The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking
Joseph E. Dabney (Author)
Cumberland House, $29.99, 366 pgs.
Why I'm squeezing it into my overloaded bookshelf: Lowcountry Cooking is far from a simple compilation of recipes. Joseph Dabney spent 3 years pouring over library research, traveling throughout his native South Carolina and Georgia, and interviewing local public figures, professors, historians, writers, chefs, and politicians who were teeming with information on the history, folklore, and foodways of the region. In addition to exploring the area's colorful personality, Dabney captures how the culture and history of residents combined with a unique tidewater coastline and abundant seafood to form the quintessential Lowcountry cuisine.
I especially love: The first-hand recollections of Lowcountry natives - their stories, customs, and lyrical language (don't miss the Dictionary of Charlestonese from a 1960s pamphlet on page 44). I love discovering the pulse of a place and connecting to history through cooking; Dabney provides entertaining accounts of traditional recipes' origins and how they've evolved (or more often, not) through time. Because residents respect and utilitze the riches that surround them, Lowcountry food is exceptionally specific to the soil, marshes, rivers, crops, immigration, and industries in the region. Dabney's cultural cookbook may be the best way to taste and appreciate the Lowcountry way of life, barring a visit to this fascinating region of America.
What's a bit annoying: For those accustomed to buying a cookbook chock-full of recipes, Lowcountry Cooking may be a bit of a disappointment. Furthermore, the book is divided into foods of the region rather than meals or courses. The text may be lengthy at times, but I recommend heading to your porch swing for an entertaining read and a chance to learn the treasured stories and recipes of one of our country's iconic regions.
The next recipe I'll make: I'm waiting for a chilly night to put on a pot of Charleston She-Crab Soup. Whether the famous Lowcountry rice dish is pilau, pilaf, purloo, purlow, or purlo, I'm looking forward to making a shrimp and oyster version from Chef Joe Randall of Savannah. And because I can't deny the romantic notion of beautiful punches served out of crystal bowls in Charleston's colonial era, I'll try the boozy St. Cecelia's Punch at my next party.
Caroline Ford is a food stylist, writer & recipe developer in Portland, OR. More of her writing can be found on her blog: Food. Write. Style.