Grits aka Hominy refers to corn without the germ. It is served both whole or ground. Hominy is boiled until cooked and served as either a cereal or as a vegetable. Hominy may also be pressed into patties and fried. This dish is especially popular in the southern United States. Samp is another name for coarse hominy. Hominy ground into small grains is sometimes called “hominy grits.”
American colonists used the words “hominy” and “samp” interchangeably to mean processed corn. The colonists, unfamiliar with corn, had to learn from the Indians how make the tough grain edible. The pioneers prepared hominy by soaking the kernels in a weak wood-based lyeuntil the hulls floated to the surface.
Colonists usually kept both a samp mill and an ash hopper near their kitchens. A samp mill was a giant mortar and pestle made from a tree stump and a block of wood, which was hung from a tree branch. The branch acted as a spring. The samp mill was used to crack hard kernels of dried corn into coarse meal. The ash hopper was a V-shaped wooden funnel. Wood ashes were put into the funnel, and then water was run through the funnel to make lye. The lye was then used to soften the corn hulls and create hominy.
In the rest of America, hominy referred to the whole kernels which were skinned but not ground; in most of the South, “hominy” came to mean the coarsely-ground skinned kernels used to make the dish known as “hominy grits” or plain “grits.”
In New Orleans, the whole kernels are still called “big hominy” and the ground ones are known as “little hominy.”
In the Southwest, big hominy is called “posole,” and it is used to make hearty stews of hominy, chile peppers, and pork. Southwesterners and Mexicans will also grind small hominy until it is very fine and use it for tamale and tortilla dough.
The essence of good grits lies freshly milled whole-grain products, which helps to retain the flavor. Quick or instant grits are available in cans but the quality seems to suffer in the canning process. The result is grits that are usually described as tasting like “library paste.”
Cornmeal is a powdery food product, similar to common wheat flour, that is made by grinding the dried kernels of maize, or corn, through one of several different processes and into one of several different levels of fineness. In the United States, it is sometimes also called cornflour, however in the United Kingdom cornflour is used synonymously with cornstarch, so care should be taken by anyone when encountering “cornflour” in a recipe. While it can be used directly in a number of different recipes, it also has uses beyond simply being an ingredient and may be used in several other applications as well.
There are several ways in which cornmeal can be ground, but most common are steel ground or stone ground. Steel ground typically has neither the husk nor the germ of the maize, and this makes storage possible almost indefinitely. If kept in an air-tight container and frozen, steel ground cornmeal can remain fresh for years. Stone ground, however, still has much of the husk and germ of the original maize kernel and the oils released in grinding can go rancid fairly easily. If frozen in an air-tight container, stone ground varieties may remain safe to eat for up to two years, but if stored in a cool pantry or refrigerator, they should be used within a few months.
Cornmeal can also be ground to fine, medium, or coarse degrees of fineness, and these different consistencies are often used for different recipes. Common American foods such ascornbread, corncakes, and grits all use cornmeal. Polenta, often found in Italian kitchens and restaurants, is made through basically the same process as the grits found in the American South. It is also often used in making batters for foods such as corndogs and cornbrats and is commonly used as a form of animal feed.
A number of different bakeries and restaurants also use cornmeal in helping baked products release from what they are baked upon, and it can often be found coating the bottom of pizzas and English muffins. Cornmeal has been found to have strong anti-fungal properties and may be used in gardens to help reduce or keep fungal infections from affecting plants. Since it is edible, it can be used on food crops as well and may possess nutrients that are released into the growing plants. This can be achieved either through mixing the meal directly into soil, or soaking it in water overnight, straining the mixture and spraying the water onto plants