Saturday, April 28, 2012

Good Southern Breakfast

My favorite breakfast of all time is grits and tomato gravy with biscuits and fig preserves.   I only get it a couple of times a year, but nothing says "home" like that!

Apparently tomato gravy is "Depression" food, but it's as good as it gets.  It's based on that true cornerstone of Southern cooking: bacon grease.  Red-eye gravy, which is based on ham grease, seems to be more common, but to my taste it can't hold a candle to tomato gravy.

The biscuits are great by themselves, which is how I usually eat them, but for a special treat pull them open put a dab of butter and some real fig preserves in them.  I've tried the store-bought fig preserves, and they're OK if that's all you can get, but really not better than jelly.  The ladies of my family used to make fig preserves, but the current generation doesn't seem to have the knowledge or materials. 

About half the time I go down to visit my dad, who still lives in my hometown area, I either go down or come back up via Tuscaloosa, where I got my bachelor's degree (Roll Tide!!!).   When I do, I have to check out the Bama Nut Shop in Brundidge.  They've always got boiled peanuts (a weakness of mine), and sometimes they have homemade fig preserves.  They had them a couple of months ago when I stopped by on my way back from Spring Break, and I was seriously tempted to buy all the jars.  I restrained myself and only bought 4 jars, leaving about the same number for someone else to buy.

At any rate, here are the recipes:

1 cup self-rising flour
1 Tbsp cooking oil
Buttermilk to feel (somewhat sticky, probably about 2 or 3 Tbsp)

Mix the flour and oil and add buttermilk until you achieve the right feel.  Shape the biscuits in a floured sheet of wax paper and place into a pan that has been sprayed with Pam or some other non-stick cooking oil.  Each biscuit should be a little more than 2 inches in diameter -- the size of the middle part of the palm of your hand.  Cook at 500 degrees F for 15 to 17 minutes.

Grits and tomato gravy:
1 12-oz can of peeled tomatoes
5 strips of bacon cut in half
A few tablespoons of flour
Quick Grits

Fry about 5 full slices of bacon (or 10 slices cut in half by length).  Scrape the pan, but leave the scrapings in the pan.  Add 1 12-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes.  Cut up the tomatoes while they're in the pan.  (Use a can of diced tomatoes if you have a teflon pan.  Better:  Don't use a teflon frying pan.)  Let the tomatoes simmer for about 5 minutes; add flour to thicken as it simmers.

Follow the instructions on the bag of grits.  As soon as they are done, spoon out enough to cover about 3/4 of a plate for each person being served and pour the tomato gravy over the grits.  They will need stir the gravy in immediately.  Grits will clump if allowed to cool, which is not good; do not delay!  Any excess gravy, however, can be refrigerated and used again later, as long as it is not kept too long.  It works on toast, too!

By the way, I checked "tomato gravy" on Wikipedia, and they seem to be talking about something else entirely.  I can't imagine putting onions or peppers into tomato gravy, let alone serving it over pasta. 


  1. Let me head off an obvious question: What do I mean that "I only get this a few times a year"? Why don't I just make it for myself?

    Well, I'm a bachelor, and as such I tend to stick with food that is quick and easy to prepare and/or can make several meals (think crock-pot chili). This doesn't quite fit either of those categories. Also, grits and tomato gravy is a quintessential Sunday-morning breakfast to be taken with a family, not something best eaten alone or in a rush.

    Likewise, some might ask why the menfolk can't make fig preserves. Good question! Again there's the bit about knowing how, but a more serious issue seems to be that fewer people have fig trees these days. My paternal grandmother had two fig trees in her back yard, and she composted scraps underneath them to (1) help the trees and (2) grow more/better earthworms, since she was an enthusiastic fisher. My dad still has a fig tree, and in the past he's made a kind of simplified fig preserves (I'll post the recipe sometime), but lately the deer have been getting to his figs first.

  2. Hey there!

    I found grits to be flavourless when I lived in the South. Maybe tomato gravy would be an improvement. I did love green fried tomatoes though - both the movie and the food. I love sweet tea too. If I win the lottery, I am definitely going back to there t live!

  3. That's true. Grits need a little help to be at their best, much like rice. In addition to grits with tomato gravy or red-eye gravy, many people like grits and eggs, but that requires runny eggs, and I like to make sure my eggs are cooked. And, of course, there is also cheese grits, which is most often served at fish fries.

  4. Secret recipe with the bacon grease added certainly will make me try cooking it. Rita can do the tomato gravy but she never used the bacon. I think bacon makes the world go round!