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Coastal English professor writes Gullah cookbook

May 8, 2003

Veronica Davis Gerald, long known for her commitment to her Gullah heritage, has co-written a new book, "The Ultimate Gullah Cookbook: A Taste of Food, History and Culture from the Gullah People."

Gerald, an English professor at Coastal Carolina University, and Jesse Edwards Gantt Jr., a Beaufort chef and restaurateur, gathered and tested the 197 recipes and wrote the text to help preserve the Gullah food culture they felt was being imitated under other names - Lowcountry cooking, Southern food, Calabash style. The cookbook they produced, issued recently by Sands Publishing, offers recipes as common as homemade biscuits and as uncommon as oxtails and gravy.

But while the recipes hold their own in the kitchen, the book's introductory chapters have special interest, focusing on context - the role of food in relation to the history and folk life of Gullah culture. "I wanted to introduce other aspects of the culture, to fill in some of the missing cultural gaps," she says. From saying grace in Gullah language, to slave cooking, to the origin of Gullah food - it's all covered here, with an emphasis on the rice culture so important to the slaves who brought the methods for growing the grain to this country.

"Rice was our entry into the American culture," says Gerald, a descendant of slaves from three of the plantations - Brookgreen, Laurel Hill and Springfield - that now comprise Brookgreen Gardens. To preserve her culture, Gerald has been involved for a number of years in interviewing elderly Gullah descendants on the various aspects of that culture. It is time she enjoys immensely and, through that activity, she also has been fed some delicious Gullah dishes that have ended up in the book.

Gerald has been at Coastal since 1980. She was also director of history and culture at Penn Center in Beaufort for three years and has held professorships at Illinois State University and Morehouse College. She has received various awards for her work in the preservation of the Gullah culture, including the South Carolina Governors Award in Humanities. Next on her culinary writing agenda is a book tentatively titled "Healing Pots" about the recipes that heal, from chicken soup to poultices and herbal potions.

"The Ultimate Gullah Cookbook" is available at the Franklin G. Burroughs - Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach, Harborwalk Books in Georgetown, the Kaminski Museum in Georgetown and other venues in the area.