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“Charleston Receipts”

I was born at Roper Hospital in Charleston and brought home to a first floor apartment at 128 Wentworth Street (photo below). My grandparents lived in another apartment above us on the second floor.

Image result for photo of 128 Wentworth Street

From that point on, I have been all about Charleston, SC, even though we only lived there for my first three years.

One of the cookbooks my mother owned, and I now have, is the first edition of Charleston Receipts, published by the Junior League of Charleston. Hers was published in 1950, the first printing., and is well worn. This is the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print. It contains 750 recipes, Gullah verses, and sketches by various Charleston artists. In many ways, I believe it is a history book of my birthplace, not just a culinary history.

Elizabeth O’Neill Verner designed the green cover, and her sketches of St. Philip’s Church and St. Michael’s Church are included. Gullah cooks and Charleston hostesses both served these dishes for decades. The recipes were influenced by the family cooks, many of whom spoke the Gullah dialect, a centuries-old Atlantic Creole language that is illustrated and preserved throughout the pages of Charleston Receipts.
Raised in Kentucky, my daddy had never eaten grits until his freshman year at the Citadel. When he declined to spoon any grits onto his plate at his first breakfast, he was invited by an upperclassman to enjoy the whole bowl. For an extra taste of it, another bowl was provided from the kitchen. From then on, his favorite breakfast was grits, eggs, bacon, and biscuits.
Hominy or grits has always been a favorite in the low country of South Carolina. A poem included in this cookbook with the section on hominy and rice says:
Never call it “Hominy Grits”
Or you will give Charlestonians fits!
When it comes from the mill, it’s “grist”;
After you cook it well, I wisht,
You serve “hominy”! Do not skimp;
Serve butter with it and lots of shrimp.
In 1948, Charlestonians Martha Lynch Humphreys and Margaret B. Walker devoted themselves to compiling family recipes, most of which had never been documented. After four months of compiling and organizing, they decided on printing 2,000 copies. They sold out in four days!
“Yes, it is a collection of recipes, but the word “receipt” was used, and this is why.
Julie Daniels, a past president of the community-minded Junior League of Charleston calls it a document of a different, more leisurely time. “This was when people enjoyed supper at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” says Daniels, “it’s when you’d bring out the china and the nice silverware. They celebrated the food.” Daniels says “some of these recipes are as old as Southern cooking itself.”
In browsing through this specialty cookbook, I believe that the majority of dishes are what we call comfort food today. Cream, butter, cheese, bacon, and sugar are used in abundance.
This legend was inducted into the McIlhenny Hall of Fame, an award given for book sales that exceed 100,000 copies.


Here are a couple of receipts.
Image result for peppermint stick ice cream

Peppermint Stick Ice Cream Serves 6 to 8


1 cup milk

1 pint heavy cream

1/2 pound peppermint stick candy, crushed


1. Heat milk in top of double-boiler; add candy and stir constantly until dissolved.

2. Pour into tray of refrigerator and chill.

3. Whip cream until thickened, but not stiff, and fold into chilled candy mixture.

4. Pour back into tray freeze with control set at coldest point, until firm. Stir once or twice during freezing.

5. Serve with hot fudge sauce.

Mrs. John Laurens (May Rose)

The ladies of the Charleston Junior League prepared this dish for Queen Elizabeth II during her 1957 trip to the U.S., and presented her with a copy of Charleston Receipts:

How could you chop off its cute little head?

Cooter Soup

1 large or 2 small “yellow belly” cooters (preferably female)
1 large onion, chopped
Salt, to taste
2 teaspoons allspice
Red pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons dry sherry
4 quarts water
1 small Irish potato, diced
12 whole cloves
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
Flour to thicken

Kill cooter by chopping off head. Let it stand inverted until thoroughly drained, then plunge into boiling water for five minutes. Crack the shall all around very carefully, so as not to cut the eggs which are lodged near surface. The edible parts are the front and hind quarters and a strip of white meat adhering to the back of the shell, the liver and the eggs. Remove all outer skin, which peels very easily if water is hot enough. Wash thoroughly and allow to stand in cold water a short while, or place in refrigerator overnight.

Boil cooter meat, onion and potato in the water, and cook until meat drops from bones – about 2 hours. Remove all bones and skin and cut meat up with scissors. Return meat to stock, add spices and simmer. Brown flour in skillet, mix with 1 cup of stock to smooth paste and thicken soup. Twenty minutes before serving add cooter eggs. Add sherry and garnish with thin slices of lemon. Serves 6-8.

-Mrs. Clarence Steinhart (Kitty Ford)


Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes. Pat Conroy

Delving into Charleston Receipts places Charleston on your own dining room table wherever you live.

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