Many of the recipes have been changed or edited to fit my tastes, and were adapted 
for my use. They are not to be copied and published on the web without permission

Gullah and Low Country Recipes
Charleston, South Carolina, and surrounding areas

The following history was gathered by me from several sources over the years, 
including the  Beaufort County (south carolina) Public Library, in my visits to 
Charleston, on the web, in my recipe file, and from visitor center brochures

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Culinary Delights - Gullah Cuisine

During the late 1600s, English settlers in the new colonies needed more workers to farm thousands of acres of land on Sea Island plantations. Most were Africans brought to the American colonies as slaves. South Carolina provided some of the main ports for the European ships that carried slaves from West Africa and the West Indies, and many West Africans were skilled farmers and builders. Plantation owners wanted slaves from that region to farm indigo rice and cotton. Rice, a crop that the Africans had cultivated for centuries, was highly desired throughout the world. By 1700, “Carolina Golden Rice” became a major export from the Sea Islands. Almost as profitable as gold, it brought great wealth to the families who owned the plantations. 

Gullah communities are located where slaves once lived and worked on Sea Island plantations owned by the American colonists. Native Americans were also part of these communities, and the unique blend of the West African culture, combined with European and Native American influences, resulted in the distinct culture that is known as Gullah. When the Civil War ended, the slaves were freed. Since most plantation owners were not able to produce crops on their own, without slave labor, some of the land was sold to the plantation workers. Most of those who remained on the islands made a living by farming and fishing. They had little contact with the mainland, because the only way to travel off the islands was by boat. Given this geographic isolation, the native Islanders were able to maintain their folk ways and language.

Gullah is also the name of the language. It was developed among Africans as a way to communicate with people from other tribes and Europeans.  In the 1930's, it was determined that this language is made up of parts of Elizabethan English and over 4,000 words from many different African languages. People who speak Gullah sound like people who speak Krio, one of the common languages spoken among the people from Sierra Leone, West Africa. The similarity in the languages is an example of the connection between West Africans and the people from the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. It's spoken in a rhythm, and most times it's spoken rapidly - which makes it difficult to understand for even those who grew up around it. Gullah is written just the way it sounds.

As time  passed, the use of the language has almost disappeared. But if you were to visit some of the outer islands of the Coastal Carolinas and Georgia, you can still hear Gullah spoken among the locals. I've heard it spoken by Gullah women in the Marketplace in Charleston, where they weave and sell traditional seagrass baskets, and although it's difficult to understand, i find the unique use of words and musical sound quite pleasing to listen to.

The Recipes - Gullah, Low Country

Low Country cooking is flavorful, hearty cooking, characterized by use of the abundance of seafood and rice that are the main staples of the natives of the tidal plane. The African and Caribbean influences of the Gullah give the dishes some of their colorful names. Here are some adaptations of the old-style recipes, along with some of the traditional recipes

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Charleston Traditional Creamy she-crab soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white crab meat (try to find fresh crabs with roe, but canned will do)
6 tablespoons dry sherry
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Fill the bottom of a double boiler halfway with water. Bring to a low boil. Melt butter in top of double boiler, add flour and stir until smooth.

Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until smooth. Add mace, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and crab meat, add roe . Cook over simmering water for 20 minutes.To serve, place 1 tablespoon of warmed sherry in each of 4 or 6 soup bowls (depends on how much soup you want). Ladle soup into bowls, top with a dollop of whipped cream, and sprinkle with fresh snipped parsley.

Makes 4 -6 servings

Cornbread Muffins

1/2 cup butter, softened 2/3 cup white sugar 1/4 cup honey 2 eggs 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup cornmeal 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup milk 3/4 (10 ounce) package frozen corn kernels, thawed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease or line 12 muffin cups. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, honey, eggs and salt. Mix in flour, cornmeal and baking powder; blend throughly. Stir in milk and corn. Pour or spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. I like to spread honey mixed with a little softened butter over the tops while they are still warm. You can use this same recipe for cornbread

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Carolina Country Hobo Bread


1 1/2 cups of raisins
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 cup of boiling water
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of chopped nuts
3 tablespoons of shortening
1 egg, beaten
2 cups of flour
1/8 teaspoon of salt

Pour the boiling water over the raisins and baking soda and let stand until cool.  Combine the other ingredients with the raisin mixture and bake in a greased loaf pan at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until done.

Cornbread Casserole


1 pkg. (8 ounces) of cornbread stuffing mix
2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables slightly thawed
1-1/2 cups of cubed cooked ham
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups of milk
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

In a microwavable baking dish (12x8x2-inch) mix together the stuffing, vegetables and ham. In a bowl mix together the eggs; milk, salt, and pepper pour this over the cornbread mixture and cover with plastic wrap. Put in the refrigerator and leave for at least 5 hours or overnight. 

Next day, remove the plastic wrap and cover with waxed paper and microwave for 6 minutes rotate 1/4 turn. Continue microwaving for another 7 to 9 minutes or until a knife inserted in middle comes
out clean. Sprinkle with the cheese.

serves 4

Easy Chicken Pie


4 large, boneless chicken breasts, cooked
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 can of chicken broth
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup of milk
1 stick of butter, melted

Cut the cooked chicken into small pieces. Put chicken into a shallow casserole
dish and add the cream of chicken soup and chicken broth. In a separate bowl
mix the flour, milk, and the margarine. Pour mixture evenly over chicken and bake
at 375 degrees for 1 hour. Add any vegetables you like to the pie, if you like.

