I don't have any pretty pictures for this post.

I'm writing it in a huff.

Allow me to explain.

Yesterday I visited the Union Square Greenmarket.  Don't get me wrong, I really love the place...with its pretty produce and its fresh pies and its strapping, ruddy-cheeked farm men sent straight from some idyllic pasture in Vermont.  It's great.  It's refreshing.  It's really great and refreshing.

The Greenmarket is obviously a little sparse this time of year, so the few farm folks who actually show up to do business are selling items of winter, like root vegetables and hardy greens.  Plus there are stalls with the occasional selection of cheeses, jams, and dried grains.  My last stop yesterday was at a stall with said dried grains.

I perused their offerings, which included tidy little sacks of wheat berries, oats, rye, and a special table with larger bags of cornmeal and polenta.  I was glancing over this special table, which happened to be near the register, when I looked up and caught the eye of a lonely cashier.  I attempted friendship.

"You guys have lots of interesting stuff here.  I'm surprised there aren't any grits!"

Ok...I mentioned grits because a) they're a "rare" food item in New York, and since it was obvious that the little booth prided itself on its "rare" grains I truly was surprised that they weren't offered, and b) I'm from the south and I know what I'm talking about.  But I wasn't looking for a fight.

"We do have grits," she said.  Snobby-like.  Reeeeeal snobby-like.

"They're right here."  And with that she snatched up a big package and dangled it with two fingers near her face.  I thought, Oh, am I mistaken?  Her blatant assuredness sure tells me I am!  Is there really a bag of grits that I had somehow missed?  My bad INDEED!  I'll have to buy this little bag, this little bag of grits!!  Then I blinked, looked down at the label, and read:


Oh no.  Oh, no no nooooo.  No she didn't.  This woman had no idea what she was talking about.  Not. A. Clue.  Summoning etiquette, I threw her a bone of social grace and didn't call her out right away.  I pretended to think she was making a joke.

"Ohhh, haha," I chuckled.  "Oh that's what you use for cornbread, though, right?" (The irritation in me was mounting, but I played dumb.)  She looked at me with a patronizing smirk.

"Well yeah, of course you can make cornbread with it, but I always make grits with this.  These make, like, real grits," she declared.  This human, this brazen creature, then raises her eyebrows and adds, "Definitely not the instant kind you're probably making in the microwave."

The kind I'm making in the microwave, huh?  The nerve!  I was so insulted I could not speak.  She not only questioned my food knowledge, but my very integrity as a home cook!  What, did I look like the kind of woman who COOKS IN THE MICROWAVE??  Not that there's anything wrong with that, I suppose, but come on...why would she say such things to a complete stranger like myself?  I would've forgiven her little food faux pas if she had nixed the condescension, but after that last remark I was left with no option but to smile and walk away.  I could have told her that her lipstick looked cheap.  But I didn't.

In the end, though, the joke's on her.  Anyone worth their salt, and certainly anyone working behind the counter at a chichi organic grain booth in Union Square, should know that there is a difference between corn meal and grits.  Of course it's all corn; but there's still a difference, be it ever so slight.  I ultimately decided not to publicly embarrass her with the truth...turns out, a knowledge of grits is not the only thing that defines a person as Southern.  It's also a knowledge of good manners.

Ha.  Have fun with that cornbread batter you're eating, sweetie. 


  1. Well you are a better person than I, I would of embarrassed her just because. How rude, how old would she of been, did she even look like she knew how to cook? I absolutely get so worked up when people are rude, and to talk to you as if you are someone they can stereo-type. I am worked up now just because I can't believe she would of been so rude, you are a paying customer and a stranger. Oh the nerve of society!

  2. Haha, I was definitely pretty steamed at the time! I'm not sure why she was so rude to me...perhaps it was just one of those days!

  3. I wanted to cook grits and eggs for my little girl this morning, but all I had was white corn meal...no hominy grits! The horrors! Well, it was worth a try, I figured so I boiled a random amount of salted water and whisked in a lesser but equally random amount of cornmeal. Guess what? It was really good! It definitely had a different texture, way creamier, but the thick mush stood up nicely to the eggs and sausage. In a pinch, you could call them grits. For non-lovers of classic southern grits, these make for a nice, smoother, more urban entry into the world of boiled bits of corn.

  4. I am in the same boat as David. I told my wife/sweatheart, who wanted grits so badly for breakfast, that we were out, but that I'd see what I could whip up. BTW, Caitlin, I think you wisely chose the path of peace and...wait for it...HOMINY!

    I don't think you actually told people the difference between meal and grits, but of course I know you know. Grits are made from hominy, which is corn with the outer cover of the kernal removed, then dried if need be and ground. You can make grits yourself from corn, but it involves using lye, which is caustic, or grinding and removing the big pieces, leaving the smaller pieces, so it takes awhile. I just read it is the official prepared food of the State of Georgia. No I am not making this up.

  5. while i applaud your desire to not humiliate or insult the offending clerk. i think it is just as grievous to not properly educate said person. this person will now continue to go on misinforming everyone, and as evident all around us, most folks do not know the difference or importance of grits and other true traditional preparations of corn.

    true grits are ground from corn that has been nixtamalized. that is the process of soaking/cooking the whole corn in an alkaline solution. while this does allow for the easy removal of the hulls, that is not the most important aspect of the process. also just grinding the hulls off does not count. the proper soaking also increase the free niacin (among other things) which significantly improves the nutritional qualities. it is the chemical reaction in the alkaline solution that makes the corn a high quality food that sustained native americans ( and by that i mean north central and south american natives) while on other continents that adopted corn as a staple but failed to incorporate the nixtamalization process the same corn causes malnourishment and disease, pellagra for one.

    allowing ignorance to go unabated is not a wise thing. perhaps the next time you see that clerk at the market you can take a minute to tactfully educate them.




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