These cheese grits, brought to you by Center for Poetry Director Anita Skeen, are a staple at our annual staff holiday party. Anita writes:
During the holiday season, I think we often recall friends and family who are no longer physically with us but who live on in other ways. The recipe for cheese glints was passed down to me by P.J. Wyatt, a professor of linguistics and folklore whom I taught with at Wichita State University until her retirement. She was my colleague, my mentor, my friend and I often had dinner at her home, across the street from the university, in those early days. Whenever I cook cheese grits, and often I do that during the holidays, I remember P.J., who has been gone now for nearly 23 years. My mother, who has been gone for almost 7 years, left me few recipes, probably because I hated to cook. But I do have a few, in her handwriting, that I pull out of my recipe box on occasion, generally during holidays. Every time I do, she comes alive in the kitchen of my memory, always wearing an apron, bending over a pot or skillet, wooden spoon in hand.
1/2 cup quick-cooking hominy grits
2 cups boiling water
1/3 pound Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1/12 cups)
4 tablespoons butter or margarine (1/2 stick)
1 egg, well beaten
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
Stir grits into rapidly boiling water in large pot. Reduce heat; cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick. Add cheese and butter to hot grits; stir until they melt. Mix egg, salt and red pepper sauce in small bowl; add to grits mixture. Spoon into greased casserole. Bake at 350˚F for 40 to 50 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika 10 minutes before done. (6 to 8 servings.)
By Anita Skeen
My father, afraid to turn on the oven for over a year
after my mother died, sends me his recipe for corn casserole,
scrawling across the top, Try it, It’s good. On the next sheet,
another recipe, this one for old fashioned vanilla ice cream,
typed, I can tell, on a manual typewriter. On the bottom,
my mother’s handwriting, changing the proportions,
suggesting alternatives. I’m as startled by that forgotten script
as I would be if she entered the room and spoke my name,
her absence three years painful. This is the recipe
she stirred on summer days when cousins came
from Parkersburg, Richmond, far away L.A.
Daddy dug out the wooden freezer and we all cranked,
fifteen minute shifts, the ice and salt replenished,
newspapers wrapping the tub, a noisy marvel.
When it churned hard enough, we extracted
the dasher, all having a lick or two
before packing the canister back in ice to ripen.
My mother’s favorite was peach, sweet with frosty
chunks, but we cousins wanted chocolate chips,
maraschino cherries, and pecans. I can’t stop staring
at the mundane notes she wrote, unaware
of the earthquake they’d one day cause.
I hear her laughter on the front porch as spoons
chime against the sides of bowls, scraping them clean.
Mysterious night cools down around us, fireflies blink on
and off. I feel guilty for saying thumbs down so often
to her peach delight. Now that peaches seem more plentiful
than ever, I find no recipe in any of her cookbooks.