Today, I thought I'd offer just a couple of "tastes" of the Gullah culture that so permeates the area around Beaufort, SC. The slaves of St. Helena were among the first freedmen in South Carolina during the Civil War. Their owners left them behind, throwing them onto their own resources. Most planters probably did not expect them to "free" themselves. They thought the helpless slaves would either be forced to follow their owners into the interior or they would die. Instead, they went back to work. There was little or no looting or rioting among the slaves of St. Helena Island, as there was in Beaufort. The people were too busy marshaling their resources, putting in winter crops, taking over the Brick Church for their own worship services. And once the Gideonites arrived, they threw themselves into educating themselves so that they could read, write, cipher, and manage their own affairs. Both the lyrical language and the recipes that mark Gullah culture had their origin among these resourceful people.
A published Gullah version of the "Nyew Testament" is one of the most interesting contributions to result from the efforts of the Penn Center. Here are some selections from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-7) to give you a taste of the Gullah language. Read it out loud if you have difficulty deciphering it, but be aware that this is not a translation but rather a retelling of the story in the language spoken by the people. The Nyew Testament uses recognizable English characters to approximate the rapid and melodic sounds of Gullah.
Like most churches at the center of a community, The Brick Church sponsors many community activities, and Frogmore Stew is sure to appear at their church suppers. The origins of Frogmore Stew are cloudy, and conflicting claims only add to the confusion. Frogmore was the name of the plantation that Laura Towne and Ellen Murray purchased in 1867 to house their new school. It also is the current name of the small community at the corner of the Cross Island Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Most likely, this dish was simply a down-home staple of the people who lived around the Frogmore communities. Here's a recipe provided by the South Carolina Bureau of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.
Frogmore Stew features three main ingredients, fresh shrimp, spicy sausage, and newly shucked yellow corm, but most anything that is good boiled, such as crabs, redskin potatoes, and even crawfish can be added. [It does NOT contain frogs!] Two keys to making a successful Frogmore Stew are:
1. Stagger the addition of the ingredients and
2. Don’t overcook the shrimp!
• 2 tablespoons crab boil seasoning per gallon water (or more to taste) [I bought a container of spices called "Gullah Love" to flavor mine.]
• several lemons, halved (optional)
• redskin potatoes (depending on size, 3 or more per person)
• spicy smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch slices (¼ pound per person)
• fresh corn, broken into halves or thirds (1 ½ ears per person)
• shrimp (½ pound per person)
• butter, melted
• cocktail sauce
• sour cream
Fill a large steamer pot halfway with water. Add crab-boil seasoning (or more to taste). Several halved lemons may be added as well.
When the seasoned water comes to a boil, add redskin potatoes and boil for 20 minutes; then add one-inch slices of spicy smoked sausage and boil for 5-10 minutes. Add the corn) and boil another 5 minutes. (Begin timing immediately. Do not wait for it to boil again). Then add the shrimp. Cook for 3 minutes, drain, and pile on a table.
Serve with lots of paper towels and icy beverages, plus melted butter for the corn, cocktail sauce for the shrimp, and sour cream or ketchup for the potatoes.