David Lauderdale

The secret to Lowcountry Thanksgiving is pecans

We're trying to figure out what to serve for our Lowcountry Thanksgiving dinner.

Our oysters are on order at the Bluffton Oyster Co. That's probably enough right there. But sweet potatoes are selling cheap. Collard greens never hurt anybody. And winter in the Lowcountry always means fresh pig meat, doesn't it?

A friend is trying to whet our appetites for some hog's head cheese, a delicacy from the era of family hog killin's. If that ain't Lowcountry, I don't know what is. It would fit two primary South Carolina food groups: Foods made of ingredients you don't know, and don't want to know; and foods you can eat with no teeth.

Maybe we'll just stick to bacon in a biscuit, with a smear of cane syrup.

But Thanksgiving in the Lowcountry should always include pecans.

Emory Campbell, speaking to a Leadership Hilton Head class last week about his native Gullah culture, spoke of pecans as the sweet queen of the Lowcountry.

He wondered how long pecans will be able to whisper their secrets to a world now more closely linked to satellites than the old country ways of his childhood.

Every yard had pecan trees, said Campbell.

Hilton Head children used pecans as currency, he said. They collected the nuts by hand, put them in bags and clutched them across the wide water to Savannah. There, they would take them to the City Market, a place they would remember as gigantic and exotic as an Egyptian pyramid. It was a bustling place, brimming with buyers and sellers. The children sold their pecans. With the income, they'd do their Christmas shopping or perhaps treat themselves like old St. Nick.

Campbell told the up-and-coming leaders to keep an eye out for pecan trees on the sea islands. He said they would likely be a remnant of an old family compound.

Campbell noted that we can still see piles of sturdy oyster shells left behind in mysterious rings by the Native Americans who first plied these shores. Oyster shell rings are a monument to a lost culture, a people driven by war and attrition from the Lowcountry three centuries ago.

But for the Gullah culture, which Campbell said is fading into mainstream society, the pecan trees will be long gone 300 years from now. As chairman of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, Campbell is working hard to leave legacies more permanent than a tree.

Meanwhile, there's nothing to stop us from planting pecan trees. Or mixing pecan halves with a little melted butter, salt and a hint of sugar, and warming them up on Thanksgiving day.