by Jeff Allen
All was good with the world this morning over at The Wreck on Shem Creek, despite the scorching Lowcountry summer sun and the enormous amount of food that the SFA stuffed into my belly over the last couple of days. A wonderful spread, The Wreck's fried shrimp, Ben Berryhill's stiff bloody mary's, and a stellar peach jam filled sweet bun out of the Red Drum Gastropub pastry department put me down for a nap, well deserved after a moveable feast that lasted well over 48 hours and traversed the peninsula.
Real gluttony got the best of me starting yesterday afternoon at McCrady's, where Sean Brock and I collaborated on an interpretive lunch with a critical focus on classic Charleston cuisine. I really can take no credit for the whole shindig -- other than helping set some of the tables – because the balance of my involvement required picking out some recipes from nineteenth century Charleston restaurants and talking with Chef Brock a few times about their history and provenance. What Brock threw out of the kitchen blew me, and quite a few attendees, out of the water. The three course extravaganza rolled through a she-crab soup, deconstructed of course, but sporting a big slab of gelatinized crab roe, deep fried medallions of quail rolled in their own skin and served with perfect Carolina Gold rice donated by Anson Mills of Columbia, and a "Rice Puff" dish and syllabub that should become Charleston's answer to the New Orleans beignet.
Participants enjoyed a Madeira tasting, dinner at the Old City Jail, headed up by Louis Osteen, and informative lectures on the early slave environment, the invention of she-crab soup, and sweet-grass basketry among other topics.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the weekend was a soul-food lunch put on by Martha Lou's Kitchen, Gullah Cuisine, and Bertha's Soul Food. All received awards from the SFA for their respective rolls in preserving the culinary traditions of the Lowcountry. I almost cried listening to them tell the stories of their food, but it could have been the banana pudding served up by Jimmy Hagood (which is so good it should be illegal).
Altogether, I thought the weekend represented the best "food festival" experience I've witnessed in town – all the more reason to check out the SFA at www.southernfoodways.com.