The breathtaking beauty of the Carolina Lowcountry is sometimes difficult to describe. It is oak trees draped with Spanish moss, the sounds of birds chirping and a butterfly that catches your eye.
I've traveled around our area quite a bit and always marvel at the low-lying places -- the submerged sand dunes bearing unmistakable evidence of having once been beaches and the areas where cotton, indigo and rice were grown. If cotton was king, then rice was the crown jewel of the area. It dominated the local economy into the mid-19th century.
The Lowcountry is cut across with the many rivers and streams that bring down waters to mingle with the salty tides from the sea. As the coastal rivers approach the sea, the slow-moving waters are halted twice each day by the tide. It is this movement that causes the fish of the area to swim along the banks of deserted rice fields today, allowing people to "throw a line" there.
The area's fishermen have learned many lessons in these tides and have tales to tell of good and bad times, of living and dying, of hoping for a better tomorrow. Their stories are romantic and look back at a glorious past.
While traveling during the summer, one can see the work of local farmers -- fields of tomatoes, peanuts, corn. But gone are the days when there were miles and miles of trees. Now, you're more likely to see trucks hauling logs, making way for development.
The words of the Negro Spiritual "Better Days Are Comin' By and By" come to mind -- it's changes and struggles, it's building and tearing down, it's remembering and forgetting.
But with all the comings and goings, some food dishes remain the same.
3 chicken breasts
1 cup rice, cooked
1 can mixed vegetables
1 onion, chopped
1 can cream chicken soup
1 can water chestnuts
1 cup butter
Boil chicken breasts. Make rice. Pull chicken off the bone, and mix it with cooked rice, mixed vegetables, chopped onion, chicken soup and chestnuts in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a casserole dish, and cook for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
Makes: 8 servings
1 1/2 cups dried field peas
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
4 medium onions, sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Soak peas overnight in 2 quarts water. Cook peas until tender in same water. Add cooked rice, onion, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Spoon into a 2 quart casserole dish, and bake, covered at 350 degrees, for about 30 minutes.
1 large onion, finely sliced
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 very ripe medium tomatoes, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried parsley leaves
1/4 teaspoon saffron
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup long-grain or Basmati rice
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Simmer the onions in 2 tablespoons of the oil until they are golden. Add the garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley and saffron. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Season the dish with salt, pepper, allspice and chili powder.
Boil the rice. Strain rice into a sieve, and keep it warm over a pot of boiling water.
Add the shrimp to the tomato mixture, and cook, covered, over high heat for 3 minutes. Stir the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and parsley into the rice.
Arrange the rice in a ring on plate and place the shrimp in the middle.