The Southern Foodways Alliance, an Oxford, Miss.-based organization dedicated to the preservation of Southern food and cooking, held its annual “field trip” last weekend in Charleston. One would expect a proliferation of shrimp and grits, she crab soup, and other foods popular with the tourists, and the crowd certainly received their share, but they also paid homage to the unsung heroes of Charleston’s many kitchens.

During a Saturday lunch curated by cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee of Lee Bros. Boiled Peanut fame, the SFA recognized Martha Lou Gadsden of Martha Lou’s Kitchen and Charlotte Jenkins, owner of Gullah Cuisine in Mt. Pleasant, with awards commemorating their role in preserving traditional Lowcountry foodways. The crowd also got to taste some of that authenticity, sitting down to a gluttonous spread of limas with smoked neckbones, even smokier collard greens, Lowcountry okra gumbo, fried pork chops and chicken, sweet tea, and a rich banana pudding prepared by Jimmy Hagood, barbecue guru and owner of Food for the Southern Soul, a local catering operation.

The crowd, which numbered well in excess of 100 people, wound its way through town, sampling our local food and culture. Chef Sean Brock at McCrady’s restaurant dished up a cutting-edge reinterpretation of classic Charleston cuisine. 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 deboned quail rolled in their own skin came served with perfect Carolina Gold rice donated by Glen Roberts of Anson Mills in Columbia, and a “Rice Puff” dish, that should become Charleston’s sunrise answer to the New Orleans beignet, anchored a creamy froth.

Participants also enjoyed a Madeira tasting, a 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 sweetgrass basketry, among other topics. A rousing panel of current and former employees at Bowen’s Island, put together by SFA oral historian Amy Evans, brought participants almost to tears with their heartfelt remembrances of the old oyster dive.

The weekend closed with a mid-morning brunch over at The Wreck on Shem Creek, which proved a fitting end, despite the scorching Lowcountry summer sun and the enormous amount of food that the SFA stuffed into our bellies over the preceding three days. A wonderful spread, The Wreck’s fried shrimp, Ben Berryhill’s stiff Bloody Marys, and a stellar peach jam-filled sweet bun out of the Red Drum Gastropub pastry department forced several participants, including myself, into an early afternoon nap, well deserved after a moveable feast that lasted well over 48 hours and traversed the breadth of the city and its culinary culture.

Altogether, the weekend represented the best “food festival” experience seen for some time in Charleston, exceeding all expectations and providing an authentic glimpse into the food and culture of the Holy City. Hats off to John T. Edge, Mary Beth Lasseter, Amy Evans, and the rest of the crew at the SFA that made our city look (and taste) so good. If you missed the event you can check out the SFA at

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