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Beyond Shrimp & Grits

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    Posted: 13 May 2015 at 10:26
America is filled with small, “secret” communities, where society developed outside the norms. These communities developed their own cuisine, their own crafts and culture, often their own language.

Perhaps the most important of these, particularly from a culinary standpoint, are the Gullah. Their influence on Low Country cuisine cannot be overstated, even if you (as is likely) never heard of them.

The Gullah originated with freed- and run-away slaves living on the sea islands off the southern coast. Totally isolated, they spoke a pathos of African and English, and lived off what the land and sea provided.

The so-called Gullah Corridor stretches from North Carolina to Florida. It includes the barrier islands found off those states, particularly those of South Carolina and Georgia, and a about a ten mile swath on the mainland.

If you’ve seen the movie The Patriot then you know who the Gullah are, even if not the name. When Mel Gibson hides his kids and sister in law in a black community on the shore, those were Gullah.

While the twin levelers of television and tourism have diluted Gullah culture, much of it can still be found out on the islands, and even in pockets of Charleston and Savannah.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the foodways of the Low Country are Gullah. Remember, these are the people who, as slaves, were the cooks and caregivers of the region. So the combination of African and American culinary traditions, with the addition of local ingredients, belongs to those people.

The iconic dish of the Gullah Corridor is, of course, Shrimp & Grits. One can say without fear of contradiction that every shrimp & grits recipe ever invented used the Gullah versions as a springboard. Whether plain or fancy, simple or sophisticated, the recipe can trace its roots to the sea islands.

Here’s a version from Gullah chef and cooking instructor Sallie Ann Robinson:

SMUTTERED SHRIMP AND GRITS

2 cups grits, cooked     
1 cup vegetable oil
1 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined     
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper     
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder     
1 cup self-rising flour
1 med onion, chopped     
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped     
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup hot water     
3 strips bacon, cooked crisp

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

In a bowl, sprinkle the shrimp with the salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder and toss.

Dust the seasoned shrimp with the flour to coat well.

When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and cook until browned on both sides. Remove shrimp and set aside. Drain the oil and add the onion, bell peppers, celery and water, lower the heat to medium, and simmer until vegetables are tender. Return the shrimp and simmer 10-15 minutes until the gravy thickens and browns.

Serve the shrimp over the prepared grits and crumble the bacon on top. Season with salt and pepper.

Sometime ago I posted a recipe for barbecued shrimp and grits:
(http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/shrimp-grits_topic1744.html?KW=grits)

If you compare them, you can easily see the antecedents of my dish in Sallie Robinson’s

For our Gullah themed meal we decided to go with regular course service. Among the Gullah this would have been all but unknown. Typically, a meal consisted of one thing, not a progression of things. So there would not have been a menu as we think of them.

After much deliberation and debate, here’s what we settled on:

Shrimp Cocktail
Cucumber & Tomato Salad
Baked Fish
Red Grits
White People’s Okra
Huguenot Torte with Hard Sauce

Virginia Mixson Geraty is a specialist in the Gullah language and has dedicated her life to preserving it. In her delightful volume Bittle ‘en T’ing, she does this in the form of a cookbook, written in Gullah with English translations.

I’m going to reprint the whole shrimp cocktail entry, both to give you a taste of the Gullah tongue, and because it’s a lovely commentary:

The book is written by the semi-fictitious Maum Chrish, who presents the recipes and discussion. Occasionally she refers to Mis’ Ginia, who is, of course, the author:

Swimp Cocktail

“Cocktail bin berry fancy bittle wuh Mis’ Ginia saa’b w’en de Bishup eeduhso de An’kainul come fuh shum

Fuh mek’em, bile some swimp en’ clean ‘em good fashi’n. Mek some sass wid saalut dress’n’, scurry-powduh, hawse-raddish, en’ ketchup. Mis’um ‘tell all fo’ stan’ de same.

Tek dem fancy leetle glass cup en’ pit ‘nuf swimp een’um fuh tas’s’e mout’. Po’ some sass ‘cross’em, en’pit’um een de ‘friguhratuh.

“Uh sure ent know huccome dey call dis “cocktail,” kase cocktail duh roostuh rump. ‘E seem berry nomannusuble fuh saa’ b cocktail tuh de Bishup en’ de Aa’kainjul, ‘speshly w’en de Prechuh hab de fowl breas’ saa;btuhr’m”

In English:

Shrimp Cocktail is very fancy food that is served to the bishop and to the archbishop when they come to visit the mission church.

To make it, boil some shrimp and clean them well. Make sauce with mayonnaise, curry powder, horseradish, and catsup. Mix these ingredients until they are blended well.

Put some shrimp into each cocktail glass and pour some of the sauce over them. One cup of cleaned shrimp makes two cocktails. Store the cocktails in the refrigerator.

Maum says she doesn’t know why this is called “cocktail,” because cocktail is rooster rump. It seems very impolite to serve cocktail to the bishop and the archbishop, while the preacher is served chicken breast.
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RECIPES

SHRIMP COCKTAIL

This is adapted from the above recipe from Maum Chrish. Add more or less of the ingredients to meet your own taste.

1 lb large shrimp     
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp curry powder     
2-3 tsp prepared horseradish
4 tbls ketchup

Cook shrimp in a large pot of salted, boiling water, until cooked through, 3-4 minutes. Chill in a bowl of ice water, drain, dry, and set aside in fridge.

Combine balance of ingredients to form a sauce. Chill well.

CUCUMBER & TOMATO SALAD

Every culture, it seems, has a version of this salad, differing primarily in how the veggis are cut, and in the dressing.

2-4 cucumbers, sliced     
3 tomatoes, cut into small wedges
1 small onion, cut into rings     
½ cup vinegar
¼ cup vegetable oil     
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine the cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl.

Mix together the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Pour over veggies and chill or serve immediately.

DAUFUSKIE BAKED FISH

Daufuskie is one of the major sea islands that has yet to be turned into a massive resort (such as Hilton Head). Much of the remaining Gullah culture is centered there.

Place fillets from any large fish on a greased baking tin. Sprinkle them with salt & pepper, and completely cover them with mayonnaise, then top with sliced onions. Cover pan with foil and bake in a hot (450F) oven until fish is flaky. Uncover and brown slightly under the broiler.

RED GRITS

Until researching Gullah cuisine I was unfamiliar with incorporating a different veggie into grits. But we do it all the time with rice, so it only makes sense.

4-5 slices salt pork, diced small    
1 cup grits
2 cups cooked pumpkin, mashed    
4 cups water
Salt to taste

Fry salt pork in iron skillet until brown. Set aside.

Pour water in suitable pot. Add salt. When water begins to boil, gradually add grits, stirring to keep grits from lumping. Add pumpkin, salt pork, and some of the pork grease. Turn down the fire, cover, and let cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until grits are done. Serve plain or top with fresh cream.

WHITE PEOPLE’S OKRA

Why “white people’s? That because while we like the crunchiness of fried okra, the Gullah say okra isn’t supposed to be chewed.

Handful of okra for each serving    
Flour for dusting
Salt & pepper to taste    
Oil for frying

Cut the okra pods in slices. Quickly dush them with flour, or the flavorful juices will be lost. Season with salt and pepper, and fry the slices in very hot oil until they are browned. Be careful, or they will burn.

HUGUENOT TORTE WITH HARD SAUCE

This is a super sweet dessert best served in small portions. Whipped cream can be subbed for the hard sauce

3 cups sugar    
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs    
2 cups chopped apples
6 tbls flour    
2 cups chopped pecans
4 ts baking powder    
Pinch salt

Beat the eggs well; then stir in the sugar. Sift the flour, sald and baking powder toether and fold this mixture into the eggs & sugar.

Stir in the apples and nuts and add the vanilla. Butter a large pan (9 x 13) and bake the mixture in a preheated 350F oven until brown and crusty, about 30 minutes.

While the torte is baking, whip some cream to eat with it. Or serve with hard sauce.

HARD SAUCE

8 tbls butter, melted    
1 cup sugar
1 egg    
¼ cup rum

Mix the butter and sugar thoroughly.

Separate the egg and beat the white until it stands up in peaks. Beat the sugar and butter with the egg, adding the rum a little at a time.

If you have no rum, wine will do, but it won’t taste as good without the rum flavor.





