What do pimiento cheese, saffron, turkey bacon, goat cheese, cream of mushroom soup, bourbon and liquid hazelnut coffee creamer have in common?

Shrimp and grits. Yep, shrimp and grits.

Three years ago, The Post and Courier co-sponsored a shrimp and grits recipe contest with the S.C. Seafood Alliance. It was an eye-opener to say the least. Not only did we get 150-plus entries, it was amazing to see what was being added to a humble pot of shrimp and grits.

I must say, some recipes were like a garish makeup job on a natural beauty.

With all due respect, I like each one of those ingredients in the right context. (Well, not the hazelnut coffee creamer.) And I support experimentation in cooking. But our sweet little shrimp were hanging out with questionable company in a few of those recipes.

At its heart, our signature dish is really peasant food. That's no insult; the term means dishes specific to a particular culture made from accessible and inexpensive ingredients. In this case, though, shrimp and grits have been enjoyed by Lowcountry rich, poor and everybody in between.

Sylvia Smith recently e-mailed from northern Virginia, asking for a recipe for shrimp and grits with brown gravy. Her daughter's family once took her to a restaurant on Shem Creek, where she had a memorable taste. "Since then I have ordered the item at a couple of 'Southern style' or 'Low Country' restaurants here in the Arlington and Alexandria, Va., area where I live. Nothing has come close. Most recently I ordered shrimp and grits with tasso gravy that was so spicy-hot the shrimp taste was obliterated and I had heartburn for hours. Can you help me?"

We'll try although it's a little tough to pin down exactly what is a "brown gravy." What is making it brown? It could be Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, browned flour, sausage or bacon, beef broth, a combination of the above or something else altogether.

However, shrimp and grits with "brown gravy" is considered one of the older, basic variations of the dish. We have a few recipes to offer for consideration:

Harriette Dodd of Round O sends a recipe from the classic "Charleston Receipts" cookbook, which she received as a wedding present 50 years ago. (Still timeless, I might add.) Harriette says she owned the book for years before realizing its recipe for Breakfast Shrimp is the local classic for shrimp and grits.

"The recipe is delicious, even if you omit the green peppers, ketchup and Worcestershire and substitute cooking oil for the bacon grease. I brown the flour in a separate pan (no oil, just flour) before adding it to the pan with the shrimp. This adds more color and flavor to the gravy. This can be done ahead of time; just be sure not to burn the flour.

"Some cooks prepare the grits with chicken broth instead of water for even more flavor."

Breakfast Shrimp

Serves 4

2 tablespoons chopped onion

2 teaspoons chopped green pepper

3 tablespoons bacon grease

1 1/2 cups small, peeled raw shrimp

1 cup water or more

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon tomato catsup

Fry onion and green pepper in bacon grease. When onion is golden, add shrimp; turn these several times with onion and pepper. Add enough water to make a sauce, about 1 cup. Do not cover shrimp with water or your sauce will be tasteless. Simmer 2-3 minutes and thicken with flour and a little water made into a paste. Add seasoning, Worcestershire sauce and catsup. Cook slowly until sauce thickens. Serve with hominy (grits).

— Credited to Mrs. Ben Scott Whaley

Variation: A variation to the above receipt says that cooked shrimp may be floured and fried with onions browned in butter. Hot water is slowly added and shrimp allowed to simmer under cover for several minutes or until a thick gravy forms. Stir constantly.

I found another version in the newspaper's archives, published in 2000. Several local restaurants shared their shrimp and grits recipes in the story. This one was from Ronnie's restaurant, a Shem Creek fixture for many years.

Ronnie's Shrimp and Grits

Makes 4-6 servings

For the grits:

6 cups water

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 cups stone-ground yellow grits

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Salt to taste

For the shrimp:

1/4 pound sliced country ham

1/4 onion, chopped fine

1/4 pound butter, melted

1 cup flour

1 cup beef broth

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

3 cups water

3 pounds peeled shrimp, tails off

To make the grits: Heat water, cream and butter until boiling. Lower heat to a simmer and whip in grits with a wire whisk. Allow to simmer for approximately 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Turn off heat and fold in the cheese. Add salt to taste.

