The Gullah who live on South Carolina’s coastal plain and sea islands – the lowcountry –have famously preserved much of their African heritage. Frogmore stew is a signature Gullah dish – a mixture of crab, shrimp, sausage, corn and spicy seasonings named after a small town on St. Helena Island, the center of Gullah life.
The African influence in South Carolina is strong – dishes featuring okra, sweet potatoes and the benne (sesame) seeds that are used in the state’s popular thin wafers.
The South Carolina lowcountry is a maze of swamps and marshes – perfect for growing the rice used in so many of the state’s dishes. Hoppin’ John is a South Carolina dish of black-eyed peas and rice eaten on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck and prosperity. We have the Spanish to thank for red rice and pilaus.
Native Americans ate a mush of softened corn that was probably a precursor to the southerner’s all-important grits. Shrimp and grits – now on trendy menus nationwide – started life as a fishermen’s breakfast in the lowcountry.
Another traditional South Carolina shellfish dish is she-crab soup made with female crabs – thought to be sweeter then males. The roe often is added to enhance the taste of this cream soup, although ecological concerns have had an effect. Hard-boiled eggs are sometimes substituted for the roe.
And for a snack? Boiling peanuts has been a southern tradition since the 19th century. Green peanuts are boiled with ham hocks and sold at roadside stands all over the South.
– Bonny Wolf
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