Monday, October 6, 2014

Southern Hospitality

We (successfully) navigated the waters in the wee “Ocean State” of Rhode Island last week and are now heading a bit further down the Atlantic coast to the land of plantations, palmettos, submarines and the land where Gamecocks and Tigers do battle in Death Valley where the entrance has been called “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football”.  Gee, sounds like my kind of place!  On top of it, I don’t know about how many ‘famous’ people it boasts, but some of my ‘favorite’ people hail from the eighth state to join the nation (and first to later secceed), South Carolina!  So break out your pearls, get ready to have another great BBQ debate and perfect your drawl this week with us as we get a taste of Southern Comfort South Carolina style!

Coastland in the south and mountains in the North give the state two distinct regions – UpCountry and LowCountry.  The northern UpCountry  whose primary cities are Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson represents the more industrial and educational aspect of the state, with companies like BMW, Michelin, Fuji Films, Denny’s and Walgreens having facilities there and universities such as Clemson, Furman and Wofford College all calling it home.  The Lowcountry, home to such cities as Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head (more on these later!) was originally known for its agricultural output, as most of the pre-Civil War cotton and rice plantations were located there.  The area is now most readily known for its historical context and cultural heritage.

The lowcountry heritage can be seen in its distinct cuisine (yep, lots of it on the menu here this week!) and by some of its lesser known residents, the Gullah people.  Direct descendants of the early African slaves that worked the lowcounty plantations, the Gullah’s preserved much of their African cultural heritage because of geography, climate, and patterns of importation of enslaved Africans – they were virtually isolated to one area which led them to hold onto their original heritage.  They continue to live along the South Carolina coast (and into Georgia) and work to preserve their cultural heritage through food, the language, the making of sweetgrass baskets and even festivals

While crops such as rice and cotton were once what made South Carolina thrive, today the economy is defined by tourism, and to a lesser degree the chemical and textile industries.   The overall textile industry in the US declined in the late 1990’s, but is showing signs of improvement, especially in southern states like South Carolina.   South Carolina’s bottom line definitely relies on the draw of locations such as Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head.  The warm climate and beautiful beaches in Myrtle Beach attract over 14 million visitors each year.  The 12 miles of beachfront that make up Hilton Head also draw numerous tourists.  Especially those who like to golf!

The city most readily associated with South Carolina, though, and a large tourist draw itself, is Charleston.   (I’ve been and I have to say it is a really neat place!)   Some places that I’m sharing with the kiddos this week that are worth checking out (though they don’t remember they’ve both actually been as well!) include Rainbow Row and The Battery.  Post-civil war this area fell into near ruins and it was the work of Dorothy Porcher Legge and Susan Pringle Frost, who decided to restore the area and paint the houses of Rainbow Row distinct pastel colors that led to it revitalization.  There are 13 distinct buildings that comprise the Row that range in shades from yellow to pink to blue.  The Battery is a seawall bordering the Charleston peninsula to protect the area from where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet.  The area around the seawall is sometimes referred to as Battery Park and is known for its southern mansions, cannons, cannon balls, oak trees, palmettos, statues, a gazebo, and views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan Island Lighthouse.

Speaking of Fort Sumter, there’s not a way to have a true discussion about South Carolina without mention of this historic landmark where on April 12, 1861, the Confederate artillery opened fire on the Federal fort located in Charleston Harbor – effectively beginning the Civil War.  The Union tried (unsuccessfully) to retake the Fort for the entire four year stretch of the war.    But it was back on December 20, 1860 that things started to get ugly when South Carolina became the first state to declare their causes for secession from the Union and eventually establishing the Confederacy

The “Palmetto State” did rejoin the Union on July 9, 1868, though would continue for a long time after to attempt to establish any of its pre-War dominance in the country as it was no long able to use slave labor to run its large plantations and its need to rebuild the destruction brought on the state during the War.  Many Northerners blamed South Carolina for starting the War, especially Sherman’s troops, who as they marched across the state did much damage along the way.  One Union soldier was quoted saying “ This is where secession began, and by God, here is where it will end.” 

It seems like such a downer to end with War being what defines South Carolina, so how about something positive?  Do me a favor – grab your wallet, pull out a twenty dollar bill and give it up for South Carolina native son (and seventh President of the United States!) Andrew Jackson.  (OK history buffs, the exact location of Andrew Jackson’s birth is up for debate but we’re going to just give this one to South Carolina :-P)  Wherever it was, though he eventually ran for government positions as a Tennessee resident, Jackson was known for his bravery in battle, especially during the Battle of New Orleans and his nickname “Old Hickory” for his strong personality.  He did have a bit of a run in with South Carolina over nullification while in office, but served his two terms well and is usually ranked among the top 10 US Presidents. 

