National Grits Festival held in Warwick Saturday - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

National Grits Festival held in Warwick Saturday

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April 12, 2003

WARWICK - The Grits Capital of the World held the Sixth Annual National Grits Festival Saturday. But, many still ask, "What exactly is a grit?"

Sixteen-year-old Tyler Harper of Ocilla was there, but not just for fun. He is an intern with the Center of Agricultural Study and Excellence (C.A.S.E.) Farm in Irwin County. He and others representing C.A.S.E. Farm were at the festival demonstrating a mobile grist mill. "It takes corn and you make into your corn meal and your grits," Harper said.

Curious onlookers kept them busy with questions about the process. But, the weirdest question came from a neighbor from the North. "There was a guy from Canada. He came and asked, 'What is a grit,'" Harper said. "I actually took out one grit and I put it in his hand and said, 'That is a grit.'"

Magic might be how some think grits get from a kernel of corn to your breakfast table. Actually, though, it is a relatively simple process. One Harper explained a dozen times over Saturday.

Hundreds of kernels are poured into a hopper, shaken down into a grinder and ground. Two wheels, one stationary, grind the corn, which produces both fine corn meal and course grits. It is then fed up a tube into another hopper.

There, it is 'sifted' apart. The corn meal and grits are piped into separate bins where it is scooped out and bagged. The shells or "the part (of corn) that gets stuck in your teeth when you eat popcorn" goes into a separate bin as well. Harper said it will be used as bird food.

Harper and C.A.S.E. are using this machine to make innovative products to help farmers market their products. For instance, a farmer could process the same bushel of corn he would normally sale for $3 into various products. The return could be as much as $56, he said.

One of those products is grits and people at the festival say they're not just for breakfast anymore. A popular portion of the festival is a cook-off, which put grits dishes from casseroles to cakes head to head. Or is that grit to grit?

"It is very hard, very hard, because the presentation and taste on all these items are fantastic," Kevin Neel, a judge, said of the contest. Each judge had to sample countless dishes in breakfast, main course and dessert divisions.

Harper knows his stuff when it comes to producing grits. The cooking part? Well, he said that is better left to someone else. Festival organizers have made that easy, producing a cook book with past years prized recipes.

In this town, the Grit -- or Grits -- is King. Even Governor Barnes declared them the official prepared food of Georgia in April, 2002.

posted at 6:00p.m. by mathew.palmer@walb.com