True Grits

Many people use a coffee grinder during their morning routines. But how many of you grind your own grain before breakfast? Steffen Mirsky, our Horticultural Technician, can raise a flour-covered hand in response to that question. Since buying a hand-cranked mill several months ago, Steffen has been grinding corn and making grits almost every morning. 

Traditionally, grits are made with southern dent corns. Steffen has also used some blue flour corn which, he says, cooks more quickly and gives his grits a starchier flavor. The variety of corn we used for this recipe is a yellow dent called "Yellow Jarvis." It is a “derived southern dent” that was bred by a North Carolina farmer named James Monroe "Plough Boy" Jarvis in the early 1900s. 

“It’s local and inexpensive,” says Steffen, “It’s a very American breakfast.”

When I asked Steffen why he likes grinding his own grain, I was expecting him to give a short answer about the pleasure of self-sufficiency or the diversity of flavor. But Steffen had a handful of reasons why he liked to grind corn. Besides the frugality of grits, he also appreciates the simplicity, versatility, and flavor of the dish. His five-minute morning routine of milling corn wakes him up, stimulates his appetite and makes him feel like he’s earning his breakfast. Having a diversity of corn varieties means that he can choose whether his morning meal will be golden yellow, dark red, or a subtle blue. 

If you’re not already convinced to start making your own grits from scratch, check out this simple recipe and have at it.

'Yellow Jarvis' corn awaits its fate in the mill


Flint or dent corn
Small pat of butter

Optional add-ins:

For savory grits: sharp cheese, scallions, onions, bacon
For sweet grits: maple syrup, brown sugar, honey,
applesauce, milk 


Grain grinder
Saucepan or soup pot

Grind your corn. Use approximately ½ cup per person. Measure four parts of water for every part of ground corn. Heat the water on the stove until nearly boiling. Add the cornmeal to the water and stir quickly with a whisk for several minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Once it has started to thicken, reduce the heat to a simmer and put a lid on the pot. Leave to cook for around thirty minutes, stirring
every five minutes or so to ensure that the grits do not burn. Once cooked, you can choose to make this dish savory or sweet. We added smoked cheddar and parmesan cheeses, a pat of butter, salt, and some sauteed bacon and scallions. Steffen usually sweetens his grits, mixing a bit of maple syrup or brown sugar into the porridge-like meal, sometimes adding milk or even homemade applesauce.

Whether you take your grits sweet, with honey and milk, or savory with cheese and roasted alliums, the simplicity of this comforting dish will have you reaching for your grain mill in addition to your coffee grinder in the mornings. 

Steffen Demonstrates True Grit(s-making prowess)

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.