What a fascinating world we live in! We all grow up with our own unique perspective, and that perspective is so ingrained in us that we think everyone else thinks exactly like we do.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but sometimes things happen that remind us how different we can be.
I write about small towns because I spent all of my teenage years in a small Mississippi town. Both of my parents, my grandparents, and, if my genealogy research is correct, generations before them came from the same area. With such strong roots in that one place, I forget that things that seem normal to me can seem unbelievable to someone else.
My editor lives in Toronto. She just finished reviewing my latest book, All Bets Are Off, which is set in the same fictional small town as all of my other books. She made margin notes about two things that were, to me, non-issues.
The first had to do with the concept of dry counties. To this day, the county where my family is from is completely dry—beer, wine, and liquor sales are banned. I understand they recently opened up beer and wine sales in the city limits of the county seat (except on Sunday), but that’s a fairly new development. When I was growing up, alcohol was illegal throughout the county. Actually, a lot of the state is still dry. My daughter lives in central Mississippi now, and if she wants a bottle of wine, she has to drive to the next county to get it.
My editor thought my story must be set in Utah, because she couldn’t imagine any other place where you can’t go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of wine. When she realized the story was set in Alabama, she looked it up and was shocked to see that dry counties are actually a thing.
Oh, yes ma’am, they are.
There’s another part of the book, without giving too much away, where a character mentions releasing a snake into a barn to catch mice. My editor’s question: “Is that legal?” I laughed out loud at that. Legal? Have you ever met an Alabama farmer? Trust me, those guys don’t go to the Sheriff to ask permission for anything. Their farm, their rules.
Besides, depending on where you are, county sheriffs have been known to turn a blind eye to a lot of things. People still make moonshine down here (ironic, isn’t it?). I’ve had occasion to try some before–it tastes a lot like lighter fluid. People still make it, though. Do you want to guess how those folks keep the Sheriff off their back? They give him a bottle. No lie. Just like in the movies.
That means setting a snake loose in a barn isn’t something people around here would even think twice about. Apparently, in other parts of the world, that would raise a few eyebrows. Who’d have thought?
Welcome to the South, y’all.
With that in mind, today I’ve decided to post a recipe that’s uniquely Southern. You might be able to get this north of The Line, but I bet it won’t taste nearly as good.
Shrimp and Cheese Grits
For the shrimp:
2 sticks butter (softened)
1 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
¾ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. dried rosemary
2 T. minced garlic
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. water
1 lb. shrimp (cleaned, peeled, and deveined)
½ cup chopped country ham
1 ½ T olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
For the grits:
4 cups milk
1 cup quick cooking grits
1/2 tsp salt (don’t skimp on the salt–in my humble opinion, unsalted grits are gross)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup cream cheese
2 T butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Combine first 10 ingredients (butter through water) in blender, and whip until smooth. Set aside. Wash shrimp four or five times and drain well (this removes most of the fishy taste). Set aside.
Bring milk, and remaining salt and pepper to a slight boil on medium high heat. Whisk in grits slowly, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until thick or until desired tenderness and consistency (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Cut cream cheese into chunks and add into grits with cheese and butter. Stir until well blended and all cheese has melted.
While grits are cooking, pour olive oil into a large skillet and heat to medium-high. Add ham to skillet and sauté until brown. Remove ham from pan. Add shrimp and cook 1 to 2 minutes (you can add a little more oil if you need to), turn, then cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Return ham to pan, add white wine and cook until reduced by half. Add butter mixture from step one, reduce heat to low, then simmer until shrimp are done.
Serve shrimp mixture on top of grits.