It was New Year’s night, which is the tail end of New Year’s Day, which comes after New Year’s Eve, which is preceded by New Year’s Eve Eve. Any excuse for a party. But we had not been partying, unless you count  the excellent venison stew with our cabin neighbors Roxanne and Jay. They’re great friends and we continue to celebrate Roxanne’s brand new Ph.D. in Nursing Education. Considering that she dropped out of school at age 15—that was normal in Louisiana, she tells me—to get married, it’s a special accomplishment. We joyfully toasted GED to Ph.D. We were home by 8:30. And I don’t mean 8:30 on New Year’s Day.

I digress. I had been thinking all day about New Year’s resolutions. I gave up on them a long time ago, as I have enough stuff to make me feel like a failure without imposing impossible goals like wear a bikini in June, stop swearing, finish that baby blanket I started crocheting for Miss Priss three years ago when she was born. You can make all yours. I’ll cue up for the treadmill, for a week or so, then you’ll be gone and I’ll be back to my regular not-quite-enough-exercise routine.

But this year, new decade and all, I decided to make a New Year’s resolution. It won’t change me or the world. And it won’t destroy me if I mess up. The resolution: Eat more grits.

Here at the cabin in Mountain Rest, we keep good old Red Mule grits, ground in Clarke County from corn grown by Tim  Mills in Clarke County. Tim’s a character his own self, but his grits are divine. You will find them on the menu of some excellent restaurants as well as some just-good ones. Farm 255 (superb) and Hilltop Grill (solid, good food) come to mind in Athens. Our famed chef Hugh Acheson uses them at Five and Ten and The National. You will NOT find them at the Waffle House or IHOP or Denny’s. They are not that white slop that you order at 3 a.m. when you’re trying to sober up enough to go home. No, sirree. Red Mule grits are the real thing. Nothing bromated, nothing with preservative properties. Ingredients: corn. That’s what the label says. None of this instant crap, not for me. It’s been many years since I was trying to sober up enough to go home at 3 a.m. I can be particular about my grits now.

We eat locally a lot. Not exclusively—I’m not that virtuous—but tilted heavily to seasonal availability. Thank heaven—and Tim Mills—Red Mule grits are available year-round. “Let’s have grits and a hearty breakfast to start the New Year,” I said to Tom New Year’s morning, when we were both coffeed-up enough to think about food.  Not hungover, mind you, just mountain-sleep fogged.

I pulled out the Red Mule grits—kept in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer—and cooked them “Old Post Office” style: half milk, half water. My son started calling them Old Post Office grits when he was about 12 and we were regular customers at the Old Post Office restaurant on Edisto Island, SC. For all I know, everybody called them that. Old Post Office grits take a while, but man, oh, man, are they worth it!

This morning, I cooked up a batch. My only complaint is that Tim says a half cup of grits and three cups of liquid will make grits in about a half hour. Not so. After 45 minutes, I added another half cup of grits. Then we had the real thing. I used my Lodge cast iron skillet to cook perfect fried eggs—low heat is the secret—and plopped them on top of a big plate of grits. (If you’re eating your grits from a bowl, you haven’t cooked them right.)

Band-fruit grapefruit and Masada Bakery (Decatur, GA) Harvest Bread toast topped it off. Mountain Rest Honey. A little salt and pepper. Mighty fine. The problem was that extra half-cup of grits I’d added. We had significant leftovers. I told Tom to keep them, and I’d think of something.

Dinner rolled around—we had developed fierce appetites sitting by the fire and reading books all day—and I pulled out some grass-fed pork chops from BPH farms in Morgan County. I had some spinach I hadn’t used for my show-off Christmas Day dinner salad. Eggs. Some good Pecorino Romano.

I guess Southern Living would call it grits soufflé, but that seems a mite fancy for what I did. To the leftover grits, I added a little milk, beat in two eggs, then stirred in a half bag of barely-cooked spinach. Grated Romano gave it some tang and I popped it in the oven.

In my trusty Lodge cast iron skillet, I sautéed these local pork chops in a little olive oil, then added some chopped shallots and a little white wine. They were done in no time. A fine meal: tasty, hearty, simple and not as much cholesterol as there could have been.

“What do you want me to do with this leftover grits thing?” my beloved asked as he cleaned up.

“Put it back in the storage thingee and I’ll use it for breakfast. Somehow.”

It took some plotting. I made little grits cakes, dredged in egg, dusted in a little Red Mule corm meal, sautéed in butter. Cooked up some Long Creek apples we got back in November. Fried a little bacon. Another damn good meal. Good old Red Mule grits. You can’t starve if you’ve got ‘em.

And to my dear, dear friend Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor, who also sells most excellent grits: One more resolution. I promise to learn to fry chicken this year. Really.


Top photo: Red Mule grits.

Bottom photo: Tim Mills pours corn to be ground into Red Mule grits.

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Myra Blackmon

Myra Blackmon

Myra Blackmon lives an eclectic life in Athens, where she retired from her own public relations firm. With a master of education degree she finished at 57 she is preparing to teach an online course at Tblisi State University. She writes a weekly column for the Athens Banner-Herald and coaches a fourth grade newspaper staff at her neighborhood elementary school. Mostly, though, she writes, cooks, grandmothers and dabbles in politics while she seeks the next big adventure.

