This Is The True Origin Of Grits

In an interview with NPR, food historian Erin Byers Murray states that while researching her book, Grits: A Cultural & Culinary Journey Through The South, she learned that the milled corn dishes grits evolved from can be traced all the way back to 8700 B.C.E. The word "grits" is derived from "grist," which is the name indigenous people in Virginia gave to a ground corn dish they ate and shared with British colonists. 

Deep South Magazine says grits are based on a Native American corn dish, which is similar to hominy, from the Muskogee Tribe. This original food is created by grinding corn in a stone mill, which gives it the texture grits are known for. These tribes passed their preparation methods down to settlers and would trade the hominy for other goods and services. Real Simple reports that the Muskogee Tribe populated many of the southeastern areas of the United States during the 16th century.

Grits went on a journey from plantation kitchens to The New York Times

Murray wrote an article for The Local Palate about her journey researching her book on the history of grits, in which she states that food became a true Southern staple after playing a major role in the diet of slaves working on Southern plantations. Corn was frequently included in the rations they were given by plantation owners, and creek shrimp could be hand-caught without the slavers' knowledge. 

Murray offers up a 1930s cookbook, Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, as evidence of this origin being accepted knowledge. In the cookbook, a recipe for shrimp and grits is attributed to the author's 78-year-old African-American butler. In the article published by Deep South Magazine, the outlet connects shrimp and grits to the Gullah Geechee people specifically, who are descendants of slaves from West Africa who were forced to work and live in the coastal southern region of the United States. 

Deep South Magazine notes that grits were mainly kept to these areas in the South until 1985, when North Carolina-based chef Bill Neal had his recipe for cheese grits topped with shrimp published by The New York Times. The dish began gaining popularity throughout the South, and by the mid-1990s, grits were beginning to be adapted to suit local flavors and ingredients.