Understanding Gullah Geechee Cuisine and a Guide to Preparing It

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This piece was crafted by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Originating from the southeastern U.S., the Gullah Geechee people are the immediate descendants of the initial Black individuals forcibly brought from Africa. Presently, their communities still thrive in coastal areas stretching from Florida to North Carolina, such as Charleston, South Carolina and Georgia’s Sea Islands.

Renowned for their unique traditions, language (an African-Creole dialect), and heritage, Gullah Geechee communities also have a distinct and esteemed culinary tradition that has greatly influenced what’s recognized as Southern food today. Familiar dishes like shrimp and grits or Hoppin’ John fall under the umbrella of Gullah Geechee cuisine.

This cuisine emphasizes grains, with rice being a key ingredient. The Gullah Geechee’s knowledge of rice farming was imported from West Africa’s ‘rice coast,’ spanning Senegal to Sierra Leone and beyond. Other common elements in their recipes include seasonal local grains like benne seed and millet, as well as slow-cooked vegetables such as okra, corn, tomatoes, and leafy greens. Hearty Southern meals like Country Captain, a chicken curry dish served with rice, represent this cuisine well. Seafood including shrimp, crab, oysters, and fish is also fundamental.

Matthew Raiford, a sixth-generation farmer and descendant of coastal Georgia’s Freshwater Gullah Geechee, champions this culinary tradition. A 2018 James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef Southeast, he authored Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer, a book that illustrates his passion for this heritage, which he considers both the bedrock and future of U.S. cuisine.

Here’s a tantalizing example of Gullah Geechee cuisine: Calypso pork loin with mango papaya sauce. This recipe showcases a blend of unexpected flavors, such as the fiery, sweet, and citrusy taste of calypso seasoning.

Ingredients:

Pork Loin:

  • 1.4kg pork loin
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 mango, chopped
  • 1 papaya, chopped

Calypso Seasoning:

  • (Includes dried onion, holy basil or basil, oregano, minced fresh ginger, cinnamon, pink Himalayan salt, red pepper flakes, honey granules or brown sugar, and black pepper)

Tomato Jam:

  • (With beefsteak tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, shallots, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, vindaloo curry paste, honey, and red pepper flakes)

Smokin’ Hot ’n’ Sweet Sauce:

  • (Contains tomatoes, African fish peppers or alternates, onion, culantro or flat-leaf parsley, smoked paprika, steak seasoning, cayenne pepper, garlic, beef or mushroom broth, and olive oil)

Method:

  1. Calypso seasoning: Blend all ingredients in a processor; set aside.
  2. Tomato jam: Puree tomatoes; sauté garlic and shallots; combine with other ingredients and simmer.
  3. Smokin’ hot ’n’ sweet sauce: Pulse ingredients, then combine with olive oil.
  4. Pork loin: Allow to rest, coat with seasoning, sear and roast.
  5. Sauce: Puree mango, papaya, tomato jam, and hot ‘n’ sweet sauce; heat to simmer.
  6. Slice pork and spoon sauce over it.

This recipe can be found in Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer, by Matthew Raiford with Amy Paige (Countryman Press).

The article was featured in Issue 20 (summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK). Subscriptions to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine are available in selected countries here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword: Gullah Geechee cuisine

What is Gullah Geechee cuisine?

Gullah Geechee cuisine is a grain-based culinary tradition deeply rooted in the heritage of the Gullah Geechee people, who are descendants of the first Black people brought from Africa to the U.S. It includes ingredients such as rice, benne seed, millet, stewed leafy greens, okra, corn, tomatoes, and various seafood. Dishes like shrimp and grits or Hoppin’ John are examples of this cuisine.

Who is Matthew Raiford, and what’s his connection to Gullah Geechee food?

Matthew Raiford is a descendant of coastal Georgia’s Freshwater Gullah Geechee, a farmer, and a renowned chef. He is also the author of Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer. He emphasizes the importance of Gullah Geechee cuisine, considering it the foundation and future of U.S. food.

What are some distinctive flavors and ingredients in Gullah Geechee cuisine?

Distinctive flavors and ingredients include grains like rice, benne seed, and millet, along with stewed vegetables and seafood. A unique example provided in the text is the calypso pork loin with mango papaya sauce, featuring a spicy-smoky-sweet sensation from calypso seasoning and other ingredients like African fish peppers, culantro, and smoked paprika.

How can I make Calypso pork loin with mango papaya sauce?

The recipe for Calypso pork loin with mango papaya sauce includes specific ingredients for the pork loin, calypso seasoning, tomato jam, and smokin’ hot ‘n’ sweet sauce. The method involves creating the seasoning, jam, and sauce separately, preparing the pork loin, and combining with a mango and papaya sauce. It serves eight and takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes plus resting.

Where can I find more recipes like this?

More recipes like the Calypso pork loin with mango papaya sauce can be found in Matthew Raiford’s book, Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer, published by Countryman Press. The article containing this recipe was featured in the summer 2023 issue of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

More about fokus keyword: Gullah Geechee cuisine

  • Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer
  • National Geographic Traveller (UK) – Food Section
  • Gilliard Farms
  • James Beard Foundation – Best Chef Southeast Category

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5 comments

Jenny M. August 21, 2023 - 10:02 am

This article is so informative, I never knew about the Gullah Geechee people before, want to try the pork loin recipe but some ingredients are hard to find in my area.

Reply
Mike D. August 21, 2023 - 2:53 pm

wow! Love the depth of the article but kinda complex for me. i need simpler recipes, lol.

Reply
Becca L. August 22, 2023 - 1:23 am

Beautiful way of connecting food with culture and history. Mathew Raiford’s story is inspiring, wish to know more about him and his farm.

Reply
Sarah T August 22, 2023 - 4:42 am

Gullah Geechee cuisine? Never heard of it bfore but it sounds intriguing. might try to cook something one day when I’m feelin adventurous.

Reply
Tom H. August 22, 2023 - 9:16 am

A bit too long for me. Skimmed thru it. but the recipe sounds tasty. i might give it a shot if I find the time.

Reply

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