Here at the Blog, we often discuss issues of great import to the Black community. We talk about the urge to assimilate. We ponder the imponderables of which Aunt Viv was the better Aunt Viv: the dark-skinned one, or the light-skinned one. Kobe v. Lebron. Jordan v. Kobe. All of these issues divide the writers and the Black community.
All of these pale in comparison to the topic this post covers: What, in fact, are the proper additives for Grits? As always, we begin at the beginning.
Grits as a food staple began, as many other foods eaten in the Americas, in the native communities that were present on the continent before the European conquest. Often also called “sofkee” or “sofkey” from the Muskogee language, grits were first prepared by the Native American communities from the American South. Grits consist of coarsely ground corn or hominy (corn that has been treated with alkali in a process known as nixtamalization). Traditionally ground in stone mills, the grinds were then passed through a screen with the coarser part being the Grits we coloreds know and love. However, it isn’t just phenomenon among Black people, Grits are a Southern staple that crosses the color line. The State of Georgia declared Grits its official prepared food in 2002. South Carolina proposed a Bill in its legislature stating:
Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of South Carolina used to be the site of a grits mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as Charleston’s The Post and Courier proclaimed in 1952, “An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.”
Now you know the history. But what you really wanna know is what is the proper seasoning for this staple of Southern diet? The key additives seem to be:
1. Cheese, of whatever variety, but usually cheddar
2. Salt and/or Pepper
3. Sugar, sometimes in combination with cheese, but never in combination with Salt and/or Pepper.
In all my time writing for the blog, I have perhaps never encountered a dead-end. Alas, it seems there is no real answer to this question. The most commonly-thought solution is that in the North, grits are eaten with sugar, and in the South, particularly the Carolinas, pepper is the seasoning of choice. Cheese is often added both in the North and the South. Butter is often added during cooking, or immediately after plating. It can be served in a bowl or a plate. To be eaten with a fork or with a spoon.
The true answer to the Great Grits Debate is telling: There is no answer to it. There is no standard. Much like many other elements of the Black Community, there is no defining feature that could be considered the touchstone of the Black experience. There are Black folk who will argue to the death that Pepper is the only topping for grits. Other will still more fervently come down on the Sugar side of things. In my research neither prevails as the the de facto topping for Grits. Lest we forget, we are a people that are linked by the unique American experience. We are a product of a once-terrible past and sometime still-terrible present. However, our commonality of experience often stops at our skin tone. We are a people unique in our differences.
Eat your Grits the way you wish.