We’ve always had a fascination for Low Country cooking and culture and recently visited Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia for brief stops on #theconnectedtableroadtrip. We can’t wait to return and spend more time scoping out the region.
One of our favorite dishes is a spicy Low Country seafood boil. The one pictured below is from Mr. Shucks, a seafood retailer and dine-in restaurant in Brunswick. Local shrimp, corn, sausage, potatoes and- for this dish- a hard boiled egg are cooked, one by one, in a large cauldron of water spiced with Old Bay Seasoning. In Matthew Raiford’s recipe from his cookbook Bress ‘N’ Nyam, beer is added to the boil. His version also includes local blue crab and pearl onions to the dish. We can’t wait to try this one at home!
Seafood boils are one of the easiest dishes to prepare for a dinner party. They are popular along coastal Georgia and the Carolinas (where they are also known as Frogmore stew) as well as in Louisiana. We can’t resist a good crawfish boil in New Orleans.
We visited with Chef-Farmer Matthew Raiford whose ancestors are Gullah Geechee, descendants of slaves who were captured and brought from Africa to the USA to work in the rice, indigo and cotton plantations. Today, Gullah Geechee communities remain an important part of the history and culture of coastal Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida.
Chef Matthew Raiford grew up in Brunswick, Georgia, where his family has had a farm for seven generations. The first parcel of land was purchased by his great-great-great grandfather Jupiter Gilliard more than 150 years ago. In 2011, Raiford’s “Nana” Ophelia handed Raiford the deed to Gilliard Farms during a family reunion.
After being stationed overseas while serving in the U.S. military and then working as a chef in various restaurants following his graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, Raiford was ready to settle down and reclaim his roots in Brunswick. He writes. “I am the prodigal son who returned, only with my arms wide open for the land I thought I had left behind.”
Raiford and his sister, Althea, represent the sixth generation in their family to oversee Gilliard Farms. The Raiford’s ancestors are originally from Cameroon which along with Ghana is known for its rice growing regions. At Gilliard farms, Raiford is planting and harvesting rice, just one example of how he is preserving his African roots.
Raiford and his wife, Tia, also run Strong Roots 9, a variety of holistic brands that value the advancement of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community and a restoration of the mind-body-spirit connection to our natural roots.
In his stunning cookbook, Bress ‘N’ Nyam (2021/Countryman Press) Raiford pays homage to the culinary heritage of the Gullah Geechee and the farms. The term “Bress N Nyam” is Gullah Geechee for “bless and eat.”
The cookbook is filled with reminiscences about the culture Raiford was raised in, the foods the family cooked and the local ingredients, from Sapelo Island red peas and candied yams to Gullah fish stew and Low Country boil.
This Black History Month, we are honored to have Chef-Farmer Matthew Raiford join us to talk about the Gullah Geechee, his family, food and life in low country and his efforts to preserve African-American foodways, from farm to table.
This show was live on Wednesday, February 2nd on W4CY Radio www.W4CY.com although you can listen to the permanent podcast on your favorite platform anytime, including iHeart, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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Feature image: Low Country Boil at Mr. Shucks, Brunswick, GA. Photo credit: David Ransom.