Shrimp n' Grits: Gullah Geechee Foodways

11 October 2021

Christian Berner

Today I made my class shrimp and grits in order to get a taste of the local foodways in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. We got fresh shrimp from a local fish market, Gay Fish Company, which is located right on a salt marsh with shrimp boats docked on one side. Luckily for us they also had locally sourced and processed yellow and white stone ground grits. Unfortunately, none of the farmers markets were open by the time we were finished with our daily activities, so I had to settle and buy all my other ingredients from Walmart. After I gathered all of the necessary ingredients, I ventured back to the beautiful, historic Penn Center to cook the shrimp and grits. My fellow peers aided me in the preparation of the food. Once it was finished, we sat down as a group to eat together and discuss everything we did that day.

Shrimp and Grits is a staple foodway in the lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia.

Merriam-Webster defines foodways as “the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period.” Foodways are shaped by the local environment and tend to be unique to different regions of the world and that’s what makes them special. The scenic waterways in the lowlands are the romantic landscape from which the local watermen, both men and women, harvest shrimp. Traditionally, the Gullah Geechee people were isolated in this environment, so they had to raise livestock and cultivate the land to grow crops. The Gullah Geechee community would butcher the pigs and render the fat to cook the shrimp caught in the local wetlands. The corn would be dried, and milled or ground into grits. No single person had the power to do this by themselves so individuals in the community came together to get the work done. Isolation in the romantic landscape led to the Gullah Geechee discovering the power of a tightly knit community.

Shrimp Boat docked at Gay FIsh Company, St. Helena Island, SC

Experiencing the journey from marsh and field to stove and stomach enriched me with a newfound physical, emotional connection to the South Carolina Lowcountry. Cooking shrimp and grits with my class was an enriching experience that required us to work together in order to have dinner to eat. At the Gay Fish Company, we bought shrimp right next to the marsh where the shrimp lived out their entire life cycle. We also bought grits at the counter with our shrimp that were made by Palmetto Farms, a South Carolina family farm who has been running a stone mill since 1934. If I were to have another exploration in the food ways of the Lowcountry, I would like to do a Lowcountry boil. Instead of buying all of the ingredients, I want to go into the wetlands to catch the shrimp myself, go to a farm to pick the corn, and dig up potatoes. Working this closely with the source of the food will further my understanding of place in the Lowcountry.