Shrimp N’ Grits - A Staple of Southern Culture

As Bubba says in the 1994 hit Forest Gump “shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan friend, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.”

temp-post-image

As a Mississippian himself, Bubba was familiar with the variety of ways in which shrimp serves as a food staple of the South. And while it’s not as nationally well-known as shrimp gumbo or shrimp creole, shrimp and grits (or rather, shrimp n’ grits when you say it with a “twang”) has played an important role in southern, and national, history.

Although shrimp and grits has gained fame relatively recently, the dish’s origins are tied into the beginnings of North America’s culture. Grits, or hominy as it was originally called, was a food shared by Native Americans with early European explorers. In fact, Arthur Barlowe, one member of Sir Walter Raleigh’s reconnaissance party, made note of the Native American softened corn (or maize) dish as early as 1584. Shrimp, too, was a feature of coastal Native American diets. Natives would capture delicious, plump white shrimp using seine and dip nets, or create in-water traps utilizing cords from plant fibers.

Shrimp and grits began its claim to fame in Low Country around Charleston, South Carolina. It was a featured dish during shrimping season, from May through December. Fishermen ate “breakfast shrimp” from the convenience of having an abundance of the seafood on hand. Shrimp was pan cooked in bacon grease and served over buttery grits.

temp-post-image

In 1985, New York Times writer Craig Claiborne helped launch the national popularity of shrimp and grits as an iconic dish of the south. As this unique breakfast combo made its way from kitchen to kitchen throughout the southern U.S., each region added their own flavors and cultural appeal. Crook’s Corner chef Bill Neal created the particularly acclaimed spicy shrimp sauté served over cheese grits with bacon, mushrooms, and scallions.

Modern interpretations of this delicious dish put even more of a twist on the original shrimp and grits recipe. From creamy to casserole variations, this staple of southern culture is making its way across the nation, fusing native roots with the many multicultural flavors now standard in our American cuisine.

Sources:

Green, Ann. “Shrimp: No Small Catch, Harvests Features Skimmer Otter Trawls.” Coastwatch. North Carolina Sea Grant. 2004. Web. February 2014.

Freiberger, Rex. “Shrimp and Grits: The History and Recipes.” Food Editorials. Streetdirectory & Foodeditorials. Web. February 2014.

Walsh, Robb. “A Short History of Shrimp Grits.” Robblog. Houston Press. November 2008. Web. February 2014.