The Pasty Stuff


I was not born a southerner, so I do not have the grits gene. I had to acquire a taste for the southern delicacy, and it didn't come easily.

I first had grits at a Waffle House in Knoxville. As you can imagine, it was in the wee hours of the morning, and there was drinking involved. It was my third date with Mike, whom I married two years later. We were out getting to know each other, and in the process I learned that I hated grits.

I ordered cheese, eggs and grits. I thought, "Hey, everybody likes it. It can't be that bad, right?" Wrong. The waitress set the plate down, then I dug in and spit it out. "Blech! It tastes like paste!" I exclaimed, to the my new boyfriend's amusement.

He explained that you need to add butter, salt and pepper for them to taste good. I tried. But no, it still tasted like paste. They are dried, ground corn kernels minus the hull and germ, after all.

I tried grits again several times, and my verdict was the same. Then I had an epiphany. I was at a brunch in Memphis a few years back when the hostess with the mostest made sausage balls, breakfast casserole and baked cheese grits. Cheese grits, eh? I like cheese. I wondered if they would taste like pasty cheese. The idea had promise. I tasted them and wasn't disappointed. Maybe I was onto something.

After eating the baked grits, I came to find out that grits usually come in three grinds: fine, medium and coarse. They're sold as grits, quick cooking grits and instant grits. It's the instant grits that taste like paste. Baked grits taste good. I asked around and discovered that a lot of people eat the instant stuff. Stop it. Stop it now! Take the extra step and spice up the grits. You won't go back.

The beauty of baked grits is that you can add just about anything you want to make them a meal. Add bacon and pimentos, it becomes a perfect side dish for beef or chicken. Add crab meat and horseradish, and it's a brilliant pairing with fish. Sauté some shrimp in butter, hot sauce and garlic, and you've got shrimp and grits. For breakfast, lighten up on the garlic and hot sauce, add crumbled brown sausage and onions, and you're jammin'.

And for a bit of irony: Mike, the meat eater, doesn't like the baked cheese grits. They're too cheesy. Can you believe it? I've learned to love the most southern of dishes, and my southern husband won't eat them. He prefers the paste. Go figure.


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