Remembering forgotten dishes of the Lowcountry

by | August 3, 2019 5:00 am

Last Updated: July 31, 2019 at 9:07 am

I’ve always been party to more than a few culinary white whales. Dishes I’d heard about that were the things of myths and legends that one’s grandmother made on special occasions and would nary be seen on a restaurant menu. Due to travel, I was able to dig into local food scenes and present these dishes to my compatriots, usually accompanied by me giving an earned smug look. It was a fun game, and one I thought I could parlay here in the Lowcountry. Sure, I was snake boots deep in grits, shrimp and pulled pork galore, but there were delicacies nagging in the shadows, inexplicably absent from local menus.
Country Captain was really the inspiration for examining this topic. Here’s a dish that reads like a small town diner in an early Faulkner novel. Country Captain in its most basic form is a one-pot chicken stew, cooked with onions and curry powder. Almonds, raisins or zante currants are then added to the finished product. It is usually served over white rice. Originating in India, it was first brought to Charleston and Savannah as a byproduct of the British spice trade. Southern cooks took it from there, and it evolved into one of the first examples of Anglo-Indian cuisine.
When polled, local residents looked at me as if I was asking about a far off plate of unpronounceable eats. Most weren’t familiar with it, yet others offered to prepare it if I found a proper recipe. Lowcountry tenacity at its finest.
This one is bound to raise controversy: peanuts and Coca-Cola. The snack is one I’ve heard about at length, yet never seen with my own eyes. It’s always been third-person stories about someone’s uncle who would consume the odd combination on a tractor while tending to fields.
Personally, I love peanuts and Coke enjoyed separately, so trying this was a no-brainer. For full authenticity, I chose Coca-Cola in a glass bottle, made in Mexico. Coke from Mexico is made with cane sugar, the old-fashioned way. Simple, roasted and salted peanuts were added as my family looked on, bewildered. Bear in mind, they have watched me consume much more bizarre combinations.
The salt of the peanuts blends well with the high level of sweet the cane sugar provides. Basically, you take a swig and chew the peanuts while the Coke washes them down. It might seem off, texturally, but the combating flavors usually distract from it. It’s hearty and refreshing, and easy to see why it may have been a welcome midday snack for farmers.
There’s always room for dessert. Specifically, Huguenot torte. Contrary to urban legend, this sweet treat was not brought to Charleston by 17th century French settlers. Rather, it descended from another confection known as Ozark Pudding, and first appeared in 1950 in a Charleston community cookbook and was named for a local tavern.
A flaky crust envelopes a pie-like filling of apples, pecans and vanilla. It can be served hot or cold. As delicious as it sounds, it is not seen at church bake sales or at tables with baked goods at other local events — which is a shame, I’m sure many would rave about it.
Recipes for these dishes are widely available online. Seek them out and make them for yourself, but please, don’t forget to share!

(Josh Taylor, who never forgets a good dish, can be reached at culinaryanthropology@gmail.com)

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