A reader is looking for Crook's Corner Stone-Ground Grits, which used to be a staple at Reid's Fine Foods (2823 Selwyn Ave.).
If you are not from here, this hunger for specific grits may seem puzzling. On a basic level, grits are ground from either yellow corn kernels or white ones. For commercially prepared grits, the kernels are typically soaked in a water and lye solution before processing. True grit(s) aficionados prefer locally milled, unprocessed corn.
What should you know? Stone-ground grits are available in three grinds: fine, medium and course. Many chefs prefer coarsely ground grits to make such Southern specialties as shrimp and grits. The courser the grind, the longer the time to cook, which also allows more liquid to be absorbed and thus creamier grits — no need to add cheese. If you see dark specks, those are bits of the corn germ — a sure way to know the grits are naturally milled.
Currently, Reid's carries two brands of regional grits. Bear Branch Milling Company of Ash, a small town near Wilmington, mills non-GMO (genetically modified organism) North Carolina corn for their grits. Bear Branch is also available at Lowe's Foods, and beginning next week will be carried at Harris Teeter. The second variety at Reid's is Carolina Plantation stone-ground grits, used at 300 East for their legendary cheese grits, and in some other Charlotte restaurants. Carolina Plantation mills non-GMO corn grown in the Carolinas and can also be found at Fresh Market.
The regional mill with the most variety of grinds is South Carolina's Anson Mills. Anson (www.ansonmills.com) also uses a variety of heirloom corn, including a "Native Coarse Blue Corn Grits" produced from Cherokee Nation corn from the Blue Ridge.
The good news for folks looking for Crook's grits is this: The original grits from Crook's kitchen are available. Legendary chef Bill Neal of Crook's Café (in Chapel Hill) bought his grits from The Old Mill of Guilford. These were the grits on the plate when New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne "discovered" Crook's shrimp and grits dish in the 1980s and subsequently placed Crook's — and Neal — on the national culinary map. After Neal's death in 1991, the new owner used another gristmill.
The Old Mill of Guilford, founded in 1767 in Oak Ridge, N.C., is still operational and uses only North Carolina and Virginia non-GMO corn for their grits, both yellow and white. Though their grits are not available in the Charlotte area (but can be found at specialty shops and regional farmers markets across the state), their store is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can also order them by calling the mill: 336-643-4783.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: [email protected].