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  • Writer's pictureK. Arthur

"Knowing The Difference"

Updated: Apr 1

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Something needs to be told about grits. Firstly, Cream of Wheat and grits are not the same thing. One is made from wheat, and the other is made from corn. Outside of the South, I have run across many a cook -- I don't believe they are chefs, because in my mind a chef would know better -- who served me Cream of Wheat and maple syrup in a bowl and called it grits on the menu, a far cry from the bona fide dent corn grits introduced by the Muscogee Indians hundreds of years ago.

My Aunt Helen lived next door to the left of us growing up. My mother would say she lived to the right of us, but that depends on whether you are looking from inside our house or from the street outside of it. Aunt Helen told me, "Servin' thin, watery grits is a sin. True grits ort to hold their shape like a mound of mashed taters." I have to agree with her.

Whether it is breakfast, lunch, or supper time, they ought to be served steaming hot, with salt and pepper and a pat of butter pushed right down in the middle to melt. Sugar should never, ever touch them. They aren't fit to eat that way. By all means, add cheddar cheese, shrimp, tomato gravy, or a sunny-side-up egg. Use a brown egg if you have one, and don't listen to anybody who says white eggs taste the same as brown ones. For an extra kick to my grits, I'll add a dash of cayenne pepper.

Although no self-respecting Southerner uses instant or quick grits, in my travels at times I have had a hankering for some downhome cooking. Cracker Barrell quick grits are fair to middlin' when I'm in a bad way, but don't tell anyone I said so. Plus, I have to cut Cracker Barrell some slack for their front porch rocking chairs. McEwen and Sons stone ground grits made in Wilsonville, Alabama are the best grits known to man. They are made from a variety of yellow, white, blue, and speckled organic corn. If you have guests from up North and you want to shock them, serve the blue ones. Frank McEwen grinds his own corn and owns a farm supply and mercantile store out on Highway 25 south of Birmingham, but not far enough south to be called L.A. -- or Lower Alabama. Among the stacks of feed and fertilizer, the warm smell of fresh cut hay breezes through the open aisles. It is a place where locals brag about their best coon dog or the monstrous catfish they caught last week at Lay Lake. Near the entrance past the clanging equestrian windchimes made from bell stirrups are their prized grits. The attractive metallic blue bags are easy to spot with the family's coat of arms on the front. McEwen and Sons grits make great tokens of appreciation all on their own, and there is no need to buy an expensive gift bag to put them in. For a wedding gift, I'll add a note with words of wisdom like, "Kissin' don't last. Cookin' do." That's a line English poet George Meredith wrote long before Jack Pearson sang it in a buck dancing song.

Folks, don't get me wrong. I am not throwing off on anybody for liking a lumpy bowl of Cream of Wheat. I'm just saying it is a different animal. Heck, the iron and calcium content alone makes Cream of Wheat a good breakfast option. And, to be fair, attentive cookery reduces the lumpiness. In fact, the key to cooking both Cream of Wheat and grits is slow cooking with lots of stirring. If the heat is too high, both of them will spit at you for it, and the grits will go tacky. But not in the way someone dresses badly. I mean, they will get sticky. I hope I have at least hit the high points on the differences in these two dishes. But, for the more visual learners like myself, I decided to go ahead and spell it out artistically in the most elegant and straight forward way I can that Cream of Wheat and grits are not the same thing. I think the Muscogee would be proud of me for it.


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