Them’s good grits.

We take our grits pretty seriously in the south. Everybody has a way they like ’em. Some people like them yellow, some like them white. Some want them in a casserole, some want them plain with a little butter and salt. Runny? Perhaps. Cheesy? Oftentimes. Oh, the myriad ways.

I didn’t realize that I had preferences, until I made them once, from a bag of grits given to me by a friend. And then I knew. I like my grits ground from white corn, and done so by a stone. I like them to be on the thick side, so please don’t let the stone grind them into a fine powder. I like to cook them with milk and water, and then add a good bit of butter and some salt. And really, for me, that’s all they need. Outside of being served with bacon, biscuits, and eggs at brunch; or smothered with spicy shrimp and the appropriate sauce for dinner.

The bag of grits that started this awakening, if you will, was from Chapel Hill, North Carolina — of the famous label Crook’s Corner. I’ve had the pleasure of brunching, on many occasions, at the Inman house in Asheville, where as far as I know they only serve grits of the Crook’s variety. I don’t make grits that often, so the couple of bags I was given as a gift lasted us for a while. When we moved to Athens, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get my hands on some decent milled corn.

The grocers here only carry yellow grits; and once, on a trip northward, I stopped in Helen (Georgia’s own little Alpine village) and got a bag, but it cost a relative limb or two. How hard could it be to get decent grits without having to forego a week’s bottle of wine?

Well. I was in — of all places — a fabric store. In North Carolina. (In the South, the scenario that follows makes perfect sense.) In Gastonia, NC, just off I-85, there is a fabric wonderland called Mary Jo’s. I try to get there about once a year or so, whenever the idea strikes my fancy to recover a chair or every cushion in my house (Tim loves it when I decide to do this). I was there last summer, with a friend, looking for upholstery to recover a craigslist loveseat. I didn’t find the upholstery, but at the front of the store I saw a huge cardboard box full of bags of grits. Right. And the sign said they were $1.25. Two pounds of stone-ground white grits, from Linney’s Mill, for a buck and a quarter.

The oddest part of this story is that I only bought 2 bags. And then gave one bag away. They sat in my pantry for at least 6 months, maybe longer, before I cooked some. I had an occasion last weekend to make a big pot of cheese grits (I used Alton Brown’s recipe, and it was delicious, even with only half the called-for amount of cheddar), and I discovered what we’d been missing out on for half a year. Because I didn’t know. How good. They are.

Crook’s fans: they are right up there. And for a fraction of the cost. My friends Emily and Rosie went to MJ’s last week, and I gave them the heads-up about the grits. Emily scored a FIVE POUND bag for $2.25.

I need more of those grits.

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