Looking out to sea just outside of Charleston, SC

Looking out to sea just outside of Charleston, SC

In 2012 Jim and I spent four days in Charleston, SC. What a beautiful city, so steeped in history and southern culture. The wisest decision we made about our visit to Charleston was to take a tour of the city with a guide to introduce us to, and help us better understand, the history of the city and its culture. This tour also made it easier for us to decide what places we would visit on our own and helped us appreciate the importance and relevance of the sites we saw just in passing. It made all our visits more meaningful and encouraged me to read and learn more about the history of this area of America. I highly recommend anyone who is visiting Charleston for the first time to take advantage of one of the city’s many guided tour options. The experience will greatly enrich your stay and your understanding of the area.

Before we leave on any trip, it is generally planned out to the most minute detail, thanks to my husband. However, as well mapped out as any of our journeys ever is, we often find something unexpected along the way, which becomes one of the highlights of the trip. Our unexpected surprise for this trip was an introduction to the Gullah culture of the Georgia and South Carolina Lowcountry.

The Gullah Culture

The Gullah people of the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry are descendants of African slaves brought to the area to work on the rice and indigo plantations of the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. By the 1800’s there were thousands of acres covered with rice fields in the region. The Gullah people are believed to have come from areas around Sierra Leone and Liberia where rice was a major crop. As a result, these newly arrived slaves were well able to tend rice fields like those they left behind in Africa. The people of the Gullah community today still practice many of the cultural traditions of these West African nations.


The Lowcountry, with its hot and humid summers, acted as a breeding ground for disease bearing insects. To avoid such things as malaria, the plantation owners and their families moved inland during the hot summer months. They left the caring of the rice fields in the hands of the slaves. Living and working on the plantation without the white owner families gave the slaves the chance to continue practicing their own traditions. They were able to instill these customs and traditions in the lives of their children.  They also perfected  the farming skills they had learned in their native land.

These African slaves also created their own dialect, a combination of English and Creole with a native African slant. Some time ago the New Testament was translated into the Gullah language. Below is John 3:16 translated into the Gullah language.

“Cause God lob all de people een de wol sommuch dat e gii we e onliest Son. God sen we um so dat ebrybody wa bleebe pon um ain gwine dead. Dey gwine lib faebamo.” 

The Gullah people created their own cooking style from the traditions and customs of their native land. But their cooking was also dependent on the foods that were available to them in their Lowcountry home. They cooked simply, with ingredients they had. They created wonderful flavors, not by use of recipes, but by trial and error…by finding what tasted good. They discovered that spices would make a dish taste good, even when made from very simple ingredients.

I will talk more about the Gullah people and their life today. But first let’s take a look at some really good pork chops cooked in the Gullah tradition.

While we were in Charleston, I bought a cookbook of Gullah recipes. One of our favorite dishes from the book is for Gullah Fried Pork Chops. What makes these pork chops so good is the seasoned rub used to coat them before frying. While the book does give information on ordering a Gullah seasoning, I was able to find several recipes for it on line. The one I chose was simpler than most, relying on things I already had in my pantry. I did not want to have to go out and buy a whole bag full of spices I would not use up very quickly.

Gullah Seasoning

  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup ground black  pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. paprika

Mix all the ingredients together. This seasoning can be stored in a tightly closed container for up to three months in a dark place, or in the freezer for up to a year.

This recipe for Gullah seasoning can be found at



Gullah Pork Chops…so very good!

Gullah Fried Pork Chops

  • 6 bone-in pork chops, 3/4″ thick
  • 3 Tbsp. Gullah Seasoning(from recipe above)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Rinse the pork chops and pat them dry with a paper towel. Season each pork chop with 1 tsp. of the seasoning. Take a little time and gently rub the seasoning into the meat on both sides. Cover with waxed paper and let sit for 10 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Combine the flour and 1 Tbsp. of the seasoning. Dredge the chops in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Place into frying pan and cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the chops are golden brown on both sides. Drain chops on paper toweling.

This recipe is adapted from The Ultimate Gullah Cookbook, by Jesse Edward Gantt, Jr. and Veronica Davis Gerald. It was published 2003 by The Gullah House Foundation.

I served these delicious pork chops with a farro and butternut squash risotto. It is a great dish to serve as a meatless main course, but it worked wonderfully with the Gullah pork chops. You can find the recipe for Farrotto with Butternut, Gruyere and Hazelnuts at http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/farrotto-butternut-gruyere-hazelnuts-50400000118577/.

The Gullah Culture Today

The traditions of the Gullah culture continue today in the lives of the descendants of the African slaves brought here many years ago to work the plantations of the Lowcountry. We find their musical traditions in songs like “Michael Rode His Boat Ashore”. We find their cooking traditions in cookbooks and in various restaurants of the Charleston area. And we find their art in the sweetgrass baskets the women of the Gullah community still make today. You will find these women on many Charleston street corners. You can watch them weave their beautiful baskets in addition to purchasing one of the many they have on display. I bought a small one and use it often.

A sweetgrass stand on a street corner in Charleston.

A sweetgrass stand on a street corner in Charleston.

One of  the greatest challenges for the Gullah community is their fight to save some of their traditional lands on the Sea Islands. Commercial and tourist development on the islands threatens these areas and the Gullahs have begun to take their cause to court.

You can learn more about the Gullah culture, their ancestral lands and culture by visiting the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor site at http://www.nps.gov/guge/index.htm.

In my next post, we will return to Charleston, its own special traditions and its own special culture.