Category Archives: South Carolina

Historic fiction before the internet 

I have a fair number books on South Carolina and slavery for the period I’m interested in, but what a boon the internet is!  I’ve found: the wills of some of my characters; botanical treatises compiled in the exact decade of interest; recipes for syllabub, jumbles, and terrapin soup; slave inventories, descriptions of what Oglethorpe was up to in 1735, and all kinds of historic maps of Charleston. It’s an amazing resource.

Yesterday, I needed help imagining how to butcher and skin an alligator and instantly found a YouTube video showing exactly that. I enjoyed fourteen minutes of some guy in Florida doing the job with a humorous and precise narration. “Here’s the best meat, the tenderloin, or ‘jelly role’. … “here’s the second best, under the jaw… ” “you can’t rip alligator skin off like deer skin — you have to cut every inch away.”

Learn something new every day: the erect flanges running down the reptile’s body are called “scoots” and are designed to maximize heat absorption. They’re also the hardest part of an alligator’s body.

Also, this: never, ever cut open an alligator’s stomach. Hmm, why? In my attempt to find out, I came across gruesome stories about the bones of children and large deer being discovered in various alligator guts. Maybe it has to do with potent acids?

In a subsequent google wander, I came across a great book about the fishing practices of bondmen in coastal communities [“The Waterman’s Song: Slavery & Freedom in Maritime North Carolina” by David S. Cecelski]. I couldn’t access all of the text, of course, but I could read a fair amount. Again: what an amazing resource!

There was a description of “gigging flounder and sturgeon by moonlight”. Don’t you love that? I’ll admit to not even really needing to know precisely what it means. I just want to keep saying it: “gigging flounder and sturgeon by moonlight.” [Cecelski].

Several things to note in brief: fish was very plentiful in the Lowlands in the mid-eighteenth century. Oysters, for example, could be gathered by the basketful without much trouble or a boat. Slave owners were ambivalent about the resourcefulness of their bondmen and women. On the one hand, such industry in supplementing meager rations saved planters a lot of money. On the other hand, it afforded the enslaved both tools and autonomy that made white people nervous, especially after the Stono Uprising in 1739. The slave code enacted subsequent to the rebellion was draconian (as all slave codes enacted subsequent to uprisings are), placing prohibitions on literacy, gardening (gardening!), hunting, and more understandably, perhaps, the possession of weapons. Because the economic advantages of the enslaved providing some of their own food held, however, many plantation owners turned a blind eye to the continued practices.

And then there’s the racial animus that has poisoned our country from its inception. Cecelski relates a story about an overseer who found a hidden fish trap and in his outrage destroyed the trap, stole the capture for himself, and pronounced fish “too good for niggers.”

According to Cecelski, slaves fashioned floats out of gourds, hooks out of fish bones, and nets out of hemp. Illicit traps and trot lines were camouflaged along the marsh edges and some slaves built cypress log rafts and hid those, too. So they could “gig flounder and sturgeon by moonlight” perhaps.

A large alligator would produce about 65 pounds of meat. Smoking and salting were the only methods of preservation back then and so it was customary among white elites to share cuts with neighbors.

I was doing this research because I want my mustee character to capture a notorious alligator and cut it up (‘mustee” = half Native American / half African). This character’s named Indian Peter and comes from the Lucas family inventory, but I’ve based him in large measure on another real person — a legendary hunter named Prince Alston. Mr. Alston worked up on the Santee River at Hampton Plantation for Archibald Rutledge many generations later. Rutledge wrote a beautiful memoir — “Home by the River” — in which he describes the man (emphasis mine):

Prince expressed a “kinship with nature as unfeigned as it was intimate” and although “untouched by any human school of philosophy, was deeply read in the oracles of God.” He could handle a cart with four vicious mules and once plowed a field with a bull so terrifying that other field workers routinely walked a mile out of their way so as not to go near him.

(Eliza Lucas Pinckney would spend her last years at Hampton Plantation with her daughter, Harriott).

What would a bondman have done with 65 pounds of meat if he killed the reptile on the sly? On the other hand, if the kill was done openly, say on a Sunday, would the meat have been apportioned between the enslaved and their owners?

After the rebellion of ’39, would Indian Pete still have been in possession of knives? It was controversial then to ‘allow’ such a state of affairs, even if the knives had been previously employed solely for the provision of food.

In other news, a novel about Eliza Lucas Pinckney was published last week. It’s called “Indigo Girl” and covers five of the six years that I cover. The author read Eliza’s letters, etc. If anyone wants to read it and report to me — go for it. I’ll even buy it for you — but I can’t look at it until I’m finished. The author, Natasha Boyd, is a romance writer from Denmark. I’m hoping that her book does very well and that it’s strikingly different from mine. 

