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Culture Briefs
Number 4 · Fall 2013

Lowcountry Cooking in South Carolina and Georgia

JAMILLAH R. GABRIEL

Gullah, or Geechee, cuisine is one of many culinary traditions that is encompassed by the broad regional style that is Southern cooking. Created by slaves who were initially brought to the lowcountry to work the rice plantations in the Sea Islands and coastal districts mainly in South Carolina and Georgia, Gullah cuisine is a unique Soul Food, or downhome cooking, steeped in African American culture and tradition.

Like other forms of Soul Food, Gullah cuisine includes typical staples such as greens (collard, turnip, mustard), okra, gumbo, beans, and peas, many of which come directly from the West coast of Africa. But unlike its Soul Food counterparts (i.e. Creole, Cajun, etc.), Gullah food is heavily influenced by West African  cuisine with many of its dishes (groundnut stew, Jollof Rice) being almost identical to those found in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, and the like.

Gullah cuisine is dominated by the use of rice, and it remains an important component of the lowcountry food culture. The popularity of rice during the pre-Civil War period meant that rice plantations were numerous, and had a major and lasting impact on the food and diet of all Southerners. 


Rice was called “Carolina gold because it made so many plantation owners rich during the antebellum period (Pre-civil war).” (Jones, 2007)

Interestingly, it is unknown as to who brought the first seeds of rice to the Carolinas and from whence they came (Africa’s rice coast, or the Caribbean islands), but what is certain is that the “grain that had been in African food culture for thousands of years, became the cash crop and reason for [the] enslavement [of Africans] on American soil” (Gerald and Gantt Jr., 2003).

Today, dishes such as Hoppin’ John, rice pudding, shrimp and grits, oyster dressing, Groundnut Soup, and Gullah rice are all prime examples of lowcountry cuisine at its best, and speak to a culture that is all about adaptability and making do with what you have.



References

Austin, F. (2002). Discovering Gullah country. Southern Living 37, 130-133.

Dabney, J.E. (2010). The food, folklore, and art of lowcountry cooking. Sourcebooks: Naperville, IL.

Gerald, V.D., and Grantt Jr., J.E. (2003). The ultimate Gullah cookbook. Sands: Beaufort, SC.

Jones, W. (2007). Classic Southern cuisine. Prepared Foods, 176(1), 67-76.