Corn fed the Indians of the Lowcountry long before Europeans came; it has been cultivated here since time immemorial. Rice, which shaped the culture in the Lowcountry for more than two hundred years, is so deeply a part of the local kitchen that it appears at the Lowcountry table for very nearly every meal, even though we are now two generations removed from its last cultivation here.

When the rest of the world eats potatoes and pasta, we Sandlappers eat grits and rice. It is true that Lowcountry cooks pride themselves on excellent pommes frites, but that is really because we know, as do the Chinese, how to fry. We serve grits, rice, and/or hushpuppies with fried fish. In older manuscripts and cookbooks from the area, recipes calling for potatoes often mean sweet potatoes. The white and the sweet potato are seldom used in our cooking as the basic starch or foundation—only in a few soups and stews do they provide ballast. Even modern potato or pasta salads, ubiquitous at picnics, are just side dishes, typically American but not particularly southern. Barbecue is served with rice. Rice is served at Thanksgiving. Grits are always served on Christmas morning. And, again like the Chinese, children learn early on how to cook rice. It’s as natural here as learning to swim.

In this section