15 Comments
  1. Terri Evans

    I’m with you on the Post Office Grits, only I also use a small amount of chicken broth. Can’t stand any version of quickly-prepared grits. Our daughter and son-in-law almost always grate some sharp, white cheddar on top. Notice the sharp part and the white part – simply better, trust me. As to more grits as a resolution, this is a fine economy for doing so! We had wonderful collards and hoppin’ john (the dish, not the person) on New Year’s Day and counting on both to change the economy. Oh yes, one more thing – also right there with you on the Lodge skillets.

  2. I am happy to volunteer for fried chicken tasting in an effort to help you get it RIGHT for John…

  3. A mouth-watering breakfast (and delightful story), but no red-eye gravy??!

  4. I stopped using anything but water in my grits years ago. No stock, no milk, no cream. A tab of butter and a little salt, but that’s all. That way — when the grits are truly whole-grain and full of the fat that’s in the germ (and we all know that fat’s what carries flavor!) — what you taste is the corn, not a bunch of other stuff. It drives me crazy when chefs put chicken stock in their shrimp and grits (a dish I am largely responsible for popularizing). And I don’t cook them all day, either. They don’t really take that long. A half hour to 45 minutes is enough. When I sell my grits (from Union County, GA) at farmers’ markets, I always have a crockpot of them for folks to taste (that’s a great way to cook them, too: just put it on low overnight with 4 parts water to 1 part grits, and a little salt. No butter yet, if ever; it just rises to the surface. If they’re not done in the morning, take off the lid and crank it up to high for 10 minutes or so while you cook the eggs — or shrimp — or what-have-you). Invariably, the response when folks taste my “nude” grits is, “Wow! That tastes like fresh corn.”
    Duh.

  5. You can also get excellent grits from Logan Turnpike Mill just south of Blairsville on U.S. 129. We drive up three or four times a year and restock. They will ship, but a pound of grits costs more UPS shipping than the grits themselves. Union County mills the best grits around.

    Both instant coffee and instant grits are abominations before the Lord.

  6. Terri Evans

    To John: I can accept and appreciate a smack-down on the subject of grits from the likes of you. Got it. Next time, I’ll leave off the broth, milk, etc and try it your way. I especially like the idea of the crockpot and waking up to hot grits. Meanwhile, how can we get your grits without going to Union County?

  7. Well you guys have gotten my taste buds all worked up. Having no alternative here in Tampa I’m going over to waffle house and get the only thing available. I happen to like mine with a lot of butter, a lot of pepper, and lots of cheese and I’m not really picky about what kind of cheese. My mom was from NY so we didn’t grow up with great grits, but sometimes we would visit my grandmother and them down in Pittsview Alabama. My aunt had a cook named Duit, and she cooked baked grits that were really really good. I have wondered all these years about how she made them taste the way they did and now I may have discovered the secret. Thanks for sharing. BTW that is an excellent resolution.

  8. Some friends of mine from above the Mason-Dixon line had no idea how real grits taste as John Martin Taylor has described untill they quit adding milk and sugar to their grits.
    YUCK! It took a while to convince them grits are not a course cream of wheat but they finally came around.
    I haven’t noticed the term “hominy grits” mentioned here. John do you produce them as well?

  9. Hominy is corn that has been degerminated, that is, the germ (with all the fat and flavor) has been removed. In old times, it was done in a lye bath. Now it’s done mechanically. Without the oil, they are shelf-stable, but they taste like the cardboard they’re packed in. What you want are whole-grain, stone-ground, heirloom dent corn like mine. All that said, “hominy” in Charleston is also used to mean cooked grits, whether they’re actually made from degerminated corn (“hominy”) or whole-grain. Food language is tricky.

  10. John I remember the lye soaked swollen hominy crushed to make what looked to be half the size of a grain of rice. Large grains for grits. I still purchase hominy from the grocery store but pass on the hominy grits. Your description of how to cook the grits is from our southern ancestors. No stock or other additives except salt involved. Thanks for your responce and I’ll have to try your product.

  11. Cliff Green

    Myra, thank you for mentioning Lodge cast iron, the finest cookware ever made. If any of you cooks and foodies are driving from Atlanta or north Georgia toward Nashville, there is an exit on I-24 north of Chattanooga for South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. Take it! Turn right at the end of the exit ramp, and in about a mile or so you will be in historic SP and on its lovely little main street. You have to look real close, but near the end of the historic district, on your left and back off the road, is the Lodge Outlet Store. It’s a dumpy looking little place not much larger than your local Quick Trip, but take thirty minutes off your trip and wander through the place.
    You’ll go home and throw out your Le Crueset and stuff like that; I ain’t kidding.

  12. We had grits for breakfast too, but while you were probably having them around noon – we had them at 7:30 AM. There is just something about being in Mtn. Rest that makes you want to cook all those great foods. It is a good thing that Jay and I don’t live up there – we would weigh 300 lbs each.

  13. Not mentioned here is the cooking a pot of grits to be served with fried fish. There are restaurants in my area that have an open grits bar on Friday nights when fish are the main “entree” on the menu. Entree is not exactly a word recognized in these places.
    My old Aunts would not serve fried fish without grits. My southern roots are almost to the seashells found when drilling a water well.

  14. One of the few things that I constantly miss about Georgia is proper grits. However, Johnny Rebs’ on Long Beach Boulevard offers a pretty good replica for SoCal folks. (You can get fine sweet tea there and the BBQ ain’t bad, even if a bit North Carolina-centric).

    Great story.

    JCF
    Long Beach, California

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