Remembering Mama's Grits
I can’t remember the first time I ate grits, or grits not being at our table for breakfast, which means, I suppose, that I was born and raised on grits.
Mama fixed grits every way you could imagine, except of course for committing the unforgivable sin of putting sugar on them. (When she felt like we needed a brush of culture, she’d make cream of wheat, and we could put sugar or maple syrup on that.) My favorite was when she added some milk in while they were cooking, then a little nob of butter on top of my portion so I could watch it melt into a pool of liquid sunshine in the middle of my cloud of creamy grits. She always tried to get us kids started off on the right foot each day.
Sometimes Mama would add cheddar cheese to our grits, sometimes bacon bits, or onions, or chives, she wasn’t afraid to try new things, and somehow she always knew what not to use.
She was kind of a food artist, sometimes wowing us, like the time she snipped some garlic chives out of the garden and put those in the grits – like I said, Wow!
It wasn’t always a bed of roses though, because Mama also believed we should be eating eggs with our breakfast. Not me, my friend. The grits would be long gone, and the sunny side ups would be laying there staring at the misery in my face, or the scrambled would have turned to cardboard in their old age.
Then one inspired morning she found the magic.
She leaned over the stove, back to the table, and hiding her actions with tendrils of steam rising through her hair, we knew she was doing some serious conjuring over there. Grits on the plate, a pat of butter, then something else on top of that, plates on the table, and a look of determination on her face that let us know – we’re trying this out and no sass today, thank you.
It was two eggs on top of the grits, but I had never seen poached eggs before, and they kind of looked like two giant white goober peas, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know about goober peas, we’ll get into that another time).
This clearly needed some demonstration, and there was Mama, knife in hand, deftly slicing through her perfectly poached egg. The creamy golden yolk oohed and aahed as it flowed down onto the grits and butter below, and I immediately knew that I could now and forevermore eat eggs like this.
Lesson learned and moving forward, took my fork and chopped up the eggs, mixed it all into the grits watching while the whiteness of the corn turned a mellow yellow with the pigment of the yolks, and then tasted the masterpiece of Southern culinary art – soft poached eggs on slow-cooked stone ground grits. Thank you, God!
How Mama poached eggs (tune in later for how to cook grits):
Fill a saucepan with 3-1/2 to 4 inches of cold water, add about a third cup of white wine vinegar, and place on high heat.
Crack a fresh egg into a bowl.
Watch the water closely, and when the bubbles of the boil just begin to release from the bottom of the pan causing an upward motion in the water, gently roll the egg out of the bowl and into the water.
The egg should drop gently to the bottom of the pan, the whites wrapping around the yolk and closing above, much like closing a pouch with a drawstring.
If the water temperature is perfect, the egg pouch will rise pretty quickly off the bottom of the pan and float suspended in the water. If not, take a slotted spoon and swirl the water gently so the egg rolls around the pan a bit and begins to cook evenly.
Adjust the water temperature to a lazy simmer, and wait patiently for the yolk to begin to firm up.
Here’s where a little practice is important, so you can tell the difference between a soft, medium, and hard poached egg.
I like my eggs poached so that when you cut through them, the whites are fully cooked, but the yolk has that creamy gooey-ness that lifts you a little closer to heaven.
Story by David Steele