Monday, November 5, 2007

Cooking the Gullah Way

Years ago, when my son had just reached the age where he could appreciate a road trip, I decided to take him to a part of the country that had always fascinated me: the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina.

My fascination had started many years before, when I was not yet in the food business. I was writing a book chapter on cruising the Intracoastal Waterway from New Jersey to Florida, and in the course of my research read a lot about the Sea Islands. I also read about the food of the region, because though I was writing about boats, I was dreaming of being a foodie.

You can't read about the food of this area without encountering the Gullah culture of Daufuskie Island off South Carolina. The Gullah came originally from West Africa, and because they lived on an island that for decades was only accessible by boat, their culture and language survived without much dilution.

Daufuskie Island (and its inhabitants) is the subject of a book called The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy (the author of, among other books, The Prince of Tides). In the book, Conroy describes his year as an English teacher in the one-room schoolhouse on the island. One of his students was a girl named Sallie Ann Robinson.

Sallie Ann Robinson grew up to be a cookbook writer, with the express purpose of preserving on paper her Gullah food roots. She has just written her second cookbook, Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, and Night. There are recipes for local dishes like Preserved String Beans and Tadas (potatoes), Momma's Crackling Muffins, Local Sea Island Country Boil and Persimmon Wine. The last 20 pages or so are a compendium of Daufuskie home remedies for such things as bed-wetting, tick removal or getting rid of the smell of burned food from your house.

If you're interested in Gullah cooking, you could also check out Robinson's first cookbook: Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way (especially if you're in need of a recipe for Sticky Bush Blackberry Dumpling).

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