Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jimmy Carter and "The Grits Factor"

Even before Jimmy Carter and his family moved into the White House, reports in the press "began to highlight the Carters' Southern style of life and the public was forewarned that the White House would soon serve grits to guests."

According to White House chef Henry Haller, grits were included on the menu for the Carters' first breakfast at the White House. A staple dish for the Carters and their Southern visitors, grits, as Haller tells us, "soon became standard fare for White House guests from all over the world. The White House kitchen quickly realized that many of the Carters' distinguished visitors really expected to be served grits, and most were pleasantly surprised to discover they actually liked the taste of the ground hominy dish."

The key to preparing palatable grits, according to Chef Haller, is to avoid a watery product by cooking completely and stirring often. Grits, as many southerners would surely agree, taste great served hot with lots of melted butter or baked with a flavorful cheese.

Because President Carter was fond of Grits Baked with Cheese, this dish was often included on the Carter family's weekend breakfast menu. If you would like to whip up a batch, here is simple recipe to try from The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller:

4 cups chicken bouillon
1 cup enriched white hominy
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
4 eggs yolk
1/4 to 1/2 cup cold milk
4 egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease inside of a 2-quart casserole dish. Bring buillon to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan; add grits gradually, stirring with a wire whisk. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring vigorously, until mixture thickens. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, sirring often. Remove from heat and add Worcestershire sauce, butter, and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, stirring until well-balanced.

In a small bowl, blend egg yolks with 1/2 cup of milk. Pour into grits and mix thoroughly; add more milk if necessary, thinning to the consistency of cream of wheat. In a clean, dry bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into grits. Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake on middle of shelf of preheated oven for 30 minutes or until fluffy and brown. Serve at once and enjoy!

FOOD FACT: According to an article in the New York Times, grits is "the first truly American food." When a sea-weary group of English settlers came ashore at Jamestown, Virginia in the spring of 1607, they were reportedly greeted by a band of friendly Indians offering "bowls of a steaming hot substance consisting of softened maize seasoned with salt" and bear grease.

The settlers liked it so much they quickly adopted it as a part of their own diet and "set about devising a milling process by which the large corn grains could be ground into smaller particles without losing any nutriments." Today, of the 150 million pounds of grits milled each year in the United States, more than two-thirds (or one hundred million pounds!) is consumed in the South.

Source: Henry Haller, The White House Family Cookbook, Henry Haller [New York: Random House, 1987)

Credit: Oil Portrait of Jimmy Carter by Herbert E. Abrams (1982) White House Historical Association (White House Collection)