David Lauderdale

Lowcountry pickled shrimp guru Harry Flint dies, but he left us the secret ingredient

Chef Harry Flint's passion for cooking for others began when he was a child on James Island near Charleston.
Chef Harry Flint's passion for cooking for others began when he was a child on James Island near Charleston. Submitted

My Lowcountry pickled shrimp recipe has ketchupy, vinegary, sugary splotches all over it, and a lot of writing between the lines.

It's all Chef Harry Flint's fault.

Actually, it's to Harry's everlasting credit that he would tell a total stranger how to make this nectar of the gods that he created so famously that it was served Saturday at the barbecue reception for the late Harry Robert Flint at Rosie O'Grady's Pub in Beaufort.

Harry was only 60 when he died in his sleep May 27. He had failing kidneys, diabetes and all kinds of trouble just breathing between his puffs on a cigarette.

Jeff Summerour, who gave Harry his first job in a professional kitchen, dropped in to see Harry on the night he died.

Harry told him he'd planted 30 shallots that day and a bunch of gold potatoes to go with his peppers and Japanese eggplant. Harry played spades on the internet. Jeff said they watched some TV.

And overnight, the Lowcountry lost one of its brightest spirits.

Barbecue and beurre blanc

Harry grew up on James Island, near Charleston, where his father started a weekly newspaper and was so good with electronics he made their first color TV.

Like his five kids, the man never met a stranger. He took his young boys to a farm in Kingstree where a wild hog would be shot in the morning and slowly cooked over coals that evening.

The love of serving the finer things in life to others seeped into the boys, like the oak smoke that clung to their shirts.

Harry's mother, Elizabeth Knott Flint, grew up in The Point neighborhood in Beaufort, where her father, Charles Knott, was Beaufort's first city manager. He was known for beautifying the city, and Knott Park at the corner of King and East streets is named for him.

Decades later, on the outskirts of town, his grandson Harry planted 52 azaleas over the past year, as well as a grass garden and Zen garden, along with vegetables and herbs that went straight to the table. He grew all the collard greens for his last New Year's Day feast.

Harry's mother was a nurse who worked nights. As a child, Harry learned to cook from his sisters, and it became a passion.

"He would eat up every bit of knowledge he could," said Summerour, a member of the Sea Pines Academy class of 1975. He got his first job in the kitchen at CQ's in Harbour Town and went on to be executive chef at the Doral Country Club in Miami. Harry would go help him serve $1.2 million worth of food in seven days during the annual PGA Tour event there.

Harry helped other chefs and caterers, like he helped me understand pickled shrimp. And he helped the church serve Thanksgiving dinner to all comers every year.

Harry loved to learn new techniques of cooking — in Japan, or in a circle of competitive barbecue teams on sultry Southern nights. Harry was a pitmaster with his Still Smokin' team, and a barbecue judge.

But he also was known for his delicate crabcakes with maybe a beurre blanc sauce, fresh corn salad, grilled asparagus and perhaps a smoked poblano sauce.

"Even a month ago, we were crabbing together," Summerour said.

Secret ingredient

Harry graduated from culinary school, and over the years ran a number of kitchens in the Lowcountry. He was big on presentation, mastering the art of ice sculpture with his chain saw.

I met him near the end of his run as executive chef of the exclusive Haig Point Club on Daufuskie Island. For six years, he commuted from Myrtle Island in Bluffton to Daufuskie in a 17-foot Boston Whaler, learning how to read dark waves beneath a midnight fog on Calibogue Sound.

I met Harry at Haig Point after a charity golf tournament. And that's where I met his pickled shrimp. It was love at first bite. I figured he'd clam up when I asked him how he did it.

He told me to pull out my copy of the "Charleston Receipts Repeats" cookbook published by The Junior League of Charleston. They've sold billions of them. And they've sold zillions of the original, green-covered "Charleston Receipts" cookbook since its debut in 1950.

Harry said he started with the Marinated Shrimp recipe on Page 25, credited to Mrs. C. Capers Smith (Anne Thomas).

And then he told me how he adapted it, right down to making sure I patted the shrimp dry before adding it to the marinade.

The recipe calls for three pounds of shrimp; Harry said make it five. The large onion has to be a red onion sliced thinner than paper, he said. To the one green pepper, add a red one and a yellow one, julienned. Instead of two tablespoons of sugar, make it four. Instead of salt, use Lawry's Seasoning Salt. And Harry said the ketchup absolutely has to be the Del Monte brand.

I told Harry I wanted to serve that exact same thing at the to-do for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. He was tickled by all that. He treated me like I was a millionaire client, or his best friend, and he didn't have to do that at all.

Maybe that was the true secret ingredient to Harry's remarkable life.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale