Charlotte Jenkins wrote the book on Gullah cuisine


Something Great from Something Little

I got started cooking at the age of nine as my mother left to take care of a sister who was ill. My mother said you all need to try to make it without me, so I told her I would cook. I did it, everything went well, and I enjoyed it. And ever since then I’ve been cooking.

Jobs took us to New York as there were no jobs in Charleston for blacks in those days. There were only maids and I did enough of that. I wanted to go to New York to pursue my education. I stayed there for 15 years, and I was doing cooking there for family and friends and I was a medical assistant.

In ’72 I moved back to Charleston, and I wanted to pursue cooking, so I enrolled in Johnson and Wales Culinary Arts program and graduated in ’88 and have been catering ever since. In 1995 I opened up Gullah Cuisine on Highway 17. My husband passed away three years ago and business became really hectic after that. Funds were tight, and I had to drop advertising and then things were slow. So I decided I couldn’t do it anymore, but I miss it. I miss the people. There were people from all over the world that would drop in. The hard work — no, I don’t miss that. I miss the cooking too, but basically just the people. I get calls from people that want me to prepare certain dishes. They like my signature rice, the Gullah rice, the shrimp and grits, okra gumbo, and the crawfish etouffee.

In 2010 I wrote a cookbook Gullah Cuisine: By Land and by Sea and it tells the story about my humble beginnings, a little bit about the Gullah culture, and it has some recipes. I have concerns about Gullah history and the cuisine dying. This is why I tried to keep the restaurant going because the people that were curious about our history would stop in to try the food. I would have bus loads of people come down and try it. Gullah cooking is prepared freshly with the freshest food. The style of the cooking is more on the Southern style and seasoned well. It’s not salty. The basics of Gullah cooking is that the seafood will be fresh from the river and the vegetables will be fresh from the garden, and those are the things that made the food taste good because of the freshness.

My mother taught me how to do chicken fricassee. I do it pretty often, and I used to get compliments from it. What makes it better is to use a yard chicken, a fresh chicken; you keep it out in quarantine and get the impurities out of its system. But now I get the free range. I love to make her chicken dish and her cornbread, and she does a mean okra soup and okra succotash too. She also used to do a chicken-flavored rice, which I added seafood and vegetables and call it a Gullah rice.

I’m getting ready to open up a cooking class in September where I can do Gullah food and the method of Gullah cooking. I will do a variety of food, not just limited to Gullah food.

Gullah cooking is when you don’t have much to work with and you can make something great come from something little.

Charlotte Jenkins plans to open Gullah Cooking Classes at 977 Gadsdenville Road in Awendaw this fall.

(As told to Katherine Connor.)

Support the Charleston City Paper

We’ve been covering Charleston since 1997 and plan to be here with the latest and Best of Charleston for many years to come. In a time where local journalism is struggling, the City Paper is investing in the future of Charleston as a place where diverse, engaging views can flourish. We can't do it without our readers. If you'd like to support local, independent journalism:

UP NEXT FROM

FEATURE

Your guide to tracking down the best Gullah eats

Kinsey Gidick

When it comes to finding Gullah cuisine, the search can be perplexing. The entrepôt for the African slave trade, Charleston sits in the center of the Gullah Geechee Corridor — an area spanning from Wilmington, N.C. to Jacksonville, Fla.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Paper Bullets is the untold true story of queer artists’ campaign to combat Nazi occupiers

Aux Armes Artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore took up formidable weapons when the Nazis occupied their small, strategically valuable island home of Jersey off the coast of France: paper and pen.  The romantic and artistic partners used their talents as writers to distribute demoralizing letters to German soldiers during occupation in World War II. […]

City Picks: What we’re seeing, streaming and doing this week

Santa “Sleigh” Ride: Climb aboard a specially decorated carriage driven by the big guy himself for a festive 20-minute ride through downtown Charleston, complete with cocoa, cookies and caroling. Bring a camera for a photo with Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves, and nestle up in a blanket brought from home and holiday-themed mask for […]

Telehealth expands treatment options in rural areas

Up Close from Afar Sometime in 2016, Charleston doctor Constance Guille was looking at the effect of the national opioid epidemic on the people she knew best — pregnant women — and wondering how to help them. As a reproductive psychiatrist with the Medical University of South Carolina, she knew the stats were dire. “From […]