It’s a mystery to Southerners as to why Northerners often call grits Cream of Wheat.

To its devout fans, grits could be endearingly known as the ice cream of the South but it definitely is no Cream of Wheat. Grits is ground hominy, which in turn is dried corn kernels with the hull and germ removed. And Cream of Wheat is made with ground wheat kernels.

The two tastes are way different, says Ann Taylor Pittman, executive editor of Cooking Light, and she knows that only too well having grown up in the Mississippi Delta on a farm. “Cream of Wheat has a toasty, wheaty and nutty flavor. Whereas grits is sweeter and tastes like corn,” she says.

The author of “Everyday Whole Grains” (Oxmoor House, March 2016), Pittman says grits is more like polenta, which is made from ground cornmeal. While both are cooked in a porridge-style with plenty of water, she says, polenta is smoother and finer in texture while grits is coarser.

Pittman swears by whole-grain grits even though it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to cook. “The flavor and texture of instant grits is nowhere near the richness and grit of whole-grain grits (such as McEwen & Sons), which take longer to cook but absolutely worth it,” she writes in her cookbook, which is loaded with creative whole-grain recipes that will convert even the naysayers. The directions are easy to follow and the results absolutely piquant.

“I tried to create recipes that are approachable and easy to work into everyday foods,” she says of her new cookbook. “I wanted to move meals more toward whole grains.”

However, grits still are a regional specialty and not sold in a lot of supermarkets, she says. And that’s the case in Pittsburgh, where it is hard to find whole-grain grits of any brand. So to test the recipes, I settled for instant white grits rather grudgingly after not finding the old-fashioned kind in four stores.

For a perfect bowl of old-fashioned grits, Pittman says, the proportion should be one cup of grits to almost four cups of liquid, which can be a combination of milk and water or stock and water. Start with bringing the liquid to a boil, then season the water with salt before gradually pouring in the grits. The key is to make the grits lump-free, she says, so the mixture needs to be whisked constantly on low-simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Pittman is big on foods with toppings. On Oscar night she would throw a party, having a mashed potato bar with 30 kinds of toppings. That concept came into play when she came up with the recipes for her cookbook. “There is no limit to toppings, and grits is a wonderful canvas that absorbs anything,” she says.

For a Mexicalli grits bowl, she combines homestyle salsa, lime juice and cubed avocado to enhance the grits’ creaminess.

She generally likes the combination of pesto, mushrooms and spinach and so uses cremini mushrooms and fresh baby spinach along with pesto and garlic for an earthy topping.

To keep with the Southern flavor, she combines pancetta, fried eggs and red-eye gravy, which is a play on grits with red-eye gravy and is typically made with drippings from browned pork, tomato juice and brewed coffee.

She has a grits bowl with cheddar cheese, chives and scrambled eggs “just to have an easy, simple and mainstream breakfast idea,” she says.

Then there is the BLT grits bowl where bacon is cooked until it is crisp, and cherry tomatoes are seared in the bacon drippings. The porridge is topped with arugula drizzled with bacon drippings and juice, the caramelized tomatoes and a bacon slice.

There can never be too much corn when it comes to grits, Pittman says, and so she layers corn kernels and turkey sausage over corn porridge in her Sausage and Sweet Corn Grits Bowl. “I double corn; the top layer is crunchy and the bottom is smooth,” she says.

But of course, if you want to have grits with just a pat of butter that’s fine, too, she says.

If you have leftover grits, she says, chill and then cut them into squares. Finally, pan-fry the grit cakes for a crusty outside and a creamy inside. Or make a layered casserole and top it with sausage and sauteed greens.

Feelings run strong in the South that true grits should be eaten only with a fork and not a spoon; the belief is that it should be that thick. But Pittman doesn’t follow that philosophy.

“I eat grits in a bowl with a spoon while my husband eats it on a plate with a fork,” she says. “You should be able to eat it how you want to.”

GRITS WITH PESTO, CREMINI AND SPINACH

If you are looking to have a party in your mouth for breakfast, nothing beats the combination of pesto, mushrooms and spinach served over grits. It’s absolutely delicious.

Makes 4 servings

3 cups water

1 cup 2 percent reduced-fat milk

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup instant grits

1 tablespoon butter

10 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms

3 garlic cloves, minced

6 ounces fresh baby spinach

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup store-bought pesto

Bring water, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in grits. Cook until it thickens, stirring constantly so that there are no lumps.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic; saute 6 minutes. Add spinach, tossing until it wilts. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Spoon 1 cup grits into each of 4 bowls. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon pesto and 1/2 cup mushroom mixture.

GRITS WITH CHEDDAR, CHIVES AND SCRAMBLED EGGS

For someone who loves scrambled eggs, the simplicity of this topping bowled me over.

Makes 4 servings

3 cups water

1 cup 2 percent reduced-fat milk

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup instant grits

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons 2 percent reduced-fat milk

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons canola oil

8 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese

4 tablespoons sliced fresh chives

Bring water, milk and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in grits.

Reduce heat, and cook until it thickens, stirring constantly so there are no lumps.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Combine eggs, milk and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add egg mixture; cook 11/2 minutes or until desired degree of doneness, stirring constantly.

Spoon 1 cup grits into each of 4 bowls.

Top each serving with 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, one-fourth of eggs and 1 tablespoon chives.

SAUSAGE AND SWEET CORN GRITS BOWL

Ann Taylor Pittman is right when she says you cannot go wrong by layering corn with corn. The crunchy corn kernels complement the smooth grits and turkey sausage swimmingly well.

Makes 4 servings

3 cups water

1 cup 2 percent reduced-fat milk

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup instant grits

6 ounces turkey sausage

1/2 cup sliced red onion

2 cups fresh corn kernels

Bring water, milk and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in grits.

Reduce heat, and cook until it thickens, stirring constantly so that there are no lumps.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Add sausage; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

Add onion and corn; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Spoon 1 cup grits into each of 4 bowls.

Top each serving with about 1/2 cup sausage mixture.

Recipes adapted from “Everyday Whole Grains,” by Ann Taylor Pittman.