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RESOURCE GUIDE

There is a surprising amount of material available about the Gullah and their cuisine; numerous books, monographs, newspaper articles and web sites. I used them all, but depended primarily on three books:

Bittle en’ T’ing: Gullah Cooking with Maum Chrish, Virginia Mixson Geraty, Sandlapper Publishing, Orangeburg, SC, 1992

Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way, Sallie Ann Robinson, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2003

Stirrin’ The Pots On Daufuskie, Billie Burn, self published


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Here are several more Gullah recipes we’ve tried.

Oyster Stew

Most Gullah recipes for oyster stew (or oyster soup, as they’re more likely to call it) are similar to those found up and down the coast. Butter, cream or milk, and oysters with their liquor are all it takes.
     This one, stiffened with a roux, is a bit more stew-like.


3 strips bacon
2 tbls cooking oil or bacon grease
2 tbls flour
2 cups oysters
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cups water
Salt and black pepper to taste

Fry the bacon in a skillet. Remove the bacon when it is done, but leave the grease in the pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and flour, stirring constantly, until the flour browns. Add the cooked bacon, broken up, the ouysters, onion, and water. Stir to combine, add salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer 10-15 minutes. Serve over stiff grits.


Pork Chops with Gravy

Throughout the South you find versions of smothered pork chops. Most of the recipes I’ve seen (and tried) involve oven-roasting the chops. This one makes the whole thing on the range top.
     I used rather thick, center-cut, boneless chops, cuz that’s what I happened to have in the freezer. Adjusted the cooking time to accommodate that.


4-6 pork chops
Sprinkle salt and pepper
Sprinkle paprika
½ cup flour
½ cup cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ med bell pepper, sliced
1 ½ cups water

Sprinkle chops with salt, pepper, and paprika on both sides. Put he chops in a bag with the flour. Shake bag, remove chops, brush-off excess flour.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet. Fry the chops until golden brown, 2-4 minutes per side. Remove chops, Add the onion and pepper to the pan and cook, stirring, about a minute. Work in the balance of the flour and cook out the raw taste. Return the cooked chops to the pan, pour in the water, and cook until gravy thickens.

Yellow Squash with Bacon

There are thousands of recipes for zucchini. But you don’t see that many calling for yellow squash. This is strange, because yellow crookneck is a New World native, and it’s still the summer squash of choice among rural folks.
     While I made this with store-bought straightnecks, I’ll definitely do it again this summer when the crooknecks---which taste much better---come in.


5-6 large (or 19-12 small) yellow summer squash
3 strips bacon, cut in pieces about one-inch square
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup hot water
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the squash crosswise in quarter-inch thick slices. Fry the bacon pieces in a skillet until browned. Remove, leaving the grease. Add the squash and onion and stif-fry over moderate heat until they start to brown. Return the bacon and hot water, then salt and pepper to taste as the mixture simmers 10-14 minutes.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 May 2015 at 07:53
   Nice recipes!  I love the smothered pork chops!

   It's one of those dishes, to me, that can take on any shape, and flavors, you'd like.  The type of pork can vary, the vegetables can vary, you can add fruit, etc,etc.  But do make this using the few building instructions...using the technique laid forward...ingredient list is not fixed.

   I like the squash recipe too!  Oysters, well...I can still get them but it would entail a much longer drive from my new location...but I'll take that to hear the birds chirping in the morning with zero traffic noise Smile
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You're right about smothered pork chops, Dan. A very versatile approach to pork.

I would make one minor correction, though. While there's nothing fixed about the ingredient list, onions (usually lots of them) are an integral part of every smothered pork recipe.

What I like about the Gullah cuisine is its simplicity. Ingredients fresh from the soil and the sea, handled without a lot of cheffy tricks and techniques.

The proponents of farm-to-table could learn a lot from these people.
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Here's another version of Gullah oyster stew. Note the relative lack of flavorings. This lets the essence of the oysters come through. But, if you want to kick it up, no reason not to add a glug or three of hotsauce.

Gullah Oysters in Brown Gravy

4-6 slices bacon     
4-5 tbls flour
1 pint oysters     
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ tsp dried thyme     
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cups water

Cut up bacon in about one-inch pieces, and fry in heavy iron skillet. Add flour and brown as much as desired; if you are using onion, add it with the flour and brown together. Add water, salt, pepper, and cook until it is almast as thin a gravy as desired---but still a mite too thick as the oyster liquid will thin gravy some. Add the oysters to gravy and cook only until edges of oysters begin to curl up. Correct seasoning and serve with hot cooked rice.

