When I talk about grits or hominy, I am not referring to the bland bleached mush that you buy in grocery stores and see in homogenized restaurants and diners now across the South. Instead I mean the naturally raised whole-grain stone- or water-ground corn grits that have provided major sustenance for the area throughout its history, even here in the Lowcountry where rice was for so long king. Most of the grits that I eat are grown by small farmers in northeastern Georgia and ground to order. They are cooked for a minimum of an hour.

In days gone by, Charlestonians referred to cooked grits as “hominy,” because when cooked they resemble the lye-bleached corn that goes by the same name. Grits, nothing more than ground corn, were seldom degerminated or treated with lye. Nearly everyone had a patch of corn, it stores well in the grain, and grist mills were common. Nowadays people pay a premium for whole-grain stone-ground grains with no preservatives. And grits is the accepted term throughout the Lowcountry today.

This is not just breakfast fare: grits invite a host of accompaniments from raw egg yolks to cream sauces, gravies, seafood, and hashes. See recipes for shrimp and grits, fried quail with sausage and oyster cream, and shad roe in cream. Along the sides of the plate of grits are fried fish or birds, country ham, and/or eggs. Leftover grits are refrigerated, formed into patties, dipped in egg and then crumbs, fried, and served with various toppings. Chef Philip Bardin at the Old Post Office on Edisto Island made a name for himself with his updated grits dishes, including an appetizer of fried grits with a topping of light hollandaise and goat cheese.

Allow ½ cup grits for 4 people if the grits are a simple side dish; double the amount for a plate of grits topped with sauce. As the liquid cooks out of the grits, add whatever you have on hand to keep the pot from drying out—water, milk, half-and-half, cream, or stock. I find that a little salt is necessary, but it is easy to oversalt grits in cooking. The solution is to add a little salted butter in the beginning of the cooking. It will not only salt the pot but also keep the grits from sticking.

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