Tombeetime Part Two: Friends and Food on St. Helena
There’s a certain magic that hangs in the humid air of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The palmetto’s swaying gently in the breeze, dancing lazily from across the lawn with the Spanish moss covered live oaks. I can’t imagine a more idyllic setting to kick back on the porch, pour yourself an ice-cold mint julep, complete with Belle Meade Bourbon, and let the sounds and smells of the ocean accompany the sunset.
These perfect evenings defined our restoration of the Tombee plantation and life on St. Helena’s; however, what truly makes this place special are the wonderful people who generously welcomed us into their community and shared their delicious food with us.
On our first trip to the island, our next door neighbors, the Beasley’s, came for a visit. We shared our vision for bringing Tombee to life with them, and from that moment, they became our partners for the next year-and-a-half to make Tombee a wonderful playground for our families and friends.
While we were figuring out the in’s and out’s of fixing up the old house (matching white paint can be a lot harder than it sounds!) I simultaneously made it my goal to learn as much about the culinary scene as possible. I immediately immersed myself in the local food scene which is defined by Gullah Geechee traditions — including specific ways to fish, shrimp, catch crabs and even roast oysters. Cooking true Gullah Geechee cuisine goes so much further than what you do in the kitchen. Every step from the ocean to the table matters.
Speaking of the kitchen, I had the privilege of meeting and cooking with some of the region's most renowned chefs!
For our first dinner party, I invited lifelong St. Helena resident, Chef Archie Robinson, to come and cook with me. Our menu consisted of Fried Chicken, Baked Grouper, Potato Salad, Red Rice and Vinegar Slaw made from Chef Archie’s recipes. I shared my Pool Room Slaw, Roasted Vegetables and Caramel Cake recipes with him. Talk about a mouth-watering spread!
Dishes from dinner!
On a trip to Daufuskie Island, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Sallie Ann Robinson, noted cookbook author, celebrity chef and cultural historian, dedicated to preserving and maintaining Gullah culture. We sat together on her front porch where she so generously shared her family history, cooking experiences and life on the island with me, and at the end of our visit, we swapped cookbooks.
We were also quite lucky that Chef BJ Dennis became a regular visitor and friend. He’s a very soft-spoken guy, but his cooking is louder than life – boldly telling the stories of the Gullah - Geechee culture. Chef BJ is committed to keeping everyday Gullah-Geechee culture thriving by preparing traditional recipes the old-fashioned way. Everything about his process honors his community and offers a true taste of the Low Country.
Tombeetime may be a relaxing place to escape the stress and trouble of the world, but it is very much it’s own world and to not engage with the locals and their culture is to miss out on half of the magic. I can’t express how lucky we’ve been to make friends, break bread and laugh with the wonderful people of the South Carolina coast. More updates soon!