Adapted from “Stirring The Pots On Daufuskie.”
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 January 2016 at 19:06
Brook -

I remember our correspondence when you were researching this project, but I missed this post...my apologies, as this is absolutely a signature post for this forum.

This IS peasant food, and the essence of this forum, for sure!

Here is a recipe that Brook shared with me for Gullah oxtails with ham hocks. It can be served with rice, potatoes or any number of starches, but rice would be my choice, as it is a fundamental staple among the Gullah. This is not surprising, as rice was a major cash crop in the Low Country for more than a century.

Quote Gullah Oxtails with Ham Hocks

2 ham hocks split in half
8-10 oxtail pieces
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the ham hocks and ox tails in a medium pot two thirds filled with water and boil 15 minutes. Drain and rinse the meat under running water. Return the meat to the pot and refill with water as before. Add the bell pepper, celery, and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil until the meat is tender, 2 hours or more. You may have to add more water before the meat is done, but don’t add more than 2-3 cups, because you want the gravy to be rich.

Serve with rice or potatoes and be ready for some lip-lickin’ grub.
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This is a perfect dish for this time of year. Hearty and tasty both.

Thanks for adding it to the thread, Ron.
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Amazing recipes  Brook.

Thanks for posting and have a lovely weekend.



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Quote Gullah Oxtails with Ham Hocks

2 ham hocks split in half
8-10 oxtail pieces
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the ham hocks and ox tails in a medium pot two thirds filled with water and boil 15 minutes. Drain and rinse the meat under running water. Return the meat to the pot and refill with water as before. Add the bell pepper, celery, and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil until the meat is tender, 2 hours or more. You may have to add more water before the meat is done, but don’t add more than 2-3 cups, because you want the gravy to be rich.


I made this recipe on Saturday; first and foremost, I want to say that this recipe has a veritable TON of flavor! The ingredients list might be short, but don't let that keep you from trying this dish; even in spite of a couple of potential problems on my part, it was, simply, amazing.

The first problem arose from the meat itself. I took out two oxtails for this preparation; a little more than called for in the recipe, but I figured it would be okay. Unfortunately, one of the packages was older and the packaging had apparently ripped sometime; as a consequence, it was badly freezer-burned. Because of this, I was only able to use one oxtail for the recipe, but since there weren't many of us at home that day, it worked out just fine. Additionally, the package of ham hocks that I bought contained three, rather than two, so it all worked out and everyone got plenty of both beef and pork.

The preparation work for the dish went fine; we followed the recipe to a "T" - except for the fact that we used a red bell pepper, rather than a green one, due to personal preference. The celery and onion are the only other ingredients, so the work went quickly, and it was soon time to get started.

I prepared this dish in my enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Before boiling the oxtails, I considered searing them first, but chose not to for two reasons:

First, I prefer to follow a recipe the first time, in order to get some perspective on what the author intended; the only time I deviate this would be if there are any glaring errors in the recipe, or any ingredients that I cannot find or won't use (in this case, green pepper). Once I've prepared a recipe as (or as closely as possible to) the original intent, I am not shy about modifications or changes, but then I will have a baseline.

Second, I stopped and considered that the essence of Gullah cooking is much flavor and nourishment, with little in the way of refinements or elevation. Would someone in the Gullah culture take the time to sear the oxtails first? Maybe, but it seemed just as likely - or more - that this would not be done, based on my (admittedly little) knowledge of the foodways.

With this in mind, I elected to proceed as the recipe was written and brought the water to a boil. Once the boil was reached, I reduced the heat and simmered the meats at a slow boil, barely more than a simmer, for 15 minutes. This served to remove a lot of the excess fat while also carrying away many of the proteins(?) and other "gunk" in the form of foamy scum, ensuring a pure, clean-tasting base for the final product. After 15 minutes, I drained and rinsed the meats, then began again, as instructed by the recipe.

Once the Dutch oven was at the second boil, I committed my primary execution error. I should probably have kept the Dutch oven on the stovetop, uncovered, at a slow simmer. Brook and I discussed the wording of the recipe, and we both agreed that a full-on, hard boil was not intended. However, out of habit arising form preparing so many other similar dishes, I put the pot in the oven at about 275, with the cover only partially on/off. I wanted the oxtails to cook slowly and evaporate off much - but not all - of the water, about half; and I figured this would be a good way to achieve those twin goals.