Crab Imperial

2 sticks butter
1 cup All-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup of parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cups of green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup of pimentos, finely chopped
2 pounds of lump crab meat
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bread crumbs

Melt butter in skillet over low heat. Add flour and whisk together to make a roux. Cook roux, whisking constantly over low heat until golden brown. 

Add milk, whisking constantly, until well blended. Add celery and mushrooms, parsley, green onions and pimentos. Cook until vegetables are translucent, then carefully fold in crab meat, being careful not to break it up too much. 

Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt and pepper, to taste. Pour mixture into individual baking dishes and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350-degrees until bread crumbs are golden brown and mixture is heated through.

serves 4

Carolina Country Slaw


1 large cabbage, shredded
1 bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced

Mix the pepper and onion together. Layer the cabbage and pepper and onion mix in a large mixing bowl. Pour 1 ½ cups sugar over this.

Mix the following ingredients together and bring to a boil:

1 cup of vinegar
3/4 cup of oil
1 tsp. of Salt
1 tsp. of celery seed
2 tsp. of Mustard
1 tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. of Sugar

Pour this over the cabbage, pepper, and onion and do not stir. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 4 hours. Tastes better if refrigerated overnight.

serves 8

Sour Cream Baked Noodles


1/4-pound wide noodles, cooked
1 cup of cottage cheese
1 cup of sour cream
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of butter melted

Preheat oven to 375. Butter a casserole dish. In a large bowl put the cooked noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, egg, salt, pepper and the butter and toss well. Put the noodle mixture into the dish and bake for 50-60 minutes. Until the noodles are bubbly and a little browned on top

serves 4

Corn Skillet Fritters

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or oil
2 cups whole kernel corn, drained

Combine all ingredients except corn. Beat until smooth; blend in corn. Drop spoonfuls of batter in hot fat in skillet (1/8 to 1/4 inch deep). Brown lightly on both sides. Serve hot with butter and syrup.
Makes 12 to 14 fritters.

Peanut Butter Bread


2 cups of white flour
1/3 cup of sugar
2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of smooth peanut butter
1 cup of milk
1 egg, beaten

Grease a loaf pan and preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Next add to the dry ingredients the peanut butter, egg, and the milk and mix until well blended. Put the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Hush Puppies

Recipe by Bell's Best
Telephone Pioneers Of America, Mississippi Chapter No. 36

Real southern hush puppies bear little resemblance 
to those in fast food places, thank goodness

2 cups sifted fine, stone or water ground white corn meal
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
4 - 5 tablespoons cold water

Stir corn meal, sugar, soda and salt together. Place onion in a small bowl. Add egg, buttermilk and beat until frothy. Pour all at once into the meal and stir lightly to mix. Add just enough of the cold water to make dough a good dropping. Fry in a deep fat fryer for about 2 minutes or until evenly browned.
Makes about 2 dozen.

Low Country Red Rice


1 small yellow onion
1 can (14 ounces) crushed tomatoes
3 thick slices bacon
1 cup long-grain white rice
Salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock

Chop the onion. Have the can of tomatoes opened and ready to use.  In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, fry the bacon until crisp and the fat is rendered, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the onion. Saute until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and saute until the grains are coated with the bacon fat and are very hot, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt, and black and cayenne peppers, mixing well. Pour in the stock or water and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Do not stir the rice during this time.

Spoon the rice into a serving bowl and crumble the bacon over the top. Serve at once.

Serves 4-6



1/2 pound cooked chicken meat
1/2 pound cooked ham
1 pound cooked sausages
1 small green bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
5 scallions
3 large tomatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 bay leaves
Salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.
2 cups long-grain white rice
3 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or as needed

Chop the chicken and the ham into bite-sized pieces; you should have about 1-1/2 cups of each. Cut the sausages into 1/2 inch thick slices. Seed the bell pepper, then chop the bell pepper, yellow onion, garlic, and the scallions, including the tender green tops. chop the tomatoes.

In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil. Add the ham and sausage and saute until well browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the flour, stir well, and add the bell pepper, yellow onion, garlic, and scallions and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, cumin, allspice, bay leaves, salt, black and cayenne peppers, and chicken and mix well. Then stir in the rice and pour in the stock. The liquid should just cover the contents of the skillet. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

To serve, remove and discard the bay leaf. Spoon the rice and meats onto a platter.
Serves 6-8

Fried Okra


1 pound of fresh okra
1/2 cup of self rising flour
1 cup of self rising cornmeal
1 cup of vegetable oil for frying

Wash the okra in cold water and dry with a paper towels. Remove the tops and stems and cut the pods into 1/2 inch long pieces. 

Mix the cornmeal, flour, and salt together in a mixing bowl and add the okra. Stir the okra and cornmeal mixture together making sure to completely coat the okra pieces on all sides and then let it stand for a few minutes and then stir again. 

Once the okra is completely coated shake the bowl to allow the leftover breading to settle to the bottom. Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat in a large frying pan. Place the breaded okra into the pan fry until browned on all sides. Remove the fried okra from the pan and drain on paper towels before serving.
serves 4

Onion Pie


1, 9-inch pie shell
1/4 cup of Italian dressing
2 tablespoons of butter or margarine
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
2 teaspoon of sage
1 teaspoon of dried marjoram leaves, crushed
1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
2 eggs
1/2 cup of heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the bottom of pie shell with fork. Bake 8 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool the pie shell completely. In a large pan on medium heat, heat the Italian dressing and butter add the onions and cook until the onions are tender. Fill the pie shell with the cheese and pour the onion mixture in. Meanwhile in a bowl beat the eggs, cream, sage, marjoram and pepper and pour over the onions. Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown.

article and adapted recipes by mary hyland
copyright 2002

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