Walk into the living room of Johnnie James, and you’ll find that family pictures abound.
There are photos of her with a sibling, of her with her two daughters — Gwen Bampfield, the baby girl, and Ethel Denmark, the firstborn. Then there is a picture of Barbara Lee and Janie Whitfield, two women who wanted to be her daughters.
Truly a Lowcountry lady, James was born one of 13 children to John Quincy and Estella English Watts in Fairfax. After the death of her father, she walked about three miles to attend school. The family eventually moved to Hampton and lived in a house on the grounds of what is now Ethel’s Restaurant. She continued to attend the Huspah School and has fond memories of her time there.
The Huspah School was a little wooden building with two classrooms. The teachers were the Rev. C.E. Walker, also the pastor of Huspah Baptist Church, and Ms. Smith, who taught James how to play basketball. Her schooling would continue in Savannah until an educator, Lucy Hughes, recruited her to attend Mather School in Beaufort.
The tuition to attend Mather School was $6 a month, which was a hardship for her mother.
James is one of the oldest living graduates of Mather School and recently led the bell-ringing on Mather Day at Technical College of the Lowcountry.
In 1937, she attended South Carolina State University for a semester, and met and married James Howard Bampfield, a native of Yemassee. She would leave school to begin a family, moving to Beaufort, where she remained for 16 years. She would join her husband in New York and then return to Hampton after the birth of her second daughter, Gwen.
James was encouraged to return to college, and that she did, graduating from Claflin College in 1957. She would begin her teaching career at Dale School, where she worked until an opening in Hampton County became available.
Known for her smile and giving heart, James was seen as a mother to many. Her daughters’ friends became her daughters and considered her home as their home.
When James returned from a much-deserved vacation to Jamaica, she found that Barbara Lee had moved in. Lee remained a member of the household for five years.
Every Friday, which was her day off, James fried up the best golden brown shrimp and fish, served with red rice on the side. Every Saturday morning, beginning at 6, without fail, her Clorox cleaning ritual would begin. She did not have to call anyone to help, as there was enough noise to awaken all from their sleep.
For the celebration of her 97th birthday, an open house was held in her honor. To be sure, she doesn’t seem older than 70. She walks unaided and prepares dinner each Sunday for the pastor and any members of Huspah Baptist Church who wish to eat at her home.
Nonnie, as she is affectionately called, is a remarkable woman who has accomplished so much and who has given so much of herself to her family and friends.
March is Women’s History Month, and today I salute Johnnie Elizabeth Bampfield James, a trailblazer and example for all. And I share with you recipes from her kitchen.
Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition.
Shrimp and Sausage Rice
2 cups cooked rice
1 pound medium shrimp, cooked peeled and deveined
2 pounds Polish smoked sausage, cut in 1/4-inch slices
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients and place in baking dish. Cover and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
Sour Cream Pound Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup self-rising flour
1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
1 8-ounce container sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heavily grease and flour a 10-inch tube cake pan. In a medium bowl or on a piece of waxed paper, sift together the all-purpose flour, self-rising flour and pudding mix.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the evaporated milk. Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla, beating until combined.
Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Turn onto rack to cool.
Smoked rib tips
Onion, finely chopped
Celery, finely chopped
Green pepper, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Cook meats (bacon ends and smoked rib tips) until done. Add tomato paste, onion, celery, green pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Cook rice. Mix well with all ingredients, including sausage that has been diced. Put in baking dish and cook in oven at 350 degrees until all ingredients are heated through.