South Carolina’s rich and diverse history encompassing various cultures is reflected in its food. From the Lowcountry’s seafood and rice to the Upstate’s cornbread and Duke’s mayonnaise, the Palmetto State possesses a unique culinary heritage. Taste the State by Kevin Mitchell and David Shields explores the many dishes that have been the essence of South Carolina cuisine for multiple generations.
The content goes far beyond the included recipes. The background stories and history add an informative element to make it much more than “just another” cookbook. Taste the State is printed on high-quality paper giving the photography, illustrations, and clean graphic design an eye-catching impression on the reader. This is a great book to just sit down and read as well as use in the kitchen while preparing one of its many recipes.
Organized alphabetically, the contents begin with Asparagus and end with Yaupon Tea, with approximately 80 entries in between. The primary cultures and their foods touched upon are African, European, and Native American. The authors have taken great care to limit the selection to verifiable South Carolina-only dishes and use traditional recipes that are different from modern ones.
Traditional recipes do not begin with an ingredient list but rather include the ingredients as they are called upon in the cooking instructions. Many of these recipes were written before the invention of the modern stove and the ability to precisely control temperatures, so today’s cooks must use their best guess in some instances. That, however, is part of the fun in cooking from old recipes and reaching back across the ages and touching the past.
Without a doubt, shrimp has been the mainstay of Lowcountry cuisine since the first humans arrived. Of the countless shrimp recipes (think of Bubba Blue in Forrest Gump), shrimp pie is a uniquely South Carolina dish that once was as ubiquitous for breakfast as eggs and bacon. Before refrigeration, shrimp pie was the perfect morning dish because it could be prepared the night before and left out ready for breakfast. There are many versions of shrimp pie ranging from the original use of bread to a later Huguenot version that incorporates rice, tomatoes, bell peppers, and bacon.
One of my favorites, which my mother-in-law used to make, is Owendaw bread. Owendaw bread is a type of cornbread but lighter, almost like a souffle. The recipe calls for eggs, lots of butter, and baking soda. It has been around since at least the 19th century but became very popular after World War II when it began showing up in hotel restaurants frequented by Northern tourists. I love eating it with a hearty dose of cane syrup poured over it.
Every South Carolinian, from ones whose families arrived centuries ago to new arrivals, should get a copy of Taste the State. Heritage cuisine of the Palmetto State resonates with our sense of place and gratitude that we can call South Carolina home in such an immersive and enjoyable way. After diving into this book, you may find yourself over the stove trying to get those Hoppin’ John Fritters just right. Bon appetit!