South Carolina's coast is home to one of the country's richest culinary traditions.
The names of native Lowcountry dishes are almost as colorful asthe fresh local ingredients that go into them: she-crab soup,Frogmore stew, and hoppin' John, for instance.
But just what, exactly, is Lowcountry?
According to John Martin Taylor―author of Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking and arguably the foremostauthority on the region's cuisine―this area stretches alongthe South Carolina coast from the Savannah River in Georgia northto Pawley's Island. Inland it encompasses about 80 miles oflow-elevation land.
Think saltwater marsh and Spanish moss hanging from live oaksand you're thinking Lowcountry.
The Lowcountry teems with aquatic life, and for centuries localcooks have turned to the water for culinary inspiration. Crabs,shrimp, fish, and oysters form the basis of any traditional menu,and seafood dishes are offered at every meal.
Rice, grits, and the produce of the coastal plain also play aninstrumental role in Lowcountry cooking. Rice was introduced byhappenstance in the late 17th century and immediately began tothrive in the lush climate. Although rice cultivation ended afterthe Civil War, it has reemerged in the past two decades. Whetherserved as a simple side or cooked with tomatoes and othervegetables to make pilau (pronounced PER-low), rice is integral tothe region's meals.
The next time you're in Charleston or any of the small towns andislands along the coast of South Carolina, be sure to try one ofthe following dishes and enjoy a taste of the Lowcountry.
Despite its title, this dish does not contain frog―it gets its name from the tinycoastal South Carolina town of Frogmore. Also known as Lowcountryboil, this stew is a one-pot dish of shrimp, corn-on-the-cob, andspicy sausage all boiled together and then served up on aplate.
Considered by many to be Charleston's quintessential dish,the soup is so named because eggs from the female crab give it aunique taste. This creamy delicacy is almost always flavored with agenerous helping of sherry.
Rice cooked with black-eyed peas and a few other basicingredients make up this essential regional dish. Although it'sconsumed without fail on New Year's Day in order to bring luck, itcan be found on any true Lowcountry menu year-round.
Shrimp and Grits
Whether you're in the mood for a hearty breakfast or a simpleone-course dinner, turn to a plate of shrimp and grits. Nativesenjoy their grits creamy, topped with shrimp, and smothered in asimple, rich gravy. You will, too.
When French Huguenots came to the Charleston area in the late17th century, they brought along a favorite dessert. The cake wasquickly given a makeover with local ingredients and remains one ofthe best ways to top off a Lowcountry meal.
If you're interested in delving deeper into the mouthwateringworld of Lowcountry cuisine, we recommend the following cookbooks:the widely acclaimed Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking by John Martin Taylor, and Sallie Ann Robinson's Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way ,which includes a forward by Pat Conroy―the Lowcountry'sfavorite native son.