Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spicy Shrimp & Cheese Grits and Letters from Out of the Blue!

Jackie Melton Wrigley, circa 1942

"In the late summer of 1942, a young woman with a sprained ankle and broken heart sat sipping a Coke in Bennett's Drug Store in Tallahassee, Florida when a gaggle of fresh-faced second lieutenants from nearby Dale Mabry Air Field strutted in the door.  The pilots sat down and began to converse nonchalantly about what a swell war this was going to be.  One of them noticed the forlorn young lady sitting alone in the corner.  He rose and sauntered over to her, observing in his best East Texas drawl, "Why, you look as pitiful as a dying calf in a snowstorm."  ...Letters From Out of the Blue

Lt. Guy O. Denton in North Africa, 1942

And so began the courtship of my grandmother, Jackie Melton Wrigley to my grandfather, Guy O. Denton,  a hot rock pilot from East Texas who pursued the love of a young widow despite the turmoil of a world filled with heartache and war.

So also begins a book, "Letters from Out of the Blue" authored by my uncle, D.G. "Rocky" Denton, that follows the love story of a handsome lieutenant with a witty tongue as he sends love letters to his beautiful girl back home.  The new book features a collection of love letters sent from my grandfather to my grandmother while he was fighting in North Africa with the famed 57th Fighter group during WWII.  While the book captures all the emotions of two young people falling in love, it reveals a larger story where the effects of a world-wide war had significant impact on individual Americans.  You can buy the book HERE on

When I discussed the book with my grandmother and her memories of the time, we talked about the fear and the loss but also the hope and the camaraderie.  The women back home were not idle. They worked in the home and out.  They saved, they scrimped and they shared with one another.  I wanted to share this book with all of you because I love to read these handwritten letters full of people and stories who are mostly forgotten. 

But since this is a cooking blog, I wanted to share a recipe to go along with it.  The problem is or should I say the problem "was" during that time their was a shortage on everything!  With rations on flour and sugar it was difficult to cook, but American women, rolled up their sleeves, tied on their aprons and came up with some pretty ingenious recipes.  Most of the substitute ingredients are not readily available now, but as I searched through lots of recipes I noticed that women used locally grown and readily available ingredients.  For instance, women in the North used maple syrup and maple sugar to substitute for white sugar and women in the South used a lot of cornmeal and grits to substitute for flour. 

Since my grandmother was from South Carolina, I asked her if she could remember any recipes from that time period that would have been served in the South and she said she remembered eating a LOT of grits.  Morning, noon and night!  Sweet grits and cheese grits if you could find the extra ingredients.
In honor of all those wonderful, courageous and ingenious women who found a way to make something out of nothing and provide good food for their families, I offer you an updated version of a Southern classic.

Spicy Shrimp & Cheese Grits
Cheese Grits
4 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 cup old-fashioned grits

1 1/2 cups of extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil.  Add the Cajun seasoning.  Slowly stir in the grits. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook, stirring frequently, until the grits are tender, 20 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese, the Parmesan cheeese, the butter and cream. Season with salt and pepper.  To serve, scoop a cup of grits into a bowl, top with shredded cheddar cheese, a few spicy shrimp with the juices from the pan, and extra Tabasco.  Serve immediately.

Spicy Shrimp
1 lb of peeled shrimp, uncooked and deveined
1/4 cup spicy flavored olive oil
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Tabasco to taste

Heat the spicy oil in a medium saute pan until hot, add shrimp, Cajun seasoning and a few dashes of Tabasco.  Saute until the shrimp are pink and firm.  Remove from heat and serve.

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