May 27 2009
“I need a vacation, please.” I demanded for the hundredth time that week.
“Mmm, yeah, that’d be fun.” Ben replied, distractedly.
“NO, you don’t understand.” I grabbed his shoulders and pivoted him away from the TV until he faced me squarely, our noses nearly touching. “Take. Me. On. Vacation.”
Maybe it’s because we haven’t gone much of anywhere all winter. Maybe it was the hint of crazy in my eyes. But somehow, a few weekends ago, I found myself whisked away to Charleston, S.C., for a long weekend.
Ben and I are born-and-bred Richmond, Virginians. As the former capital of the Confederate States, you’d think that Richmond would fiercely identify with its Southern heritage and everything that goes along with that title. And we do. Woo boy, do we ever. But truth be told, Richmond is a land divided. Flanked on one side by the small southern-traditional towns of Southeastern Virginia, and on the other by the D.C.-sprawl of bustling Northern Virginia, we’re torn between our Confederate heritage and our proximity to those damn Yankees that have been creeping their way down to warmer climates ever since the unfortunate conclusion to the War between the States.
But there’s no getting around it in South Carolina: you are in The American South. The rootin’-tootin’, chicken-fryin’, Bible-thumpin’ South. To wit: South Carolinians still spark debates over whether or not to fly a Confederate flag over the capitol building. South Carolina: the answer is no.
Any place where you can revel in balmy temperatures, thick, slow accents and loads of butter is a fine vacation to me.
Charleston has preserved its historic glory more than any place I’ve ever been, despite becoming a tourist hub. Once you step into the famous “below Broad” neighborhood, you are whisked away to the antebellum South: sitting on your porch swing, wearing a corset and sipping your mint juleps. We were walking through the historic district (the second-largest historic district in the world behind Rome!), when I stopped suddenly.
“It’s so..it’s so…quiet.” I said, incredulously. Not even the faint hum of traffic pierced the humid, honeysuckle-scented air.
Of course, we did a little more than wander around the historic district and take carriage rides while in the heart of the Lowcountry. Okay, we did a lot more. And, let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS.
Oh, sweet, sweet, heavenly Charleston, how I long for thy tasty morsels.
Please, let me take you on a culinary tour of Charleston as I revel in the delicious memories. I’ll be brief.
Cornbread with honey and butter.
Basket of pecan fried chicken.
Sweet potato pancakes (best pancakes OF MY LIFE. Get thee to Joseph’s, friend.)
Shrimp and grits.
Grits grits grits.
Fried green tomatoes.
Bacon bacon bacon.
Stuffed french toast.
STOP. I must end lest I drool on my keyboard.
In the midst of this shameless weekend-long gluttonfest, while shopping in the open-air market near the waterfront, we ran across a copy of the famed Charleston Receipts for sale at one of the stands.
This ain’t no ordinary cookbook, y’all. This is the original Charleston Junior League cookbook, and the oldest of its kind in print.
It wasn’t until the six-hour car ride home that I got a chance to take a peak inside, and, wow, was I ever in for a treat.
I opened the book up to find an entire chapter devoted to grits (also known as hominy, and apparently, grist):
Please note the line of Gullah that precedes each chapter. Gullah is creole language still spoken by many descendants of slaves in the region. From what I understand, it’s the language that evolved from the combination of English and African dialects. In case you can’t read it:
“Man w’en ‘e hongry, ‘e teck sum egg or cheese an’ ting an’ eat till e’ full. But ‘ooman boun’ fuh meck wuck an’ trouble. ‘E duh cook!”
Translation? “When a man is hungry, he takes some eggs or cheese and things and eats until he is full, but a woman is bound to make work and trouble. She cooks!”
WHY is there a whole chapter on grits? How many ways could you possible cook grits, you ask?
Boiled, baked, pressure cooked, fried… and when I turned the page, I discovered, amongst even more grits recipes, a recipe for “Hominy Surprise!”
Please note how all of the women identify themselves by their husband’s name. She’s Mrs. Louis T. Parker! And a proper married girl.
I then flipped to the “game” section. This is the only cookbook I own with a chapter called “Game” that includes yummy recipes like this:
You can tell this book is from a different era. Excuse me? Brush with fat? What fat? Do they sell that at Kroger? How should I preheat my oven? Gravy? Where’s the recipe for the gravy?
Possum on the other hand needs to be cleaned as soon as possible after shooting, and hung for 48 hours. Who knew?
What. The. Hell.
I was even more disturbed by the first instruction: “Kill cooter by chopping off its head.”
Alas, we returned to Richmond with heavy hearts and heavier bellies. Here, I don’t keep vats of bacon fat in my cupboard or skin freshly-caught game. Yet.