Take dried corn and grind it until it’s the texture of rough sand. Simmer it in some water. Stir in some cheese. Season it well with salt and pepper. Serve warm and creamy. In Italy, you’d be making polenta — which sounds exotic and fancy. Here in the South, we’re referring to grits. This is one of those cases where a dish’s name seems to hurt it and keep it from rising to a coveted place on the table.
If you didn’t grow up with grits (or worse, grew up with instant grits), the taste of yellow-corn, stone-ground, fresh-from-the-farmers’-market grits is a revelation.
Meeting Becky Tatum, the lady behind Delta Grind, gives you a new appreciation for this seemingly simple product. There is nothing pretentious about Becky. She likes to work hard. She likes producing a fantastic product. She loves talking with her chefs and customers. Petite and pretty, Becky tackles the dusty business with hidden strength and a bit of sass.
Becky grinds dried-corn products — grits, polenta, cornmeal, and masa — in a warehouse-turned-mill in Water Valley, Mississippi, about an hour’s drive from Memphis. Using Mississippi-grown corn, Becky hefts, sorts, bags, labels, and delivers. It’s mostly solitary work. Bags are stamped with a “born on” date that remind me that this is no run-of-the-mill operation. This is artisan. This is special. And yet, it’s so very simple: “The recipe’s on the bag,” says Becky. “Add some cheese and you’re good to go.”
Food historians place the origin of cooked grits with Native Americans, who allegedly welcomed the Jamestown settlers with the thick mixture. Trends with grits come and go and vacillate between down-home and sophisticated preparations. Whether simple or complex, starting with good, toothy, flavorful grits is paramount.
The “corny” taste of freshly stone-ground grits is subtle and provides a textural slate for a plethora of other flavor layerings. There is a splendor in grits — no pomp or snobbishness required — available on your plate from a nice Mississippi lady.