To make the shrimp: Fry ham and onion together with melted butter for 15 minutes. Add flour and mix together well. Add beef broth, garlic and water. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring constantly. Add shrimp to gravy and simmer until shrimp are done. Serve over grits.

I also heard from Chris Christopher of Charleston.

"Sunday someone was talking about what sounded like 'plain ole' shrimp and grits with a brown gravy. That's almost impossible to find in these days of culinary experimentation.

"Years ago, Tommy Condon's used to serve breakfast and had the most wonderful shrimp and grits recipe — just little creek shrimp in a thin, brown gravy (seasoned with some spices and a bit of onion and butter) nestled in a bowl of grits. I loved it! Then they quit serving breakfast and I couldn't replicate the recipe, hard as I tried. Later, The News and Courier (at the time) came through with a recipe that was excellent, called Fosberry's Shrimp and Grits. This might be just the thing."

Note: This recipe includes modifications Chris has made to the original one.

Shrimp and Grits Fosberry

1 large onion, finely chopped

1/2- 3/4 stick salted butter

1 1/2 pounds peeled raw shrimp

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash of Betts or Jane's brand seasoned salt

1/4 cup dry sherry

Water to provide proper consistency (scant)

Saute onion in butter until transparent. Add raw shrimp and saute until just pink (do not overcook). Sprinkle shrimp with flour and stir until flour is cooked. Add seasonings and sherry, stirring constantly until sauce thickens a little. Add water if too thick. Taste and correct seasonings. Do not cover. Serve with grits and hot buttermilk biscuits.

Oscar Vick III of Charleston sent a recipe a bit more involved, but the oven-baked gravy sounds delicious. The unusual name, Bubble and Squeak, comes from the cooking sounds. It's also the name of a British dish of mashed potatoes, cabbage and beef.

Bubble and Squeak Brown Gravy With Shrimp and Grits

Serves 8

For the gravy:

1 cup olive oil

1 cup flour

1 cup diced onions

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon instant coffee

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Dash of red pepper

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

4 cups milk

1 cup beef broth

For the grits:

2 cups grits

1/2 cup half-and-half

1/2 stick butter

For the shrimp:

2 pounds medium peeled and deveined shrimp

1/2 stick melted butter

1/2 cup cream sherry

1/2 cup diced parsley

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

For the gravy: In a Dutch oven (preferably cast iron) over medium heat, blend the olive oil and flour with a whisk. As flour browns, reduce heat to low and sprinkle in onions, thyme, instant coffee, garlic salt, and black and red pepper. Stir constantly so as not to burn. When mixture is brown, add the Worcestershire sauce, milk and beef broth. Blend well. Cover and bake in the oven for 1 hour. If it needs thinning, add water, chicken broth or beef broth.

For the grits: Prepare 2 cups raw grits according to package directions. When grits are cooked, add the half-and-half and butter.

For the shrimp: Stir shrimp into gravy with melted butter, cream sherry and parsley. Cover and return to oven for 15 minutes.

To serve: Spoon grits onto plates and make a hole in the middle. Add the shrimp and gravy.

Hold the eggs, please

Peggy Vashina requested a recipe for a make-ahead breakfast casserole without eggs.

Keith Hoats shares a recipe for a family favorite. "Several of us are not egg eaters, so this really fits the bill!"

Ham and Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole

1 (32-ounce) bag frozen shredded hash browns

1 can cream of potato soup

2/3 cup milk

16 ounces sour cream

1 cup shredded sharp cheese

1 1/2 cups finely chopped ham

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated parmesan cheese to taste

Optional: finely chopped and sauteed onion and peppers

Combine all of ingredients above, mixing well. Pour into a greased 13x9-inch casserole dish. Top with generous amount of parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 30 minutes longer. Serve piping hot.

Who's got the recipe?

--Dianne Woodward of Hanahan can't find her Boston Cream Pie recipe. She doesn't want recipes that use instant pudding; she wants to cook her own custard.

--Frog legs, but not fried. Stephen Johnson of John's Island seeks ideas for preparing frog legs, along the lines of a saute with a cream, wine and herb sauce or mushrooms.

--A Summerville caller is looking to replicate the pinto beans served at Bojangles.