CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – The ingredients are simple but the dishes have stood the test of time. We’re celebrating the contributions of enslaved people to southern food we enjoy today.
Slave cabins where they once lived, heavy cast-iron pots they loved and tine gardens they planted. Remnants of enslaved people can easily be seen at Magnolia Plantation today.
“One of the reasons why Charleston became home one of the largest trans-Atlantic slave markets is because these plantations required a lot of people and required people who had very specific skills and knowledge and those were the ancestors of the Gullah-Geechee,” said Heather Hodges, executive director of the Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission.
Hodges said the Gullah-Geechee culture is hidden in plain sight.
“The Gullah-Geechee people are the descendants of West Africans who were trafficked from the Rice Coast of West Africa,” she explained.
She said enslaved people who became chefs and cooks were central players in the birth of America’s cultural heritage.
“When rice became the major economic engine for South Carolina, the platers here became very much interested in obtaining the managerial and technical skills that those Africans had,” she said. “They were trafficked, in most cases, directly into Charleston.”
More than ten million people came into this country through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Hodges says if you walk into many homes and restaurants, more than 300-years-later, you will see the same foods they brought to this soil.
“If you visit the home of someone who is Gullah-Geechee, or attend the celebration of people who are Gullah-Geechee, you are going to find a lot of rice,” she noted. “What you are going to see if a lot of seafood, a lot of food that is in season—because they are very much in tune to the growing cycle.”
She went on to say, “when you see okra on a dish, when you see black-eyed peas on a dish, you are seeing the Gullah-Geechee Foodways Culture.”
It seems so many dishes are one-pot-dishes. “Here in the Lowcountry you might hear them referred to as Purlieu, but that has long been a part of Gullah-Geechee Foodways—the idea of adding rice, meats, vegetables, seafood, cooking from one pot and sharing it communally with friends, family and neighbors is very much a part of Gullah-Geechee Foodways,” explained Hodges. “It’s about sharing history, stories of who we are.”