[spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie stop now]
What if grits play the role of barometer for character development in the coming-of-age mystery drama novel (now a movie) Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens?
Following this suspicion, I searched the book’s index for “grits”: It shows up 52 times. This number includes the 2 times “grit” is referenced in her character. Seems poetically appropriate that Kya’s character of survival and self-preservation would reveal grit, through grits.
Let’s look at the story through the perspective of grits in 5 quotes…
“Kya was very hungry. For breakfast she’d boiled grits with soda crackers stirred in because she didn’t have any salt. One thing she already knew about life: you can’t eat grits without salt.”
Left alone at age 7 the challenge to feed herself fuels the story arc. Modifying the recipe for grits to include crackers with salt shows Kya’s resourcefulness.
“In a few days she got the hang of fixing grits, although no matter how hard she stirred, they lumped up some. The next week she bought backbones—marked with a red tag—and boiled them with grits and collard greens in a mush that tasted fine.”
Kya continues to adapt her grits recipe to become inclusive of any surplus flavor while working to smooth the texture.
“She lived on dried fish, mussels, oysters. Grits and greens.”
This menu defines Kya’s childhood between what she could gather herself and the grits she bought at the store. Her complete dependence on coastal North Carolina for food, safety, and learning makes her a creature of the marsh: the marsh girl.
“Each morning they rose at dawn and, while Tate percolated coffee, Kya fried corn fritters in Ma’s old iron skillet—blackened and dented—or stirred grits and eggs as sunrise eased over the lagoon.”
Further along the storyline, her recipe evolves to include more ingredients and skills, as she shares her meals with Tate.
“Almost every shop had a special table displaying the books by Catherine Danielle Clark ~ Local Author ~ Award-Winning Biologist. Grits were listed on the menus as polenta in mushroom sauce and cost $6.00.”
Towards the end of the book, grits are no longer food for survival and becomes food for adoring fans and travelers to the area.
In contrast, notice the use of “grit” in the book to highlight a decisive moment of loss,
“Dug sweaty cheese from her bag. Then slumped on the floor and ate mindlessly, touching her bruised cheek. Her face, arms, and legs were cut and smeared with bloody grit. Knees scratched and throbbing. She sobbed, fighting shame, suddenly spitting the cheese out in a chunky, wet spray.”
Grit and grits, strength in the face of loss, and food for survival implicate each other in the book. Unfortunately, grits as a character barometer in the book Where the Crawdads Sing was lost in the movie.
Maybe have a bowl of grits to make up for the omission after watching the movie.
More about grits here: https://islandlifenc.com/a-guide-to-southern-grits/
Today is the first day of Hispanic Heritage, why not combine the stories of survival in a bowl?
Here is a recipe for creamy grits from one of my favorite cookbooks, Turnip Green and Tortillas: A Mexican Cook Spices up the Southern Kitchen.
1-quart heavy cream
1 cup quick grits (not instant)
¼ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons salt, plus additional as desired
Bring the cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Watch carefully so it doesn’t boil over. While continually whisking, add the grits and cook, whisking, for 5 minutes. Add the sugar and salt and cook, whisking frequently, for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the grits are tender. Serve hot.
The cookbook also offers a lighter version and a blue cheese version. I know adding cream to grits can be controversial.
Make grits the way you want when summoning your grit. What food would you choose to be the barometer of your evolution?
Wishing you a full bowl,
Owens, Delia. Where the Crawdads Sing. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hernandez, Eddie; Puckett, Susan. Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen (p. 175). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.