Mr. Big Food is working his way through Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking (1987).
For those unfamiliar with the name, Claiborne was a famous food and restaurant critic, most notably for the New York Times. From that infallible source:
Claiborne was the first man to supervise the food page at a major American newspaper and is credited with broadening The New York Times’s coverage of new restaurants and innovative chefs. A typical food section of a newspaper in the 1950s was largely targeted to a female readership and limited to columns on entertaining and cooking for the upscale homemaker. Claiborne brought his knowledge of cuisine and own passion for food to the pages, transforming it into an important cultural and social bellwether for New York City and the nation at large.
Claiborne’s columns, reviews and cookbooks introduced a generation of Americans to a variety of ethnic cuisines – particularly Asian and Mexican cuisines – at a time when average Americans had conservative tastes in food, and what little gourmet cooking was available in cities like New York was exclusively French (and, Claiborne observed, not terribly high quality). Looking to hold restaurants accountable for what they served and help the public make informed choices about where to spend their dining dollars, he created the four-star system of rating restaurants still used by The New York Times and which has been widely imitated. Claiborne’s reviews were exacting and uncompromising, but he also approached his task as a critic with an open mind and eye for cooking that was different, creative and likely to appeal to his readers.
He wrote or edited almost two dozen cookbooks.
He was born in Sunflower and “spent [his] childhood” in the kitchen with the all Black staff of his mother’s boarding house in Indianola, Mississippi. Who better to bring the world of Southern cuisine to national attention?
Which brings us to grits (singular).
Claiborne claims ‘grits’ is a plural noun, as in, “Grits are good.” But writing in 1987, he tips his hat to those who think otherwise:
From a letter to Claiborne from a “fellow Mississippian”
I wonder whether you have quietly fallen victim of a Yankee malaise…? Do Yankees refer to those oatmeal? Does one eat one grit or many? … I remember growing up on the Gulf Coast, laughing …
Of grits’ “finer ground cousin, ‘cornmeal'” the fellow Mississippian recalls not having heard Yankees refer to ‘them’ or ‘those’ cornmeal.
Grits is good. We had a grits bake just the other day.