Food is more than just sustenance for the body ... it also tells a story.
Historically, diets reflected the lives of those in specific times and places. Location, background and even religion all factored into what people ate. That was certainly true for those living in the coastal region of Georgia.
The ancient Native Americans favored dishes that featured seafood, drawing from the bounty of the nearby waterways. They also cultivated crops, growing corn to be used in a variety of dishes.
Among other things, the corn could be ground into meal for breads or to be consumed as what we know now as grits. It began in the 16th century with the Muskogee tribe who originally ground corn into hominy and later created modern day grits. The dish’s popularity spread, eventually seeping into the Gullah Geechee traditions of the Low Country.
Today, grits have become synonymous with the South and with various interpretations grace menus aaround the world. One dish, however, continues to be the most often requested — shrimp and grits. While it is now a staple throughout the region, it has its origins right here in Coastal Georgia.
Jessica Scott, spokesperson for the Jekyll Island Authority, says it has continued to gain popularity since being highlighted in the 1980s.
“Shrimp and grits is a traditional dish from the low country that married readily available ingredients. Though it has Native American roots, the dish’s popularity didn’t really take off until the mid-1980s when Craig Claiborne wrote about the dish in the New York Times,” she said.
“Since then, shrimp and grits has become popular on menus outside the South.”
Wherever it may venture, it is truly at home in Coastal Georgia. And that tradition has been celebrated locally through the annual Georgia Shrimp and Grits Festival. This year, the event will return to the Jekyll Island Historic District Sept. 16 to 19.
The Shrimp and Grits Festial combines the love of this Southern tradition with art and entertainment to create one of the most highly anticipated festivities of the season. Local chefs also take part in a competition that pits various versions against one another.
Scott says that the contest allows festival goers a chance to experience the wide variety the dish offers.
“People love shrimp and grits the dish and the Shrimp & Grits Festival, because there are so many wonderful takes on it. At the Shrimp & Grits Festival guests can try a variety of local restaurants’ versions – each with their own unique flavors,” she said.
It won’t be the only thing on the menu so to speak. There will be plenty of vendors sharing all sorts of cuisine.
“For those who may want something other than shrimp and grits, we’ll have a wide variety of options such as wood-fired pizza, gourmet burgers and hot dogs, Latin fusion, and chicken (with and without waffles), as well as ice cream, frozen yogurt, funnel cakes and more,” Scott said.
But for those who are hankering to try various twists on Shrimp and Grits there will be dozens of local restaurants to choose from, including some unique options. One of those is Southern Soul. The St. Simons Island restaurant is one of the most popular spots in the Isles with patrons crossing state lines to eat its barbecue.
But they can also whip up a mighty impressive helping of shrimp and grits. And like other participants, Southern Soul will be sharing their recipe on cards during the festival. Though, they were kind enough to share their method ahead of time. Check it out below:
Soul dusted shrimp and grits with andouille, field pea, corn and sweet
½ lb Georgia white shrimp
3 tbsp soul dust
3 oz Georgia olive oil
1 cup cooked grits
2 oz brunoise red peppers
2 oz brunoise Vidalia onion
3 oz blanched field peas
3 oz cooked diced sweet potato
3 oz brunoise andouille sausage
2 oz fresh corn removed from cob
1 tsp fresh thyme chopped
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook grits as outlined in previous recipe.
Sautee andouille in pan until brown and crispy, remove and reserve. Add onions to andouille fat and sweat. Add sweet potatoes, peppers, field peas and corn. Sautee gently until all ingredients are cooked through and hot. Add andouille and fresh thyme and sautee for 1 min. remove from heat and mount with butter and season to taste
Shrimp: season shrimp with soul dust. Sautee on high heat in GA olive oil for approx 3 mins reserve for plating
Plate by placing hash in middle of plate. Place a spoonful of grits in the center of hash. Arrange shrimp on top of grits.