I eat my grits with butter and sugar, and I eat them for breakfast.
Yes, I'm from Kentucky, and some would consider that pretty southern. But no, I never had grits in all my young life. Thomas introduced them to me after we were married. We were "country", but not necessarily "Southern" in most of our inherited cultural traits, tastes, and habits. Perhaps if I'd been from further down in the southern parts of the state I'd have grown up eating grits every day. Perhaps if some of my ancestors had come from more southerly states more recently than 150 years ago, I'd have grown up eating grits every day. I don't know.
But I'm from Breckinridge County, which is North-Central, bordering the Ohio River and 70 miles West of Louisville. My father's ancestors had come from England in the 1600s and had made it to the part of Kentucky that would become Breckinridge County less than two centuries later. One of the three brothers who had set out from New York stayed in that part of Kentucky when they got there, and after a few generations of "begets" my father was born. There was plenty of Scottish, English, and German influence from both his parents, but nothing uniquely "Southern".
My mother's family came to the U.S. from Ireland and England a bit later, more like the late 1700s for most of them. But her grandparents and great-grandparents came over from Virginia in a covered wagon in the later 1800s to Kentucky. I suppose Virginia is southern, but I can't really see that we got much uniquely "Southern" influence from those Irish, English, French ancestors either (with a bit of Native American on Great-Grandmother Eler Elijah's side.).
So while I grew up having oatmeal or white rice or Cream of Wheat for breakfast, sweetened and buttery and hot and delicious, I'd never had grits in any way, shape, or form. After we'd been married for a while, Thomas bought some grits and cooked them one day. He was having them for breakfast with bacon and eggs, and when I tasted his I expected them to be sweet, not salty. But Thomas had grown up eating them with salt and butter, so I'm afraid I made a face. I fixed my own bowl and put in butter and sugar and decided that they were absolutely delicious!
Unfortunately, my dear husband could never learn to like them sweet -- which is really particularly strange because he sweetens everything. His sweet-tea has sugar standing an inch in the bottom of his glass! It was many years later when I actually tried grits as a side dish with fish. They were okay, but I would have preferred rice. I tried them with cheese. They were okay, but I would have preferred potatoes. I have never made fun of or teased anyone or put them down for liking their grits the way they like them, but I'm sorry to say that the relatives who served me my grits with cheese made a big deal out of my not liking them that way and then treated me like I was nuts when I said I liked them for breakfast with butter and sugar. And that still really rankles!
Most of our tastes come from our childhood. Then we acquire new tastes from traveling or moving or being around other people whose tastes are different from ours. Sometimes we try something new and simply don't like it; it just doesn't suit our tastes. Sometimes we like things as adults that we didn't like as children. I'm never afraid to try something new, but I'm not going to pretend to like it if I don't.
Rice is another thing that wasn't served as a side dish when I was very young. My parents had never had it as a side dish; it really just had never been a part of their staple diet as they were growing up except as a breakfast food. I was eight years old and we were traveling to Houston, Texas, when I had rice as a side dish for the first time, in a restaurant. I liked it. I can remember my father getting a can of Spanish rice at the grocery one time, because he had had it somewhere during his Navy years and liked it. I LOVED it (and I think at some point they served something called Spanish rice at school). My brother-in-law, Ronnie, introduced the concept of serving beef stew over rice to my family, and I loved it that way. After that, as I was exposed to more pre-packaged, convenience foods, and more travel, I was able to try rice in a lot of different ways. (I really loved broccolli and rice and cheese and still do.) And my sister used to make a pork chop and rice dish that is out of this world!
But my point is that we don't just eat the same things our parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents ate. While we may be raised on certain regional dishes and recipes and while these are passed down to us, we don't limit ourselves to them. We marry and bring other traditional tastes into our new family. We travel or move, try something at a friend's house or a restaurant, read of or see or hear of something that looks and sounds good to us. We aren't limited like our ancestors were to seasonal foods or the fish and wildlife that are convenient to us. We hang onto certain traditional tastes and dishes that touch on our own past, heritage, or memories. We cherish those "comfort" foods from our childhood.
I'd love to be able to make a "scratch" cake with home made caramel icing that would taste exactly like my Mamaw Dowell made -- the cake that is legendary in my family, that all of my first cousins -- and many of the second cousins too -- always bring up when she is mentioned. It, along with her sweet tea, brewed with loose leaves, have become synonymous with Mamaw Dowell. No one can make either of them to taste exactly like hers, though sometimes one of us will come close, and excitedly tell others in the family, "I almost made a "Mamaw" cake!"
I had never had butternut squash pie until after we were married. That's a recipe that Thomas brought with him. And I love them. I'm sitting here looking at one cooling on the table in front of me right now. (Thomas made them late, and I got the job of checking on them until they were done. Guess there's going to be a slice out of one of them in the morning!) I had never had tomato gravy, another Thomas contribution, but sometimes now I crave it.
I wonder what interesting foods or dishes Andrew and Eler Beth's spouses will bring into the family when they marry. I wonder what recipes they'll hand down to their children from me and Thomas. Will Eler Beth say, "Now let me show you how to fry that chicken the way my Momma taught me." Will Andrew say, "This is how my Mom taught me to brown the roast before you put it in the oven."
So, no, if you define "Southerner" by how you eat your grits, then I guess I'm not a southerner. I'll keep on eating my grits the way I like them, but if you'd like to fix me some to try some other way, I'll be happy to do so.