As far as keepin’ on keepin’ on, my writing instructor quipped, “Do people ever think we have too many books about Lincoln — or Jefferson?” Good point.

 

All photos from Feb ’17 trip to South Carolina and taken by me. They include shots from the Caw Caw Conservation property, the Ashley River near Drayton Hall, Wappoo Creek, and the water near Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant.

Imagine peace 

Imagine peace. Such a refrain! A sewn pin from Liz in Texas renders the reminder tactile and lovely.

With the pin, came a stitched date: June 17, 2015. This, as you know, was the day of the tragic shooting at the Charleston Emanuel AME Church and Liz was one of the contributors to the “Hearts for Charleston” quilt (see side bar). The pin and date-cloth seem very at home in a sweet grass basket made in Charleston, don’t you think? There they are on a pile of shells gathered south of the city along with a wasp’s nest (also found somewhere in SC).

Look at Liz’s capable hand! Seeing her tiny, regular stitches reminded me of the pleasure of collaborating on our quilt for grieving Charlestonians last year. Making hope tactile while affirming friendships all over the globe is a powerful thing. Thank you, Liz, thank you and thank you – both for the gift itself and for setting a moving example.

My mad play with pix of villains, on the other hand, is likely pointless. But, look at that face — even if the stakes were low, would YOU trust him? With an image like that, you don’t need to evaluate his lame, contradictory explanations of recent blundering and partisan actions to conclude that the House Intel Committee’s work is done. Toast.  I went to the Mother Emanuel Church while in Charleston recently. It was drenched in sun and very still, in spite of a fair amount of traffic out front. I felt a sense of sadness being there and also care — I did not want to intrude. Sometimes even taking pictures can feel transgressive. Fortunately, no one came or went while I took the photos below.






I found all the shells on Folly Beach as the sun came up. K and I thought we’d have the place to ourselves, but lots of people were there — a military jogger and his handsome German shepherd posing for pictures; a rashy-faced photo enthusiast talking up his Facebook page; other tourists; a guy with a metal detector who reminded us of those funny nerds on “The Detectorists”. The pier’s criss-crossing supports looked like a row of herringbone stitch connecting the ocean to the sky.



Naturally Finn joined me as I took a selfie on the sunny staircase yesterday — he always knows where the action is! He kept looking up as if peace was just there, slightly beyond my reach or capacity to see.

Prose and soup

“Read at the level at which you want to write.” Jennifer Egan (brainpickings.org)

I couldn’t read Roth until I was older and now he is one of my favorite writers. I hope he never dies! I may have read this Zuckerman novel before (or maybe it just seems familiar because it takes place in the Berkshires where I was born and lived a good many years?) No matter, it’s worth a re-read.

Here’s a sentence: “My guess was that it would take even the fiercest Hun the better part of a winter to cross the glacial waterfalls and wind-blasted woods of those mountain wilds before he was able to reach the open edge of Lonoff’s hayfields, rush the rear storm door of the house, crash through the study, and, with spiked bludgeon wheeling high in the air above the little Olivetti, cry out in a roaring voice to the writer tapping out his twenty-seventh draft, ‘You must change your life!'”

Swoon.


Beef with barley soup for lunch after another frigid walk with the dog. And since K won’t be here for dinner, I’m not even cooking: a bowl of fruit, yogurt and sunflower seeds topped with honey from Charleston.


*thank you Mo for link on FB to the article.


Soup and salad


This shrimp, bean, and chicken sausage soup was delicious! Not only does it come together in a hurry, but most of the ingredients are stock pantry and fridge items, meaning it could become a regular in my weeknight lineup. If you’re like me, you keep onions, black beans, and boxed chicken stock in the pantry, as well as frozen shrimp and corn in the freezer. I very often have a four pack of chicken sausage in the cold cut drawer as well because they keep forever and are a good alternative to beef and pork. Cilantro was the only thing I might not have on hand, but thankfully, I did.



There are both black beans and white beans in this soup, but the starring role goes to the white beans — baby white limas. I went in search of these beans while still in SC after an outstanding lunch at Bertha’s Kitchen* in North Charleston. I gushed about the meal on Facebook and a former Charleston resident commented, “Go to Doscher’s Market.” (That would be Donna Hardy of Sea Island Indigo. She ran the workshop I attended in 2014).


Doscher’s Market is an IGA in West Ashley that’s been run by a German family for generations. Part of the secret to their success has been to cater to their customers, who are largely African American. One article I read noted, “there are smoked pig parts representing everything but the squeal”.**

While I looked for the dried beans, K wandered along the seemingly endless meat counter in curious amazement.

Here’s the recipe.

