Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Authentic (Possibly Racist) Natchez Cheese Grits Casserole

And thus concludes this series of our favorite casserole recipes. If you make what follows and eat it all, just go ahead and call 911 beforehand. To your health!

On June 11, 1957, Mr. J. Balfour Miller won a contest to name the Natchez, Mississippi, Hospital. His winning entry was "The Jefferson Davis Memorial Hospital." That name was… later changed. But not until 1993!

His wife, Katherine Miller, founded the Natchez Pilgrimage in 1931. Despite its slightly frightening title, this merely meant that the local ladies would open up their houses for tours, and people would go bopping about, peering into linen closets. That it was 1931 was not a coincidence either. (Broke times!) And today you can even rent Hope Farm, her house. They were from, let's say, good families. (They all had plantations!) She and her husband both were delegates to the Republican Convention, in 1956! (Eisenhower and Nixon: good call.)

In The Pilgrimage Garden Club Antiques Forum Cookbook, published in the early 90s, there is a recipe by Mrs. J. Balfour Miller.

I despise casseroles. I hate almost all dishes where food is mixed, unless you count peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or macaroni with cheese. Anything involving a Crockpot™ is right out.

And yet… some things are always delicious.

Mrs. J. Balfour Miller's Cheese Grits Casserole

1 cup grits, uncooked
4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 stick butter
1 roll garlic cheese
1/2 pound sharp cheese
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons Worcestershire

Before we get to the directions…. can we just talk about how notable this list of ingredients is? "One stick butter" is, by itself, a truly wonderful thing to write down.

Now, also, you may not be familiar with a "roll" of "garlic cheese." Kraft, in a moment of Northern aggression, discontinued this popular product. Here is one way to recreate this rather… intriguing item: by mixing actual cheddar cheese, Velveeta, cream cheese, garlic powder and liquid smoke. I'm going to suggest you don't do this! Use some cheese and a little garlic and maybe some pepper. Do they use pepper in the Old South?

And now, here are her instructions:

"Cook grits in salted water. When grits is done, ad all the other ingredients and stir until the cheese and butter have melted. Pour into a greased pyrex casserole. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Serves 8 to 10."

Yup, that's all of it. (I enjoyed also "when grits is done.")

Well. Calling this a "casserole" is a stretch, except in the sense that it is ingredients placed in a dish in the oven. But I would also like to point out that it is awesome. If three of the five best food groups are grits, cheese and butter, how can this dish be argued against?

It is perfectly acceptable to cut the butter down, to half a stick. It also should be noted that one could cut the cheese a little or even "a bunch" perhaps, and also one should try not to use an "oily" cheese, as there is only so much oil that grits can absorb, as this puffy, cheesy, heart-stopping mess solidifies into a tasty loaf of death.

But then, this recipe does make some sense. You have to fill the long, lonely slave-less nights with something, as you stare out across the river at Louisiana. Speaking of: you could totally pop some crayfish in this. That would make it then the ideal meal, as the addition of crustaceans means you now have four out of five of the best food groups! You could make it a Stargazy Cheese Grits Casserole, if you decorate the top of the casserole with the crayfish heads sticking out, peering skyward.

Or go nuts and pop sheets of puff pastry on top of this monstrosity! You really can't ruin this dish, as it comes pre-ruined. Serve it with your favorite Confederate flag napkins! The South will rise again! Possibly out of your esophagus.

Serve with Zantac.

37 Comments / Post A Comment

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

I'm more a fan of Nutt's Folly, but I would eat these grits.,_Mississippi%29

Cocky Bravado (#212,693)

That's truly beautiful.

Nan@twitter (#230,955)

I was born at Jefferson Davis Memorial! The hospital birth certificate is lovingly taped in my baby book. As an adult, I'm still shocked the name didn't change until 1993.

"Do they use pepper in the Old South?"

Yes, even down (t)here they walk around the casual fine dining restaurants aiming their big-ass mills at your salad. They also invariably promise to "be taking care of you tonight."

portmanteautally (#1,015)

I would image that, after eating this, one would actually be cutting the cheese quite a lot.

