We have a saying in south Florida that to get to the South – as in the America’s deep South – you must go north. You see, there are so many northerners in south Florida, you really don’t hear accents or get to experience the “southern” way of life, until you reach Ocala, which is north of Orlando. But some Southern traditions have seeped south of Ocala and good-old southern grits is one of them. Grits can be found just about everywhere in Florida, and as you know, in many other parts of the States, as well. But somehow I never expected to find them in the Republic of Georgia!
Turns out, folks in some regions of Georgia use corn products as their basic starch instead of bread. In my area bread reigns supreme, but a creamier version of grits has found its way onto the table and into the hearts of my host family. (In case I haven’t mentioned it, most Peace Corps Response Corps Volunteers in Georgia live with host families. Mine is absolutely wonderful, and they have graciously opened their doors to me for my three-month stay here. They’ve made me feel completely at home, sharing their apartment, sense of humor, exuberance for life and meals with me.)
Truth is, I’m not a big fan of grits on any continent, too gritty for me, but the Georgian version I sampled was smoother and white as snow. It was served with a white cheese common to most of Eastern Europe – varying only in density and salt content (salty and saltier). The best, but still completely inaccurate way to describe “white cheese” in Eastern Europe, is to say it’s similar to the feta we use in the States, yet very different. Sorry, but that’s the best description and comparison I’ve come-up with. (Having said that, I will mention that if you buy your feta by the piece in an ethnic or speciality shop in the States the differences diminish a bit.) White cheese here is usually served in 1/4″ by 3″ slabs, but on occasion it is grated – for a pizza topping, but never crumbled like our feta. It accompanies most meals, including breakfast – just like in Macedonia, so it was served along with our Georgian grits.
The fun part was hiding your slab of cheese in the grits. By the time you got to it, the salt had dispersed a bit and the cheese began melting into short strands similar to mozzarella. (There are some types of white cheese specifically purchased for their ability to melt into long and luxurious strands, ours today had a bit of this delectable quality.)
The most amazing part of finding grits in Georgia, was not the discovery itself but learning the process used in making them, which is extremely time-consuming. The better part of two women’s morning was entirely devoted to the task. The process actually began a day earlier when a large white pail – think “American paint pail” – appeared with fine ground yellow flecked corn filled to the brim. I was told that the corn was freshly ground and was from a village plot planted and tended by a family member. (Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the pail, because at that point, I had no clue the pail’s contents were going to be part of our lunch the next day.)
My host Mom mentioned Saturday morning they were going to begin preparing a traditional favorite. As she described the process, my thoughts quickly turned to women everywhere, who are so often involved in laborious processes as a means of preparing daily meals for their families. Many meals in Eastern Europe take as long to prepare as our holiday fare, and give cooking-from-scratch new meaning.
I was on-hand, but not in the room, for most of the process. I tend to follow the too-many-cooks-spoil-the-batter approach to cooking here, and stay out of the way, popping in and out for picture-taking. Unfortunately my approach left me wondering about the exact order of things, so remember my photos are informational not instructional – if you are seized by the urge to grind your own corn and prepare Georgian-style grits, there isn’t enough information here for you to do it correctly, but I think you will be able to get the gist of it!
Another unfortunate lapse on my part was that I ate my grits without first taking a photo of them. Sorry about that. Please picture a soft white mound of gooey grits on a small round china plate sitting on top of an oilcloth covered table with light streaming in through a large window next to the table, okay? Thank you.
I’ve included two new photo viewing options for you, let me know what you think. And, don’t forget close-ups are available by clicking on each photo. The one of the ground corn in the sack is marvelous, if I do say so myself.