Poetic Tongues/Fabu

Poetic Tongues

A Journey Seeking True Grits


Grits in Madison has become a metaphor to me, for the lack of Southern, African American cultural items being readily available, even in 2023. For example, food is such an important part of culture and yet we cannot buy a large variety of important, culturally specific foods, no matter that we have lived in Madison for hundreds of years.  Instead of being annoyed, after the most recent, terrible incident of a hotel preparing uncooked, sludge-like grits for a large event, I decided to share the journey for edible grits in the city where I have lived for years with a majority of White folks.

These hotel grits were served to Black, southern grits eating experts, after first meeting with the chef, with him promising he knew how to cook grits and being overcharged per person for the grits. The grits were uncooked and sludge like and it was so embarrassing. It almost makes me want to give up getting good grits in public places, restaurants, and hotels.

A formal definition of grits is a type of porridge made from boiled cornmeal. Hominy grits are a type of grits made from hominy ― corn that has been treated with an alkali in a process called nixtamalization. My simple definition for grits is that they are ground from corn and Southern, African Americans and others, eat them mostly for breakfast but now we also eat them at various times of the day including in savory dishes like shrimp and grits. My last book of poetry is called “We Eat to Remember:  Soul Food Poetry” and it has several themes, including our African origins for food, how food is memory for all people and how our culture is present in our spices and food choices. Grits must be soft, creamy, and never have lumps.

Grits from Memphis are more finely ground that grits in Madison stores. Before the COVID pandemic, when I travelled home to Memphis, I would bring boxes of grits back to Madison. When I travelled to Louisiana, I found an even tastier ground grits sold there. During COVID, I asked family members to send me care boxes with grits and other items only found in Memphis. A year ago, before Thanksgiving 2022, I just got tired of not eating my familiar, tasty food, I looked up a Black owned grocery store in Milwaukee, jumped in my car, drove up to the store, bought as much as I could put in the back seat and happily ate off of it for the following six months. What was even more enjoyable is that I talked to Black people in the grocery store about the greens and what meat tastes best in them.

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When I eat grits, I feel warm and comforted. I immediately remember childhood breakfasts, because, though the meals rotated, my mom often fixed me the grits I like. I like simple grits with salt, pepper and butter the best. I remember bigger pots of grits in my grandma’s wood burning stove, enough to feed the entire extended family.

Whenever I cook grits, I am home no matter where I am in the world. I introduced grits to my best Kenyan friend. She loved them too and when I could travel to Kenya, I would take her boxes of grits. I could not find grits in Kenya either, even at the American grocery stores in Nairobi.

There is a popular breakfast place in Madison. They only served breakfast and I asked them, “Will you ever include grits on your menu?”  The owner replied, “No, folks in the Midwest don’t eat grits.”  I stood there thinking, “I eat them. If you offered them, and they were good, more folks would eat them too.”  It was telling that he would not even consider adding grits to the menu. There is one high end restaurant that my son made a reservation for on a previous Mother’s Day because they had grits on the menu. Their grits included sour cream and other unidentifiable spices. So “almost” grits in Madison, but not quite. Oh, what a journey to try to eat in Madison what I loved to eat in Memphis, plain, simple grits.