David Lauderdale

Lauderdale: Lowcountry food gets its day in the sun

Mack Lowther sells seafood by his daughter’s beauty shop in Ridgeland.
Mack Lowther sells seafood by his daughter’s beauty shop in Ridgeland. Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage

“Eat what is set before you.”

I remember Mama saying that in my childhood.

It was more seethed than said to whiny kids not satisfied with dinner.

Now our world has come full circle. We eat everything set before us, and then some.

And there is a great movement afoot today to know more about what is set before us. Where did it come from, how did it get here, and why?

It’s appropriate that an upcoming celebration of Lowcountry food will take place in a former Sinclair gas station on U.S. 17 in Ridgeland.

Lowcountry food can be like the bulgy sedans that used to pull into the old gas station on the two-lane blacktop to Florida.

You may not know where it came from or where it’s going, but you can sure serve it well while it is set before you.

The Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage is hosting a community cook-off April 30, when it opens its new exhibit: “Roots: The Lowdown on Lowcountry Cuisine.”

Lowcountry stew and barbecue will be featured in the cooking contest.

Lowcountry stew, which I know as Frogmore Stew, was chosen because it best tells the story of Lowcountry cuisine.

It’s from all over. It reflects many cultures. It brings people together.

Annmarie Reiley-Kay, director of the center, said, “When we talk about these food stories, we talk about how the different communities they represent contribute to each other.”

The sausage reflects the Spanish who are credited with bringing in the swine. The corn represents the Native Americans. The seasonings are a taste of the Caribbean influence in the Lowcountry. And the shrimp come from many cultures, to include the net-making of the Gullah, and the trawlers of the Portuguese, and the john boats and bateaux of many Lowcountry families.

A picture of Mack Lowther will be in the exhibit. He sells shrimp and fish from his pickup parked outside his daughter’s beauty shop in Ridgeland, Southern Styles.

A grant from South Carolina Humanities helped make the exhibit possible.

Food fusion is another way to look at it, Reiley-Kay said. It will show that we’re wrong about where some things come from, and that foodways are constantly evolving.

John Martin Taylor, “Hoppin’ John,” will speak at 1 p.m. He wrote the bible on Lowcountry food, “Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking.” He will be followed by a panel discussion on Lowcountry food, including Sallie Ann Robinson, Gulah chef Benjamin “BJ” Dennis, Pat Branning and Ellen Malphrus.

So you can stir it all around and come out with a festive day at what used to be Sinclair gas station with a sweetgrass basketmaker, a saxophone player, a man making crab nets and another making hoppin’ john, a food truck with boiled peanuts and barbecued chicken called Roy’s Nutz & Butz.

And in the end, the Lowcountry folk will be doing what they’ve always done: eating what is set before them.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale