Merry Christmas y’all; I’ve been away.
As is so often the case with a new job, I’ve been down the rabbit hole working hard to build a world class team and culture. Many trials and tribulations, lots of fodder for new stories from Wild West of the F&B frontier.
Among other things, I was tapped unanimously by the 2016 SC Chef Ambassadors to be advisor to the 2017 SC Chef Ambassadors, which is as humbling and gratifying as it is energizing.
In Columbia for the handover ceremony, I was afforded the opportunity to visit the University of South Carolina’s Caroliniana Library, USC’s depository of untold riches of historic documentation. Among the tomes was what has become a bit of a grail the last 4 years: The Centennial Receipt Book of 1876, written by A Southern Lady. There are only 2 known copies in existence- the one at USC and one copy held by the University of Michigan. It took me several years to track it down, and I was at last blessed with the opportunity to sit down with it.
Heavily stained, the book is diminutive, almost chap book like in scope. But the contents are a very specific glimpse into the kitchens of Reconstruction era South Carolina. There are familiar receipts, innovative takes on familiar ingredients and what seemed to me an almost complete absence of rice recipes.
Published only 12 years after the end of The War, its fascinating to note how quickly rice culture appeared to be ebbing like the tide going out on the marsh.
For those that know me, you probably already know that I am obsessed with historic South Carolina food culture, and specifically with that of Reconstruction and the late 19th Century. That’s about when the double edged sword of truck farming saw its advent. While truck farming helped us bootstrap our way out of Reconstruction, it also sounded the death knell for flavor as growers began selecting for size and portability over flavor.
I keep coming back to what’s going on here now and calling it The Restoration. If it was apt for Charles II then isn’t it an equally appropriate moniker for the Lazarus like return of the Carolina African Runner Peanut, the Bradford Watermelon, Nostrale rice or any number of delicious cultivars being returned from the brink of extinction?
So here, then, is my Christmas gift to you: a link to the newly digitized Centennial Receipt Book. I could keep it quiet, but what’s the point? As Frank Lee has said, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” What we have here in Charleston- our scene, our hospitality, our teams is all really special. This book is confirmation that we’ve been special all along, even in some dark times.
Come check out what we’re up to at Drawing Room– it feels good and is pretty special- the Restoration ingredients, the stories we’re telling and most of all the team we have around us.
Merry Christmas y’all.
“Let the Love Fest Continue!” FLee