Maize Dishes – Grits

February 22, 2015 at 6:25 AM | Posted in Maize Dishes | Leave a comment
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Grits

Grits

Grits refers to a ground-corn food of Native American origin that is common in the Southern United States and eaten mainly at breakfast. Modern grits are commonly made of alkali-treated corn known as hominy.

Grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world such as polenta. “Instant grits” have been processed to speed cooking.

The word “grits” derives from the Old English word “grytt,” meaning coarse meal. This word originally referred to wheat and other porridges now known as groats in parts of the UK. Maize, unknown in Europe in the Middle Ages, is a food derived from corn. (In U.S. English, corn is a specific New World plant; however, “corn” is used generically to describe cereal grains in the U.K. and in many European regions.) “Grits” may be either singular or plural. Historically, in the American South the word was invariably singular notwithstanding its plural form (cf. food names such as “spaghetti” or “linguine”, also plural in form).

 

 

 

Grits with cheese, bacon, green onion and poached egg

Grits with cheese, bacon, green onion and poached egg

Grits have their origin in Native American corn preparation. Traditionally, the hominy for grits was ground on a stone mill. The ground hominy is then passed through screens, the finer sifted material used as grit meal, and the coarser as grits. Many American communities used a gristmill until the mid-twentieth century, farmers bringing their corn to be ground, and the miller keeping a portion as his fee. State law in South Carolina, requires grits and corn meal to be enriched, similar to the requirement for flour, unless the grits are made from the corn a miller kept as his fee.

Three-quarters of grits sold in the U.S. are bought in the South, in an area stretching from Texas to Virginia that is sometimes called the “grits belt”. The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002. Similar bills have been introduced in South Carolina, with one declaring:

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.”

In the South Carolina Low Country, the uncooked ground corn is known as “grist”, and the cooked dish is “hominy”. This is distinct from the usual use of the term hominy.

 

 

 

 

Grits are either yellow or white, depending on the color of corn. The most common version in supermarkets is “quick” grits, which have the germ and hull removed. Whole kernel grits are sometimes called “Speckled”. Grits are prepared by boiling the ground kernels into a porridge until enough water has been absorbed or vaporized to leave it semi-solid.

 

 

 
Whole kernel grits are prepared by adding five or six parts boiling water (seasoned with salt – 1/4 tsp for each cup of water) to one part grits and cooking for 20 to 30 minutes. Grits expand when cooked and need periodic stirring to prevent sticking and lumps forming. Grits are most typically served seasoned with salt and pepper, as well as generous amounts of butter. On occasion they are served with grated cheese, sausage, bacon, or red-eye gravy. Grits may also be seasoned with butter and sugar, and a small amount of salt, giving them a salty-sweet flavor similar to kettlecorn.

 

 

 

 

Prepared grits

Prepared grits

Although usually eaten with eggs and bacon, grits may also accompany fried catfish or salmon croquettes.

Shrimp and grits is a traditional dish in the Low Country of coastal Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. It is a traditional breakfast dish.

“Charleston-style grits” are boiled in milk instead of water, giving them a creamy consistency.

Solidified cooked grits may be sliced and fried directly in vegetable oil, butter, or bacon grease, or they may first be breaded in beaten egg and bread crumbs.

 

Maize Dishes – Cornbread

February 15, 2015 at 6:27 AM | Posted in Maize Dishes | Leave a comment
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Skillet cornbread

Skillet cornbread

Native Americans were using ground corn (maize) for food thousands of years before European explorers arrived in the New World. European settlers, especially those who resided in the southern English colonies, learned the original recipes and processes for corn dishes from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek, and soon they devised recipes for using cornmeal in breads similar to those made of grains available in Europe. Cornbread has been called a “cornerstone” of Southern United States cuisine. Cornmeal is produced by grinding dry raw corn grains. A coarser meal (compare flour) made from corn is grits. Grits are produced by soaking raw corn grains in hot water containing calcium hydroxide (the alkaline salt), which loosens the grain hulls (bran) and increases the nutritional value of the product (by increasing available niacin and available amino acids). These are separated by washing and flotation in water, and the now softened slightly swelled grains are called hominy. Hominy, posole in Spanish, also is ground into masa harina for tamales and tortillas). This ancient Native American technology has been named nixtamalization. Besides cornbread, Native Americans used corn to make numerous other dishes from the familiar hominy grits to alcoholic beverages (such as Andean chicha). Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War because it was very cheap and could be made in many different forms—high-rising, fluffy loaves or simply fried (as unleavened pone, corn fritters, hoecakes, etc.)

 

 

Types of cornbread

Cornbread, prepared as a muffin

Cornbread, prepared as a muffin

Cornbread is a popular item in soul food enjoyed by many people for its texture and aroma. Cornbread can be baked, fried or, rarely, steamed. Steamed cornbread is mushy, chewier and more like cornmeal pudding than what most consider to be traditional cornbread. Cornbread can also be baked into corn cakes.

Baked cornbread
Cornbread is a common bread in United States cuisine, particularly associated with the South and Southwest, as well as being a traditional staple for populations where wheat flour was more expensive. In some parts of the South it is crumbled into a glass of cold milk or buttermilk and eaten with a spoon, and it is also widely eaten with barbecue and chili con carne. In parts of the southern and southwestern United States, cornbread, accompanied by pinto beans, has been a common lunch for many people. It is still a common side dish, often served with homemade butter, chunks of onion or scallions. Cornbread crumbs are also used in some poultry stuffings; cornbread stuffing is particularly associated with Thanksgiving turkeys.