This might have worked, had I kept the pot completely uncovered, but instead, after three hours, I had more of a soup than a dish swimming in rich gravy. Since I'd never made this before, I wasn't sure how thick it should be, but I suspect that it should have been thicker than this.

No worries, though - it was a cold, wintery day, and a perfect one for soup! I adjusted the salt and pepper, then served this in bowls, rather than on plates.

Excellent! Outstanding! Delicious!

Those are only three words to describe the result. I really enjoyed this, and so did the family. Even The Beautiful Mrs. Tas, who has never been enthusiastic about my previous oxtail projects, said this had really nice, wonderful flavor. I would never have believed it, except I was there!

The best part - for me - is that I can get locally-raised-and-butchered oxtails for free...or, at the most, for 3 dollars each; so, I can make this again, and soon!

For the next preparation, I plan to do everything exactly the same, except I will use a little less water and cook them either longer in the oven or on the stovetop - uncovered - until I get the consistency that I am looking for in the liquids. My goal will be to have something that is thicker than a soup, closer to a stew or gravy. If the oxtails aren't quite tender by then, I'll simply cover the pot and let them ride until they are just right. But, I must stress again, the thinner consistency did not take away from the absolutely wonderful flavor in the slightest; those oxtails really pay off in that department. If I end up with soup again, I will not be disappointed at all.

If you have even a passing interest in oxtail recipes, or in trying oxtails for the first time, I strongly recommend this recipe. Even if you make a mistake or two, it will turn out great, as long as you remember low, slow cooking in order for the oxtails to become tender, melt-in-your-mouth pods of deliciousness.

Ron
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My interest in the Gullah culture continues; recently I found this write-up in Culinaria: The United States (1998):

Quote Gullah is a Creole language that combines Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Black English and West African languages. It is spoken by a group of people who live on the islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, the descendants of freed slaves who remained isolated from the mainland. Words such as goober, (peanut), gumbo (okra) and voodoo are Gullah. Linguists have speculated that O.K., juke box and tacky may be other American expressions with African origins.

Because of its isolation, the Gullah culture has remained fairly intact to this day. Until the late 1920s there were no bridges to St. Helena Island, the main center of Gullah life. The language of the slaves inhabiting the swampy marshlands on the South Carolina Sea Islands was a mixture of their own African dialect with words from the masters they served: American-Dutch, English, French or German, depending on the planter's descent.

Gullah cooking is basically the same as the Low Country, but Gullah cooks tend to use rendered smoked pork fat instead of butter or vegetable oil. They also favor classic Southern dishes with an emphasis on seafood and shellfish. One of the area's signature dishes is Frogmore Stew, a delicious concoction of local crab and shrimp, sausage and corn cooked together with spicy seasonings. It is named for a small town on St. Helena.

An annual Gullah Festival draws thousands to St. Helena to celebrate the people of this sandy island, which lies a short drive from the resorts of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. Researchers continue to study the heritage of the Sea Islands and their residents, exploring the connection between African customs and Gullah crafts such as sweet-grass basket weaving.


This recipe for Frogmore Stew, also from Culinaria, is a typical example; some variations use local crab, or a combination of shrimp and crab. The sausage can be cut big or small, and sometimes small potatoes are used, and left whole. The meat and vegetables are often served on newspaper in the center of the table, with the broth reserved for ladeling over individual servings. Lemon is commonly employed, either as a garnish or added right in with the stew, halved (and squeezed) or sliced. Through these variations, the essentials and the basic ideas remain constant: a reminder of a past that stretches back many centuries.


Quote Frogmore Stew


Photo Credit: https://beachprophhi.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/low_country_boil.jpg

3 quarts water
One 12-ounce bottle of beer
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1.5 dozen ears of corn, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 head of celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium-sized onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
7 pounds quartered red potatoes
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined

Bring water to a boil in a very large stockpot. Add peppercorns and Old Bay seasoning. Add corn, celery, onions and potatoes and cook until potatoes are almost done, approximately 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Serve stew in bowls with cooking broth spooned over stew.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 September 2018 at 15:35

Very interesting write ups  Tas & Brook .. 

I have herard of the Gulah culture however, have never come into contact with it nor their cuisine.


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