As I mentioned in my last post, my husband and I took a guided tour of Charleston, SC soon after we arrived. This turned out to be one of the most helpful things we did as we sought to understand the city and its historical culture and traditions. After our tour we set out on our own over the next several days to discover the city, its grace, and its charm, for ourselves.
The very first thing we noticed was how politely we were treated by everyone we met. Everyone we encountered was not only polite, but also very helpful to two Mid-westerners who certainly did not know their way around town. The first day we ventured out on our own we encountered a terrific rain storm. It was close to lunch, and we ducked into Magnolias-Uptown Down South Restaurant. After ordering our lunch, the waitress told us we could stay as long as we needed to, until the rain stopped. We were very grateful…and sitting there moved us to order dessert, a win-win situation!
As we have traveled around the country, we have found that we enjoy eating in the very nice restaurants for lunch as well, if not more, than at the dinner hour. The lunch portions tend to be a little smaller and the prices a little lower for the same menu items offered later in the day. One afternoon we stopped into Husk, the restaurant owned by award-winning chef, Sean Brock. I had the most delicious dish of shrimp and grits, something I had never had. Grits is now a staple item in my kitchen and a versatile item to have when trying to find a side dish that is different from the typical potatoes, rice, or noodles. Jestine’s Kitchen is also a must when in Charleston, but prepare for the line–it can be very long!
While on a cruise to Fort Sumter National Monument, we noticed that the skyline of Charleston lacks the typical tall buildings of larger cities. We discovered that this is because the city of Charleston has height restrictions on its buildings. No building can be taller than the tallest church spire in the city. While this makes for an unusual skyline for a large city, it is charming, graceful, and beautiful.
An interesting architectural design in the historical district of the city is the “single house”. It is a structure that is one room wide and two rooms deep. The single room width faces the street side. The two room length runs perpendicular to the street. These homes can also be three rooms deep. They are at least two stories high. The front door of a single house, which faces the street, does not open into a room, but rather onto a porch or “piazza” which also runs the length of the house and opens into each of the rooms. It is actually an open hallway. These piazzas generally face west or south to have the advantage of the cool breezes coming off the ocean, invaluable to residents before the age of air-conditioning!
Some “Did you know…” facts about Charleston, SC
- The very first game of golf played in the United States was played in Charleston.
- Because of its many church steeples, the residents of Charleston call their city the “Holy City”.
- Have you ever wondered why the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality? Years ago, a sea captain would put a pineapple on his fence post as a sign that he was home and willing to welcome neighbors for an evening of eating and visiting.
- The Arthur J. Ravenel Jr. Bridge across Charleston Harbor is the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America.
Just six miles north of Charleston, in Mt. Pleasant, is the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. It consists of 715 acres of a plantation called Snee Farm which are being preserved by the National Park Service. It is a piece of the Pinckney Plantation and is dedicated to his life and service to our country. The park strives to teach us something about the life of this American statesman, an author and signer of the Constitution. It also explains plantation life in the Lowcountry for the plantation owners and their families, as well as the many slaves who worked there.
Rice and indigo were grown on the Pinckney Plantation. Some of the exhibits strive to explain how rice was cultivated. There is a rice trunk on the property with a sign to explain its use. It reads “…rice trunks were used to flood and drain rice fields. To flood a field, the gate on the river side was raised while the other was lowered. Water flowed into the field through the trunk at high tide. To drain the field, the gates were switched and water would flow out at low tide. Enslaved Africans brought this technology with them from the ‘Rice Coast’ of West Africa.” It is a beautiful and pleasant place, one worth visiting on a trip to Charleston. You can find out more about the plantation at http://www.nps.gov/chpi/index.htm.
Carolina Golden Rice
There are so many great recipes for rice dishes that come from the Lowcountry. Traditionally they were made using Carolina Golden Rice. Rice from Madagascar was first introduced to the American continent in 1685, when a sea captain sought safe harbor during a storm. He gave a bag of rice to Henry Woodward, who planted it and found it grew very well in the Lowcountry soil and climate. Carolina became the largest rice producing area in the land. Its dominance waned only after the Civil War ended and plantation owners found themselves without enough workers in the field. Storms also helped bring an end to the successful business of growing rice in the Lowcountry.
Today, farmers are once again growing quality rice in the Lowcountry and it is available for purchase on the Internet.
The recipe in this post was inspired by one I found in a cookbook entitled Charleston Receipts, a collection of recipes by the Junior League of Charleston. It was originally written in 1950 and is said to be the oldest Junior League cookbook in print. It is published by Favorite Recipes Press and is available on the Internet.
Plantation Shrimp Pilau
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 cup Jasmine or Carolina rice
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup celery , diced
- 10 oz. fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
- 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp. Gullah seasoning (see blog post from 2/10/14)
- 1 Tbsp. flour
Fry the bacon until crisp and crumble into small pieces. Set aside for use as a garnish.
Cook rice by any method you would like. Traditionally, the rice is steamed and you can find directions for steaming rice at http://www.ehow.com/how_6100608_steam-rice-cooker.html.
Dredge the shrimp in a mixture of the Gullah seasoning and flour. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and add the celery and the bell pepper. Saute for several minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp are pink, about four minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.
Charleston is a charming and beautiful city, well worth a stay of several days, and the food is incredible. I hope you make a trip to this graceful southern town, stroll its gorgeous avenues, taste its wonderful food, and learn a little about its rich history. Learning the history of individual spots in our country helps us better understand our nation as a whole and how we have become who we are.
In my next blog post we will take a trip on the tour boat out of Charleston and visit Fort Sumter National Historic Site. We will also try some “army” food.