Aspects of Gullah cuisine are familiar to many, albeit known under different names: Lowcountry cuisine or southern cooking. This distinction covers food from South Carolina and down through the Georgia coastline. Southern cooking has been greatly influenced by the Gullah people as it shares common ingredients and cooking techniques.
The southern plantations focused on rice cultivation using West Africans who were familiar with rice cultivation in their own lands. After slavery was abolished, rice remained a staple in the Sea Islands and it accompanies many of the Gullah dishes. Rice forms the basis of many one-pot meals, cooked at a slow boil through the day for rich, complex flavors from often simple ingredients.
The Gullah people lived and continued to thrive in the southeastern coast and Sea Islands, and fresh shrimp and fish remain a common ingredient in their cuisine. Shrimp fishing was also a carryover from the plantations after slavery was abolished. Other common ingredients are peas, sorghum and peanuts, ingredients that were thought to have been brought with the Gullah’s ancestors from West Africa.
Gullah cooking utilizes ingredients on hand
Like many local culinary traditions, Gullah recipes use what ingredients are on hand. The island culture made seafood a plentiful ingredient, and fresh, seasonally available produce was also included when available. One ingredient of note is okra; a staple in southern cooking. The small green pods look a bit like a pinwheel when sliced and may be most popular fried. It too was thought to have been brought from West Africa. It can be cooked by other methods such as those slow-boils, grilled or pan-fried.
A common dish, shown here, is okra pan-fried together with shrimp, onions and garlic and served with rice.
Each month we try to feature a person who is instrumental in sharing or advancing the Gullah Culture. Be sure to see our profile of the engaging Sallie Ann Robinson; Gullah Diva Chef and cookbook author.