In the United States, northern and southern cornbread are different because they generally use different types of corn meal and varying degrees of sugar and eggs. Southern cornbread has traditionally been made with little or no sugar and smaller amounts flour or no flour, with northern cornbread being sweeter and more cakelike. Southern cornbread traditionally used white cornmeal and buttermilk. Other ingredients such as pork rinds are sometimes used. Cornbread is occasionally crumbled and served with cold milk or clabber (buttermilk), similar to cold cereal. In Texas, the Mexican influence has spawned a hearty cornbread made with fresh or creamed corn kernels and jalapeño peppers and topped with shredded cheese.

Skillet-fried or skillet-baked cornbread (often simply called skillet bread or hoecake depending on the container in which it is cooked) is a traditional staple in the rural United States, especially in the South. This involves heating bacon drippings, lard or other oil in a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet in an oven, and then pouring a batter made from cornmeal, egg, and milk directly into the hot grease. The mixture is returned to the oven to bake into a large, crumbly and sometimes very moist cake with a crunchy crust. This bread tends to be dense and is usually served as an accompaniment rather than as a bread served as a regular course. In addition to the skillet method, such cornbread also may be made in sticks, muffins, or loaves.

A slightly different variety, cooked in a simple baking dish, is associated with northern U.S. cuisine; it tends to be sweeter and lighter than southern-style cornbread; the batter for northern-style cornbread is very similar to and sometimes interchangeable with that of a corn muffin. A typical contemporary northern U.S. cornbread recipe contains half wheat flour, half cornmeal, milk or buttermilk, eggs, leavening agent, salt, and usually sugar, resulting in a bread that is somewhat lighter and sweeter than the traditional southern version. In the border states and parts of the Upper South, a cross between the two traditions is known as “light cornbread.”

Unlike fried variants of cornbread, baked cornbread is a quick bread that is dependent on an egg-based protein matrix for its structure (though the addition of wheat flour adds gluten to increase its cohesiveness). The baking process gelatinizes the starch in the cornmeal, but still often leaves some hard starch to give the finished product a distinctive sandiness not typical of breads made from other grains.
Corn pone
Corn pone (sometimes referred to as “Indian pone”) is a type of cornbread made from a thick, malleable cornmeal dough (which is usually egg-less and milk-less) and baked in a specific type of iron pan over an open fire (such as a frontiersman would use), using butter, margarine, Crisco (shortening), or cooking oil. Corn pones have been a staple of Southern U.S. cuisine, and have been discussed by many American writers, including Mark Twain.

In the Appalachian Mountains, cornbread baked in a round iron skillet, or in a cake pan of any shape, is still referred to as a “pone” of cornbread (as opposed to “hoe cakes,” the term for cornbread fried in pancake style); and when biscuit dough (i.e., “biscuits” in the American sense of the word) is occasionally baked in one large cake rather than as separate biscuits, this is called a “biscuit pone.”

The term “corn pone” is sometimes used derogatorily to refer to one who possesses certain rural, unsophisticated peculiarities (“he’s a corn pone”), or as an adjective to describe particular rural, folksy or “hick” characteristics (e.g., “corn pone” humor). This pejorative term often is directed at persons from rural areas of the southern and midwestern US. A character in the Lil’ Abner comic strip, General Jubilation T Cornpone, was a mythical Civil War general from Dogpatch known for his retreats and imputed cowardice. President John F. Kennedy’s staffers, who were mostly Northeastern Ivy League elites, openly mocked Texan Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s rural speech patterns, referring to Johnson behind his back as ‘Uncle Cornpone’ or ‘Rufus Cornpone’.

Home baked cornbread made with blue cornmeal

Home baked cornbread made with blue cornmeal

Hot water cornbread
Cooked on a rangetop, one frying method involves pouring a small amount of liquid batter made with boiling water and self-rising cornmeal (cornmeal with soda or some other chemical leavener added) into a skillet of hot oil, and allowing the crust to turn golden and crunchy while the center of the batter cooks into a crumbly, mushy bread. These small (3-4″ diameter) fried breads are soft and very rich. Sometimes, to ensure the consistency of the bread, a small amount of wheat flour is added to the batter. This type of cornbread is often known as “hot water” or “scald meal” cornbread and is unique to the American South.

Johnnycakes
Pouring a batter similar to that of skillet-fried cornbread, but slightly thinner, into hot grease atop a griddle or a skillet produces a pancake-like bread called a johnnycake. This type of cornbread is prevalent in New England, particularly in Rhode Island, and also in the American Midwest and the American South. It is reminiscent of the term hoecake, used in the American South for fried cornbread pancakes, which may date back to stories about some people on the frontier making cornbread patties on the blade of a hoe.

Hushpuppies
A thicker buttermilk-based batter that is deep-fried rather than pan-fried, forms the hushpuppy, a common accompaniment to fried fish and other seafood in the South. Hushpuppy recipes vary from state to state, some including onion seasoning, chopped onions, beer, or jalapeños. Fried properly, the hushpuppy will be moist and yellow or white on the inside, while crunchy and light to medium-dark golden brown on the outside.

 

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