A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 27, 2009
“Hominy, sir?"/"Oh, about four or five.” (Northerner ordering grits)

A Northerner tells a waitress that he wants to order grits. “Hominy, sir?” the waitress asks. “Oh, about four or five,” replies the confused customer.

“Hominy” sounds like the words “How many?” The word is from Algonquian and signifies corn soaked in a caustic solution (usually lye). The “hominy” joke is cited in print from at least 1961.


Wikipedia: Hominy
Hominy or nixtamal is dried maize kernels which have been treated with an alkali.

The traditional U.S. version involves soaking dried corn in lye-water (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide solution), traditionally derived from wood ash, until the hulls are removed. Mexican recipes describe a preparation process consisting primarily of cooking in lime-water (calcium hydroxide). In either case, the process is called nixtamalization, and removes the germ and the hard outer hull from the kernels, making them more palatable, easier to digest, and easier to process.

Commercially available canned hominy may have a slightly stronger scent when compared to the traditional preparation.

The earliest known usage of nixtamalization was in what is present-day Guatemala around 1500–1200 BC. It affords several significant nutritional advantages over untreated maize products. It converts some of the niacin (and possibly other B vitamins) into a form more absorbable by the body, improves the availability of the amino acids, and (at least in the lime-treated variant) supplements the calcium content, balancing maize’s comparative excess of phosphorus.

Many Native American cultures made hominy and integrated it into their diet. Cherokees, for example, made hominy grits by soaking corn in lye and beating it with a kanona (corn beater). The grits were used to make a traditional hominy soup (called ᎬᏃᎮᏅ ᎠᎹᎩᎢ, or Gv-No-He-Nv A-Ma-Gi-i), a hominy soup that was allowed to ferment (Gv-Wi Si-Da A-Ma-Gi-i), cornbread, dumplings (Di-Gu-Nv-i) or fried with bacon and green onions.

Some recipes using hominy include menudo (a spicy tripe and hominy soup), pozole (a stew of hominy and pork, chicken, or other meat), hominy bread, hominy chili, casseroles and fried dishes. Hominy can be ground coarsely to make hominy grits, or into a fine mash (dough) to make masa, the dough used to make tamales.

Wikipedia: Grits
Grits is a Native American corn-based food common in the Southern United States, consisting of coarsely ground corn.

Grits is similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world such as polenta. It also has a resemblance to farina, a thinner porridge. The word leads back to the traditional Northern European grit gruels. Grits can be served hot or cold and as a base for a multitude of dishes from breakfast to dessert, depending on the additives. Additives can range from salt and butter, meats (especially shrimp on the east or gulf coast), cheese, rarely (but in nouvelle Southern cuisine) vegetables, and sugar.

Hominy grits is grits made from nixtamalized corn, or hominy. It is sometimes called sofkee or sofkey from the Creek word.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Main Entry: hom·i·ny
Pronunciation: \ˈhä-mə-nē\
Function: noun
Etymology: Virginia Algonquian -homen, literally, that treated (in the way specified)
Date: 1629
: kernels of corn that have been soaked in a caustic solution (as of lye) and then washed to remove the hulls

Wilmot Milling Co. (IN)
Man to waiter: I’ll have the grits please.
Waiter: Hominy sir?
Man to waiter: Oh, about 2 dozen.

21 April 1961, Capital Times (Madison, WI), Green section, pg. 1, cols. 1-2:
Customer: Miss, I’ll have grits, please.
Waitress: Hominy, Sir?
Customer: I’ll have about five or six.

Google Books
The Gigantic Joke Book
By Joseph Rosenbloom
New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Company
1981
Pg. 235:
Waiter: Hominy, sir?
Customer: Oh, a couple of dozen.

Google Books
The Dick Van Dyke Show
By Ginny Weissman and Coyne Steven Sanders
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
1993
Pg. 84:
“Hominy grits!” he exclaims. “Oh, about fifty,” replies Miss Sally.

Straight Dope Message Board
Johanna
12-13-2000, 04:55 AM
The only difference between grits and polenta (formerly known as “mush"--if you remember the “Little Rascals” episode where they all become rich and fling their hated bowls of mush at the butler):

Polenta made from cornmeal.
Grits made from hominy.

What is hominy? Corn that’s been soaked in lime water. (That’s calcium carbonate lime, not citrus lime.) The kernels are dried and stored until ground up—an old American Indian process. The word “hominy” is of Algonquian origin.

Waitress: What’ll it be for breakfast:
Diner: I’ll have grits.
Waitress: Hominy, sir?
Diner: Oh, about four or five.

Home Cooking - Chowhound
grits revisited
So the old joke goes - A Yankee finds himself in the deep south and having heard that the locals eat something called grits, asks the waitress for some. She says, “Hominy sir?”. To which he replies, “Oh, I guess four or five.”
(...)
applehome Sep 26, 2005 05:09PM

Free Republic
O’Reilly: “Hominy Grits?”
FR: “Oh, about 7 or 8 hundred!”
623 posted on Thursday, August 02, 2007 8:33:47 PM by stephenjohnbanker

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Monday, July 27, 2009 • Permalink