Like many food writers, Erin Byers Murray enjoys taking a deep dive into learning the history and nuances of specific ingredients. For her first book, Shucked, Murray chronicled the year that she spent working on a New England oyster farm; her second book, Grits: A Cultural and Culinary Journey Through The South, however, led her on an unexpected cultural journey about the simplest of ingredients: ground corn.
“I was used to knowing grits only as something that came in a box from mass producers,” Murray says. “I didn’t really grow up eating them, so it wasn’t necessarily a natural fit as a topic for me.”
It was a passing comment from Sean Brock, a James Beard Award-winning Southern chef, that led Murray down the rabbit hole. “I was actually talking to Sean about vegetables, and he happened to float out this idea that grits have terroir” — whereby the local environment in which a food is grown is said to impact its flavor — “and I couldn’t stop thinking about that idea and wondered if it could be true.”
But as she started sampling small-batch artisanal grits from Southern millers such as Anson Mills, Geechie Boy Mill, Delta Grind and Original Grit Girl, Murray began to understand that this coarsely ground corn has deep roots in many cultures that, perhaps, transcend its flavor characteristics.
CLICK HERE to read story