Shrimp, Sausage and Bean Soup
Serves 4

Night before: pour boiling water over one cup of baby white lima beans and leave to soak. While assembling the soup the next day, drain the beans and bring to a slow boil in about three cups of water. I did not add salt.

1/2 onion, chopped
2 chicken sausage, cut in quarter moons
1/2 T red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
28 ounce can diced tomatoes, with liquid
14 ounce can black beans, without liquid
one box organic chicken stock (if no homemade in the house)
1/4 c chopped cilantro for cooking, more for serving

Handful frozen shrimp
1 c frozen corn
And, if on hand, two cups cooked rice

S&P

Saute onions in olive oil, add salt, and once wilted, throw in sausage and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat. Add six or seven cloves of diced or smashed garlic, allow their aroma to rise (about 90 seconds), then pour in chicken stock, diced tomatoes (with juice) and black beans (without liquid). If white beans are done, add them as well. Because the delicious, soupy side dish that I had at Bertha’s Kitchen looked to contain bean cooking liquid, I included some here. I happened to have cooked white rice from the night before, so I added two big clumps. Smash to separate and then throw in cilantro, frozen corn, and frozen shrimp. Cook to heat through, roughly five minutes.

Serve. Add more fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a few jazzes of hot sauce. I poured my husband’s soup over toasted and buttered, homemade cornbread. With two kinds of beans plus rice and corn in the soup, that’s a little bit of carbo overkill, but not enough to render the dish unhealthy. Mine, I ate as is and it was very good and just as good the next day!

Now on to a spectacular lobster salad. If the soup belongs in the realm of week night cuisine, this one is for special occasions. A friend who parked her car in our driveway for two consecutive weekends brought us a container of cooked lobster as a thank you (she’s from Maine). That container was crammed full with SIX lobster tails. Oh man!

Lobster Salad 

1/3 c chopped red onion
1/2 T fennel
Put these two ingredients in a bowl and cover with boiled water. Soak while assembling the rest of salad.

1/2 green pepper, diced (would have used celery, but was out)
1 T capers, rinsed
2 generous T sweet relish
Couple big blobs of mayo
6 lobster tails, cut in chunks

The mayonnaise, which was probably about 1/2 cup, was slightly excessive. Also, we use full fat mayo in this house but I’m certain substituting a reduced fat version would have worked (but never no fat — gross!)

I didn’t think it would need salt because of the capers, but just a little dash helped. Since part of the glory of this gift was how easy it made dinner prep, I forewent spritzing the salad with lemon just before serving… it would have brightened the flavors nicely, I’m sure.

The fennel seeds were my sister’s idea. She’s a more adventurous cook than I and also had, coincidentally, just seen a cooking program on which the chef asserted that ‘no French cook would dream of serving seafood without fennel’. I was skeptical but went ahead anyway and I have to say that small cluster of seeds added a subtle and nice perfume. Definitely recommend.

Oh yum. YUM!  And there’s enough for Saturday lunch!

PS  When the news gets too unbearable to discuss, too awful in too many directions to wrap your mind around, count on food posts. They are reliably engaging to write and wonderful, constructive distractions.

* Bertha’s Kitchen has just been named an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation. The prestigious award is reserved for “beloved regional restaurants, distinguished by their timeless appeal”. Read more in this Post and Courier article.  

**Tim Allen of Rebellion Farm wrote that IGA article. Funnily enough, I’ve eaten pig that he’s roasted. “How can that be?” you ask. Well, he was the farmer who hosted Donna Hardy’s indigo workshop. Well-known Charleston Chef BJ Dennis catered the rest of the meal, by the way. (I didn’t know how illustrious he was until later, when I started to follow him on Instagram). Here’s my description of that meal from 2014. If you do a little research on southern food, you will find interesting and on-going discussion about cultural appropriation, foods of the African diaspora, and lasting contributions of the enslaved to Southern culture. 

Hail Mary, solicitors, and hope

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Two days ago, when I was editing a published post about the only Catholic prayer I still say and a little about travel by air, the phone rang. It was a persistent solicitor — a number I’ve been seeing every day for weeks. I picked up to politely request my removal from their list while simultaneously saving the post —

and the whole thing vanished. Not just the updates — all of it.

I walked away, resolved not to let negative narratives spin up around the glitch, but also without the energy for a re-do. The negatives arose anyway (was silence imposed because the post was braggy instead of vulnerable? was it too facile with the Catholic rituals? not remotely concerning what is truly and deeply on my mind?)

What IS truly and deeply on my mind?

Yesterday, the wordpress app on my phone seized. Geez! Haven’t I said, I’m not shutting up?

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So by way of recap, here’s a little from the other day — I hope I never stop feeling a sense of wonder about being up in the air and seeing the coast lit up below. I hope the Virgin hears our prayers. I hope Mary’s mercy can guide me to learn more about the complicated landscape of South Carolina. Help me filter history through a tender and flexible compassion.

