The beloved South Carolina cook chronicles Gullah Geechee cooking in her new book.
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Red Rice
Credit: Clay Williams

Chef Emily Meggett has lived, loved, and fed folks on Edisto Island, South Carolina, for most of her 89 years. Her new book, Gullah Geechee Home Cooking ($35.49, bookstore.org), pays tribute to her ancestors, who settled the land where they were once enslaved and created a new cuisine of fresh, deeply flavorful dishes, including the beloved staple red rice.

"I cook from my heart, my brain, my hands," says Emily Meggett, who recorded her recipes not just to share a lifetime of knowledge, but to pass on the traditions of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of African men and women forced to work on plantations on the Sea Islands, 100 or so barrier isles off the southeastern coast of the U.S. "When I was growing up, it was called Low Country cooking," she says. "But it's a mix of West and Central African techniques and local ingredients, like fresh seafood." Meggett, who has 10 children and more than 50 grand- and great-grandkids, says she now lives with "my three boyfriends—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." But she's always ready for a crowd, like her grandmother used to say: "Don't ever cook enough just for you, 'cause you never know who gonna come through that door."

cover of Gullah Geechee cookbook
Credit: Clay Williams

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Red Red rice has roots in Sierra Leone, a country known for its legacy of skilled rice farmers, says Meggett. She grew up eating it as a side with fried fish or shrimp, but it's an excellent meal on its own, too. Here are her secrets to fluffy success.

1. Start with long-grain Carolina rice, and don't rinse it. It'll absorb the tomato sauce better that way.

2. After adding the rice, test the ratio: "Bring that spoon over to you from the far end of the pot. If it comes freely, it's going to cook soft and mushy [and you need more rice]. If it comes to you heavy, you have enough."

3. When the rice is done, stir it with a fork, not a spoon, to separate each grain and prevent clumping.

Recipe From Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Mother of Edisto Island, by Emily Meggett, Published by Abrams. Text © 2022 Emily Meggett.

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