Reflected in Our Food

Have you ever called a peanut called a “goober” or eaten gumbo? Used roux in your cooking?  If you answered yes, then you have experienced part of the Gullah language and culinary culture.

Two of my characters in the novel, If You Walk Long Enough, began their friendship over food. Ellie and Diana bonded over Lowcountry foods including seafood, She-crab Soup, catfish stew, red rice, gumbo, and Frogmore Stew, sometimes called Lowcountry Boil.   

When the early planters established sea island rice plantations, the slaves working those fields brought with them a rich and diverse food heritage that has evolved into what is commonly called Lowcountry cuisine, traditionally associated with the coastal estuaries of South Carolina and Georgia. Sometimes parts of North Carolina and Florida are included as the bookends of this Atlantic coastal plain. Variations on Gullah foods spread along that plain and further inland into the South. At times, these variations took on other names—soul food, Southern cuisine, and home style cooking.

These foods, traditionally associated with French, Spanish, and West African cooks, included what came to be known as the holy trinity of aromatic vegetables—peppers, celery, and onion. These are seasoning foods, meant to break down during the cooking process and help season the other ingredients. Garlic is something added to this threesome with green onions and parsley sprinkled on top as the final dish is served. The allusion to the holy trinity is meant as a sign of respect to their roles in cooking.

By the way, for those unfamiliar with roux, commonly used along the Louisiana coast where Cajun or Creole cooking dominates, is a thickening agent traditionally made from flour and lard. Filé is another thickening agent common to southern regional cooks. Other customary cooking ingredients include rice, okra, sweet potatoes, peppers, and onions. When available, chicken and ham were added to the coastal diet and dishes. Further inland, fried foods predominated.

Lowcountry foods  and cooking can be distinguished from Southern dishes by the use of seafood. Non-coastal areas had no refrigeration, hence shrimp, fish, crabs, and oysters were not available to cooks inland.  Other common seasonings to these dishes along the coast, include pepper—black, white, or cayenne—bay leaves, thyme, and oregano.

Also in my novel, Mary and Calvin grew a freedman’s garden:  they never planted plantation cash crops such as sugar cane, cotton, or tobacco. Only foods to add to the frequently poor diet of slaves were considered for planting.  Check out these and otherfoodie details in the novel, If You Walk Long Enough.  


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