Here’s one surprise from my recent trip. The most restorative aspect of our visit to Charleston came from a major reduction in news consumption. Not the sun, the 70 degree temperatures, the incredible food or historic sites (though they were amazing, too). It was LESS NEWS.

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For wisdom about the business of balancing duty and lightness, I turn to Rebecca Solnit (“Hope in the Dark”). Even though since November I’ve had a hard time reading political commentary that predates the election, she will be an exception. She wrote:

“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”

Giving is an act of insurrection, too. Did you hear about the crowd sourcing that planned to raise $20k in a month for purposes of repairing the vandalized Jewish graves in Missouri? They exceeded their goal in THREE HOURS. Or about the million-plus dollars raised to rebuild that burned down mosque in Texas? Twenty-three thousand people contributed.

Closer to home, my city just voted to be a sanctuary city.

Powerful examples of our collective goodness absolutely abound right now. To stay sane, I really need to pay as much attention to them as I do to the ugly and dark work of the GOP.

  • Photos of Virgin, magnolia tree and house were shot at Magnolia Plantation, SC last week.

Susie Jackson and Tywanza Sanders Hearts for Charleston Quilt

 

 On June 17 last summer, the Jackson family of Charleston lost three of its members: Susie Jackson, her cousin Ethel Lance, and Susie’s nephew, Tywanza Sanders. Because Tywanza Sanders tried to shield his aunt from the shooter and then reached out to comfort her as they both lay dying, I stitched their names on the same heart. Their funeral services were held together.
img_3873Susie Jackson, the oldest person slain last summer, was a trustee of the Emanuel AME and a former member of the choir. In this article from “The Post and Courier”, she was remembered as “a family and church matriarch.” According to the same article, Ms. Jackson “volunteered in myriad ways over her many years of constant faith and fidelity.” 

Because of her love of music, I couched some black satin cording in a G clef for the back of the block.

At their joint service, a rousing performance of “I Can’t Give Up Now” was sung. Here’s a link to Lee Williams singing a version of same.

I learned from a “Post and Courier” article that two caissons carried the caskets of Susie Jackson and Tywanza Sanders from the church.

Before he was shot, Tywanza stood between the shooter and his Aunt Susie and said, “You don’t have to do this.”

He was said to possess a brightness of spirit and such brightness is very visible on his instragram feed. “The Post and Courier” quoted a friend as saying of him that he had a “majestic and contagious smile few people have”.

From the next quote, you can see why the article about him was headlined: Poet, Hero, Tywanza Sanders.

“He was remembered for his artistry. A poem of his was read that spoke of social conscience and ended, “divided by color/So we are all trying to be equal.” It was titled “Tragedy.”

Mourners kept coming back to Sanders’ last moments. The family’s remembrance of him in the program said his last words were, “Where is my Aunt Susie. I’ve got to get to my Aunt Susie” as he reached for her.”

Tywanza was also entrepreneurial and hoped to establish a barber business. He already had his license and undergraduate business degree.  I am about to stitch the barber pole with the signature red, white and blue stripes.
img_2309Liz Ackert contributed some unbelievably beautiful labels recently and I will post about them this week.

On a completely pedestrian note, it continues to be unseasonably cold here. I keep thinking I can put my down-filled coats away and then finding myself wearing them. Today I added a wool scarf for my neck!

To read more about this project,
please refer to the the sidebar category:
“Hearts for Charleston Quilt”

To investigate this style of quilting more,
please visit the inspiring and generous master quilter, Jude Hill
  at her blog Spirit Cloth

Hearts for Charleston Quilt – Depayne Middleton Doctor

IMG_3241This is the back of the heart dedicated to Depayne Middleton Doctor. She was 49 when she was slain last June during a Bible study circle at the Emanuel AME in Charleston. She left behind four daughters. So many people came to her funeral, they had to set up televisions in an overflow room in order to accommodate another 150 people.
IMG_3243According to “The Post and Courier”: ‘Middleton Doctor retired in 2005 as Charleston County director of the Community Block Grant Program. Last year, she began working for Southern Wesleyan University as admissions coordinator for the school’s Charleston learning center.’

The same article quotes a friend saying of Middleton Doctor’s singing voice: “So angelic it could move the very depth of your heart… How do you describe an angel?”

I made this heart and it was meant to capture a very rich personality, with some of the expansiveness of the heavens (the dotted dark cloths look like night skies to me).

Find out more about this remarkable woman and the family she left behind here.

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To read more about this project,
please refer to the the sidebar category:
“Hearts for Charleston Quilt”

To investigate this style of quilting more,
please visit the inspiring and generous master quilter, Jude Hill
  at her blog Spirit Cloth