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Grits and Groceries
The South has a unique relationship with food. Everybody that lives very long at all does a little eating from time to time, but a certain attitude toward eating is in the southerner’s blood. (That’s likely why we are fatter than the rest of the country). We eat when we are hungry and we eat to keep from getting hungry. We eat to remember grandmother’s sweet potato pies and our grandaddy’s smoked hogs. Sometimes we eat to forget our worldly troubles, losing ourselves in a bottomless pot of collard greens or a tinfoil pan of banana puddin’ as big as a diesel engine. We eat to celebrate and we eat to mourn. And when we go to town, we eat like they just made it legal.
Then there’s the way we eat. As a rule, we don’t eat until we get full—we eat until we get tired. After stuffing our gullets full of lima beans and fried fat back and four pounds of cornbread apiece we lean back and blow.
Shooohh! “I’m full as a tick on a dog’s ear and twice as tight! I knew better than to have that last heppin’ of beans. But man they was good.”
Just about the time we go to push our chair back and unhitch from the table, somebody will say in a tone that at once betrays surprise and induces guilt, “I know you got room for a piece of pie.”
This rallies our spirits. We catch a second wind. So we unfasten our belt, pop the top button, and dig in.
And southerners are noisy eaters. I don’t mean we chew loud. I mean everything is loud but the chewing.
“Would you look at those tamaters! I want you to tell me where you’ve ever seen a finer lookin’ Bradley than that there.”
“Mmm hmm. Can’t beat em’ fresh like that. Turned ripe just about the time I got the knife half way through it.”
“And wouldja look at that corn.”
“That’s that sweet corn from them half-Amish folks ain’t it?”
“They’s Menahnyte, John.”
“Well they ain’t Babdist, but they sure as hell can grow some corn.”
“Well, I don’t know about yall but I’ve had a craven flung on me since Tuesday was a week ago for some of that fried chicken.”
“You want white or dark?”
“I ain’t particular. But pour me some more of that gravy on these here taters. I wanna be able to drag that bird through it.”
“Cooper, slow down. You act like we don’t food you at home.”
“Let that chile eat. He’s a growin’ boy.”
“Cooper, put some of these here hot pepper on them peas. It’ll put hair on your chest.”
“I see whatchoo sayin’ about that corn! Them Amish shore can sweeten them shucks.”
“I told ya.”
“Yall doin’ ok down there?”
“Well, I could use another fistful of that fried okry.”
“Son, you puttin’ it away like a field hand.”
“Ain’t nothin’ beats fried okry. Cept’ maybe some more of that corn. Toss another ear on there.”
“I want some gravy to put on my okry.”
“Cooper, you wadn’t raised to put gravy on okry.”
“Now you jus’ let that chile eat the way he wants. It’s good to see a boy that ain’t picky these days. All these youngins these days wanna eat is chicken tenders.”
“I’ve split chickens from beak to tail feather and I ain’t never seen no ‘tender’!”
“Speakin’ of which, reach me a couple of them gizzards.”
“What’s a gizzard?”
“Cooper you know what a gizzard is. It’s what a chicken has instead of teeth.”
“I thought that was its pecker.”
“Don’t talk like that at the table, boy. I’ll wear you out.”
“Whooohieee. I don’t believe I could eat another bite.”
“There’s plenty more chicken here.”
“I don’t know where I’d put it.”
“Well I don’t reckon you saved room for peach cobbler.”
“I might be able to handle a spoonful or so. Not much.”
“I at least wanna be able to taste it! A spoon full I said.”
“Well I don’t know about yall but I have eat myself sick. I said I wadn’t gonna overdo it. But you jus’ make the best cornbread. And I had to keep piling a few more greens on the plate to have somethin’ to sop.”
“Yall gonna stay for some coffee?”
“Naw we better head on back. I still gotta’ fix supper.”
It has been my pleasure in recent days to introduce some of my far-flung friends to a bit of the haute cuisine of the South. One such delicacy is grits. I hear tell that I’ve successfully gotten folks as far away as Michigan to add this creamy staple to their diet.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the delectable ground corn dish, I have composed a little poem, “What is Grits?”
Grits is never singular, Yet it’s “grits is,” not “grits are.” Think pluralia tantum, Grits is bits clumped in tandem. Grits ain’t two grit held in stitch, Like britches ain’t just two britch. As a plural, grits belongs, With briefs, jeans, and shorts–not thongs. But grits ain’t like underwear, Where one item makes a pair. “One grit” is no more tidy, Than just one tighty whitey. Though words are good for debate, Grits is better on a plate. In the end we must conclude, Plural or not, grits is food. Simmered down with whole white milk, Makes them smooth as fine spun silk. Add some cheese, strong like cheddar, They will taste even better. Grits with shrimp, grits with fish, Grits with almost any dish. Grits with ham, grits with eggs, Grits with crispy bullfrog legs. Rich and poor, black and white, Lutheran and Campbellite, Jews and Southern Jesuits, All acknowledge buttered grits. *thanks to Roy Blount for the last line which inspired the rest of my ruminations.
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