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

You guys – "garlic cheese" is clearly "beer cheese" or "girl scout cheese" as my family called it – and it is DELICIOUS and you SHOULD make it!

Shredded cheddar, a brick of cream cheese, finely chopped yellow onion, garlic salt and chili powder to taste, one drop liquid smoke/braggs, mash with fork, add either a tiny bit of milk or a tiny bit of beer to help things meld together, eat with tortilla chips.

BAM! IT IS DELICIOUS! P.S. if you live in Chicago, Dunlay's on the Square (in Logan Square) serves this and calls it beer cheese.

Choire, I'd also like to ask: "If three of the five best food groups are grits, cheese and butter, how can this dish be argued against?" and you later say that crayfish are the 4th…this disproves my idea that the other 2 were whiskey and cigarettes…WHAT IS THE LAST BEST FOOD GROUP????

Cocky Bravado (#212,693)

@Olivia2.0 booze, right?

@Olivia2.0 pie

KenWheaton (#401)

Only The New York Times still insists on spelling it crayfish. And believe you me, I'm waging that war. Don't be like The New York Times, Choire!

From the AP Stylebook:

"crawfish Not crayfish. An exception to Webster's New World based on the dominant spelling in Louisiana, where it is a popular delicacy."

CheeseLouise (#2,074)

@KenWheaton Agreed. The NYT probably also says pee-can pray-lean.

SeanP (#4,058)

@KenWheaton I grew up in Wisconsin, where there were millions of these little beasts (yes, we ate them), and they were most decidedly known as "crayfish".

growler (#476)


My recipe for cheese grits came from Amy Grant.

bitzyboozer (#6,867)

Oh god. I was snickering at "garlic cheese" too until I clicked on the link and saw that familiar green label that took me all the way back to childhood. Wow.

KenWheaton (#401)

Can we classify queso* as a casserole? And by queso I mean the authentic version that involves one block of Velveeta and one can of Rotel microwaved for five minutes.

growler (#476)

@KenWheaton I classify that as soup.

#56 (#56)

@KenWheaton Heh, "authentic". I'm on a one-woman mission to remove any reference to cheese, in whatever language, from that toxic goo.

KenWheaton (#401)

@#56 Notice that I didn't use the word "cheese." Not in English at any rate. I find it funny that some New York stores keep it in the dairy/refrigerated section.

SeanP (#4,058)

@#56 Velveeta ingredient list: 100% pure petroleum by-products.

NoReally (#217,942)

This is a racist recipe? Because the woman who contributed it to the Garden Club cook book suggested the name for the hospital?

@NoReally I think that it's "maybe racist" because of Mrs. J. Balfour Miller's deep-seated mistrust concerning the mixing of foods.

Boo (#212,254)

WHAT are you Americans TALKING ABOUT.

I am… intrigued right now!! I could look all this up but I think your responses would be more entertaining:

1. Nutt's Folly
2. Garlic cheese
3. Jefferson Davis Memorial hospital
4. References to racism
5. Liquid smoke/braggs

PistolPackinMama (#231,054)


Nutt's Folly- Have no idea- I am assuming it's a Southern thing.

Garlic cheese- This here northern person expects it is some cheddar, Philadelphia, and other cheese mix flavored with garlic powder.

Jefferson Davis etc etc- J.D. was the one and only President of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Calling things after J. Davis is… um… can be construed as having nostalgia for the pro-slavery antebellum South.

Racism- which is why things named after him, and Robert E. Lee, the really brilliant (anti-secession, anti-slavery, btw) Confederate general, and others such are associated with racism. Kind of like you might look askance at a person with the Confederate flag tattooed on their forearm or flying from their Statehouse (um… South Carolina).

Liquid Smoke/ Braggs- liquid smoke is a flavoring kind of the consistency of Worcester sauce that is supposed to make things taste like they were smoked in an Old Timey Smoker, and also salt and MSG. The stuff gives me a raging headache. Braggs is basically Hippie Vegetarian Savory Flavor.