South Carolina also gave us Chris Rock, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Vanna White , Dizzy Gillespie, and Chubby Checker.  I am eternally grateful for some lesser known (at least to the vast population) South Carolina natives.  When Grant and I first got married and moved to Florida we knew no one and nothing about the area.  Fortunately, we weren’t alone in that predicament, and our early friendships with Arthur and Kristina Kunkle and Beth and Dan Hals – all of whom came to us from South Carolina (different areas of the state, though Beth went to Furman and the rest Clemson) were probably the one thing that kept us sane that first year.  Oddly enough, we kept adopting South Carolina people (the state is known for its happy and friendly population) to our little group that we eventually dubbed “The Florida Family” (not going to try to name everyone here because I KNOW I will unintentionally forget someone, but sending love to you all tonight!).  So if for no other reason, I love South Carolina and am looking forward to this week!

Since I’m again doing battle with the crummy timing of religious ed classes (I don’t know why I’m so bitter about this, it’s not going to change it!  And it’s going to be like this all year, may as well suck it up and deal.  Maybe by next week…) and I didn’t want Noah to miss out on our South Carolina feasting, I looked for a good “make ahead” recipe to start us off this week.  I settled on Cornbread Salad since I could make it up this morning, feed Noah as soon as he got home at 4:30 and then the rest of us while he was off at class.  According to my really cool Taste of Home 50 State Cookbook (may be one of the best purchases I’ve made during this project…) it’s a southern staple at picnics, barbecues, potlucks and family reunions, though is not widely known outside the South.  It’s full of things my crew loves (I think ranch and bacon may be their own official food groups here) so I knew it was a good choice.  For dessert I made Benne Wafers.  A lowcountry dish, originating in Charleston, ‘benne’ is the Nigerian name for sesame seeds – which these little wafer like cookies are coated in.  This recipe came up again and again in my searching so I figured it was a great way to kick us off this week!  (Kristi's recipe note:  There is NO WAY that the 325 for 7-10 minutes is correct on this recipe.  I baked mine at 325 for at least 12 minutes and then cranked up the heat to 4 (so I could put in the cornbread!) for at least another 3-4 minutes to get them beautifully spread and crispy)

So there you have it – a launch of our adventures through South Carolina this week.  I am SO excited about all of the mail we’ve got coming this week.  (See the first of it below!) And I’ve got a project or two on tap that should be fun.  Any which way, stick around, it’s always a trip!  If you are curious about what the heck purloo is check back tomorrow!  So until then…

South Carolina Fun Fact of the Day:  During the Revolutionary War, the almost legendary figure Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox), contributed to the British retreat. Marion and his men would hide in the swamps and strike out in surprise at British troops, only to vanish again into the unwelcoming swampland. British forces finally withdrew from Charleston in 1782.

The South Carolina wall is up!

The Cornbread Salad pre-dressing - isn't it pretty?

Saw this in the paper yesterday so the Bean and I had to go get it to try it out

Cornbread Salad

South Carolina feast!

I mentioned Arthur above, who is actually Noah's Godfather.  His Mom, Carol, has always been splendidly wonderful to Grant and I, Noah and Mikayla and she, from Myrtle Beach, put together an awesome package for Noah and Mikayla!  It actually arrived last week and I have been chomping at the bit to get to open it.  My heartfelt thanks to Carol for everything from Clemson Tigers candy bars, authentic South Carolina grown cotton, and even grits!  You'll have to check out the photos below to see everything!  Noah and Mikayla were over the moon!

Daddy helped read the note since it was in beautiful cursive :)

Sand straight from Myrtle Beach

Plantation Peach Tea - as I type we are all sipping on a cup that I brewed right away.  It is awesome!

Clemson chocolate

Which we of course had to open and taste test

Grits and rice!

Cotton from a neighbor's field - how cool!

Mikayla was amazed at how soft it was

Information on the fauna and wildlife

Kristina's Mom, Lucinda, in Seneca also helped us out!  She sent the kiddos a whole slew of beautiful postcards depicting some gorgeous South Carolina scenery and even one from Clemson!  Not hard to see why it's so easy to adore Arthur and Kristina since they were raised by such thoughtful ladies!

This was Noah's favorite

Benne Wafers

Sesame Seed awesomeness

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