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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.

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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.
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Peppermint Stick Ice Cream Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

1 cup milk

1 pint heavy cream

1/2 pound peppermint stick candy, crushed

Directions:

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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My Birthplace – Charleston, South Carolina in the 1700’s

 

1733  map

Many today call Charleston the Holy City because of all the churches that grace this seaport town. It is a major tourist attraction, and I take every opportunity to visit it. In fact, I introduced John to this city on our honeymoon. Thankfully, he learned quickly the serenity in my spirit that sitting or walking along the Battery, Folly Beach, Meeting Street, the Market, etc. bring to me.

As I have written about women who lived in colonial times in South Carolina, then it makes sense for me to also conclude with descriptions about this fair city. They are not as favorable as I might wish, but in fairness, it was a different time.

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a 1788 rendering

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North Battery

Charles-town 1769

“Black and white all mix’d together,
Inconstant, strange, unhealthful weather
Burning heat and chilling cold
Dangerous both to young and old
Boisterous winds and heavy rains
Fevers and rheumatic pains
Agues plenty without doubt
Sores, boils, the prickling heat and gout
Musquitos on the skin make blotches
Centipedes and large cock-roaches
Frightful creatures in the waters
Porpoises, sharks and alligators
Houses built on barren land
No lamps or lights, but streets of sand
Pleasant walks, if you can find ’em
Scandalous tongues, if any mind ’em
The markets dear and little money
Large potatoes, sweet as honey
Water bad, past all drinking
Men and women without thinking
Every thing at a high price
But rum, hominy and rice
Many a widow not unwilling
Many a beau not worth a shilling
Many a bargain, if you strike it,
This is Charles-town, how do you like it.”

Written by a Captain Martin, captain of a British warship

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It is certainly true that several other pre-Revolution chroniclers wrote of Charleston’s trendy and affluent high society and of her pesky crawling creatures.

Writing to her brother Thomas in England in 1742, Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote, “There is a polite gentile behaviour…4 months in the year is extremely disagreeable, excessive hot, much thunder and lightning, and muskatoes and sand flies in abundance. Charles Town, the Me”The people in general hospitable and honest, and the better sort add to these tropolis, is a neat pretty place. The inhabitants polite and live in a very gentile manner; the streets and houses regularly built; the ladies and gentlemen gay in their dress.”

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 Rev. Johann Martin Bolzius (1703-1765), leader of the German Lutheran settlement of Ebenezer, Georgia, wrote of Charleston in 1750, “It is expensive and costly to live in Charlestown…The splendor, lust, and opulence there has grown almost to the limit…Its European clothes it would have to change according to the often changing Charlestown fashion. Otherwise there would be much humiliation and mockery.”

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Philadelphia merchant, Pelatiah Webster (1725-1795), wrote of his business trip to the city in 1765, “The laborious business is here chiefly done by black slaves of which there are great multitudes…Dined with Mr. Liston, passed the afternoon agreeably at his summer house till 5 o’clock P. M. then went up into the steeple of St. Michael’s, the highest in town & which commands a fine prospect of the town, harbour, river, forts, sea, &c…The heats are much too severe, the water bad, the soil sandy, the timber too much evergreen; but with all these disadvantages, ’tis a flourishing place, capable of vast improvement.” (nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/growth/text2/charlestowndescriptions.pdf)

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a slave sale

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Peter Manigault and his friends by George Roupell

So, yes, I do love this fair city. The sea breezes and the history lure me back on a regular basis. Periodically, I even go back to the home on Wentworth Street where I lived as an infant and toddler. Until I was a teenager, my grandparents still lived there. Both memories and pictures of my family in different rooms fill my mind and heart each time I think about this house.

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The house was built between 1694 and 1712 of pinkish Bermuda stone by John Breton in the city’s French Quarter. Because of historical restrictions, the bathroom is still in the backyard. One famous matron from the 17th-century was Madame Mincey, who was a French Huguenot and longtime owner. It is the second oldest residence built in Charleston.

As Charleston grew, so did the community’s cultural and social opportunities, especially for the elite merchants and planters. The first theater building in America was built in Charleston in 1736, but was later replaced by the 19th-century Planter’s Hotel where wealthy planters stayed during Charleston’s horse-racing season (now the Dock Street Theater). Benevolent societies were formed by several different ethnic groups: the South Carolina Society, founded by French Huguenots in 1737; the German Friendly Society, founded in 1766; and the Hibernian Society, founded by Irish immigrants in 1801. The Charleston Library Society was established in 1748 by some wealthy Charlestonians who wished to keep up with the scientific and philosophical issues of the day. This group also helped establish the College of Charleston in 1770, the oldest college in South Carolina and the 13th college in the United States.

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old Dock Street Theater

As Pat Conroy said, “There is no city on Earth quite like Charleston. From the time I first came there in 1961, it’s held me in its enchanter’s power, the wordless articulation of its singularity, its withheld and magical beauty. Wandering through its streets can be dreamlike and otherworldly, its alleyways and shortcuts both fragrant and mysterious, yet as haunted as time turned in on itself.”

Books and More Books at the SC Book Festival

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What a delight it was to spend the day at the South Carolina Book Festival yesterday http://scbookfestival.org/. It was fun to see the familiar faces of Kate Salley Palmer and Ann B. Ross. Kate had her new book, “Hostie,” and her illustrations, as always, are excellent. Ann Ross spoke to my book club on Wednesday afternoon, and I bought her new book on Miss Julia. Rubbing shoulders with these women and other notables was quite an experience.

We are blessed to live in a state that believes in the importance of the written words in books. Book stores like Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, Books on Broad in Camden, and Fiction Addiction in Greenville make sure that we have good books at our fingertips.

How grateful I am that Hub City Writers Project and Harrelson Press have seen potential in my writing, as well as many others. I enjoyed spending the day with Merianna Harrelson at the festival.

Thankfully, I was born into a family of readers; books, magazines, and newspapers abounded in every room. Visiting the library in the summer was a treat every two weeks; I always took home the maximum of fifteen books. Sometimes we even read the same books and had our own book discussions. It was interesting to agree and disagree. Mother and I read a lot of historical fiction. My dad, brother, and I read mysteries; Pat Conroy, Robert Ludlum, and Patricia Cornwall are a few favorites.

Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Obviously, my parents concurred.

One of the courses that I taught for several years at USC Upstate was reading for the secondary teachers. Those investing their lives in science and math courses were often unsure as to the relevance of reading in their future classrooms. Realization that reading was the cornerstone to success in each course had to be established, as the three R’s were explored.

I tell people that today we are a household that is book-poor; I guess there could be worse things to spend our money on. John was kind to buy my chosen books for Mother’s Day; they are waiting patiently on the stack in the sun room.

Do you think I might be addicted to reading? Are you? (By the way, I have two others: chocolate and coffee. They all three mesh well together.)