Grits- are hella hella good. They are also a very Southern thing. Grits are made from ground dry corn. So kind of like polenta, but with a rougher texture, usually. There is sometimes a split in grits preferences. Some, like my dad, whose mom was from Arkansas, likes his grits with delicious delicious maple syrup. Others like theirs savory, such as the recipe given here.

Funnily, I get the not knowing about grits. But ethnocentrically, I assumed everyone would get the Jefferson Davis/racism connection. Because, Civil War. He's important on the order of Cromwell in the British Civil War. Oops. Live and learn about dumb assumptions.

idlewild (#231,063)

I have no idea where Boo is from, but as an Australian could I also add Velveeta and the opposition to spelling crayfish 'crayfish' to that list?
And I blanked on the Jefferson Davis front too, despite having travelled through the Southern States. The lack of education about American history during my school years was really matched only by the lack of education about Australian history!

PistolPackinMama (#231,054)


Velveeta- comes in a block about the size of a brick. It's a cheese-like food, notable primarily for melting smoothly, thus being used to make things like nacho cheese sauce and any other number of dip-like substances. Highly, highly processed.

Variations of the same sort of thing come in slices, which are used to make melty grilled cheese sandwiches and as the melty filling in diner omlettes. The stuff keeps really well without refridgeration, so it also featured heavily in my young life as lunch options while on long canoe trips.

PistolPackinMama (#231,054)


EDIT- I don't know why there is a spelling dispute over craw/crayfish. It looks to me like there is a mashup dispute of class/sophistication, style-guide norming, and assertion of regional dominance going on.

Here is a dialect survey on pronunciation:

I would say that various sources might demand the Louisiana spelling of the word, but that won't do much to pronunciation variation.

I came across a thing on the web showing craw/cray differences showed up when scientists in the UK and US were describing them.

(sorry about the edit- I misread yr question)

apb (#9,461)

@PistolPackinMama Someone makes a version of Liquid Smoke that is just made out of weirdly "distilled" smoke & water, though it might be harder to find? The process is kinda fascinating.

SeanP (#4,058)

@PistolPackinMama "Crayfish" FOR EVAR.

jump01rope (#231,083)

I thinks I should try this when I got home.

candybeans (#176,001)

This casserole is the #1 reason I'm marrying my Texan fiance, so that I can make his aunt make it for me every time we visit Texas. I know women who have stockpiled the garlic velveeta, because nothing can quite replicate its flavor in this dish (which my Texans call "spoon bread"). God, it is so. Fucking. Good. Basically the best grits you've ever had. I cannot recommend this too highly.

SeanP (#4,058)

@candybeans "the best grits you've ever had" – not a very high bar to clear, unfortunately. If offered the choice between grits and library paste, I'd have to think on it. I'm sure the cheese helps and all, but… enough cheese would make the paste go down too.

Did you insist on eating off the plates with the little dividers when you were growing up?

You really can't go wrong with any of these ingredients. Also Houston has a Jefferson Davis hospital that was only shut down in the 80s or so? It's apparently suuuper haunted due to being built on 300 years worth of dead people. Then they made it into artist lofts.

Boo (#212,254)

Thankyou all, espesh Pistol Packin Mama! While Aussie culture is as steeped in Americanisms as this recipe is in oil, I'm glad that there are few mysterious things that have slipped through the net.

Also, all my American Civil War knowledge comes from repeated viewings of Gone with the Wind as a child – I was only watching that flick for Vivien Leigh and her wonderful frocks so I'm sure many important historical points were missed….

And you guys aren't alone in tasteless homages, alas – we have a swimming pool here called the 'Harold Holt' – after the Prime Minister who drowned in the '60s

SeanP (#4,058)

@Boo Interestingly: there was a US Navy ship named after him too: USS Harold E. Holt. They were in our squadron when I was first in.

manage8ment7 (#231,175)


darl1ranye (#231,116)


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