For nearly a century, Jimmy Red heirloom corn was used by bootleggers to make moonshine, touted by many as the very best ever – but I use them for making amazing Shrimp and Heirloom Grits. Talk about a Sunday supper in the South. You can’t beat this winning combination.
A ride to Edisto through acres of forests and vast farmlands is one way to lift your spirits during this crazy time of uncertainty. There is just something soothing to the soul about being out in nature away from the blare of wired components and electronics. Around the year 2000, Jimmy Red nearly went extinct. This is the corn that was grown for many years on James Island near Charleston, South Carolina. Now, the heirloom corn is thriving again making everything from hooch to haute cuisine. Red Flake grits are a true Southern delicacy sought after by chefs and distillers across the South.
I first became aware of the corn while visiting Geechie Boy Mill in Edisto where it’s grown, milled, and sold online by owner Greg Johnsman. There’s something different about Geechie Boy Farm. It feels homegrown, historic, and special. It becomes obvious after just being there for a few minutes that Greg and his wife Betsy have a passion for the land and for their products. Greg and Betsy work on the farm that has been in Betsy’s family for three generations.
Meet the producer: Greg Johnsman: owner Geechie Boy Mill. www.geechieboymill.com
The return of the Jimmy Red
When I opened the bag of freshly milled grits, they had a wonderful nutty aroma unlike any I had ever experienced before.
A salute to Ted Chewning
We must give the credit to renowned Southern farmer and seed saver, Ted Chewning who brought it back from extinction.
Chewning loves to save seeds and has revived nearly extinct corns, beans, heirloom radishes, watermelons, and field peas. He rescued Jimmy Red as well, growing it and saving kernels each year, increasing the seed stock. Little did he suspect that soon it would burst into the restaurants of Charleston as a prized cultivar that makes legendary red-flecked grits and a rich, smooth whiskey with honey-nut undertones.
Heirloom cultivars like Jimmy Red are the heart of a Southern renaissance in traditional foodways, the repatriation of seeds as well as recipes, weaving together flavor and history into meals to relish and remember.
How you do it
If you’re fortunate enough to have some heirloom grits on hand, here’s how to prepare them.
My creamy treatment of these grits is nothing short of fabulous, and the silky texture is the perfect base to whatever you want to serve on them- eggs, shrimp, or a dose of your favorite cheese.
First, I like to measure them into a small bowl and soak them overnight by covering them with water. The hulls will rise to the top and you will want to carefully pour them off. If not, they will not cook like the rest and will be chewy. You will need to cook them for at least one hour in order to achieve a smooth soft, stirring as often as you can.
Jimmy Red Grits will have red flakes. Different types of corn have different flavors. The blue corn makes outstanding cornbread.
Cooking over low heat for a long period of time yields the best results – creamy, smooth delicious grits. Just add additional water as needed
Heirloom grits come together for a hearty casserole, perfect for your Mother’s Day Brunch or anytime. Shrimp and Grits is an iconic Southern dish.
Shrimp and Heirloom Grits Casserole
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 slices applewood smoked bacon, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
Creamy Cheddar Grits
32 ounces chicken broth
1 cup water 1 cup heirloom grits
1 cup half and half
1 1/2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons butter
freshly ground black pepper
Brown bacon in a large skillet until nice and crispy. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Reserve a couple tablespoons of the drippings and add the peppers, garlic and cook a couple of minutes until softened. Add the wine and cook two more minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp. cook about two more minutes until they are pink. Do not overcook. Stir in lemon juice.
Serve shrimp over grits. Sprinkle with bacon and serve hot.
For the Creamy Cheddar Grits
Combine broth and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the grits, stirring until combined. Return to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add more water as necessary and stir. Next, stir in the half and half and cook for 45 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, butter, and pepper.
Owner Greg Johnsman www.geechieboymill.com