tspdrained capers
¼ tspground red pepper
Dash of hot sauce
3 tbspunsalted butter, cubed
1 tbspchopped fresh chives
1. Prepare Grits: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring milk, ¼ cup butter, and 4 cups water to a boil in an ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Whisk in grits; bring mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally. Cover and bake 45 minutes or until grits are creamy, whisking every 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add garlic cloves and shallots, and sauté 3 ½ minutes or until shallots are translucent. Add wine, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Cook, stirring often, 4 minutes or until liquid is reduced by two-thirds; fold into hot cooked grits. Stir in cheese and next 3 ingredients.
3. Prepare Shrimp Sauce: Peel shrimp; devein, if desired. Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper.
4. Cook shrimp in 2 batches, in 2 tbsp hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 2 minutes on each side or just until shrimp turn pink. Remove shrimp from skillet.
5. Sauté garlic cloves and minced shallots in remaining 2 Tbsp hot oil in skillet over medium-high heat 1 minute. Add tomatoes and next 4 ingredients. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes, or until tomatoes begin to break apart. Remove from heat. Stir in shrimp and 3 Tbsp. butter. Serve with chives. Serves 6.