At the Table

Cook the Book: Gullah Geechee Home Cooking

By: Erin Byers Murray

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks of holiday entertaining. I hosted family for Christmas and then traveled to visit more family. It was, in short, a lot of cooking. And while there were a slew of cookbooks from professional chefs and recipe developers that arrived last year touting fail-proof ideas and dishes for entertaining, the book I kept turning to was Emily Meggett’s Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island—her straightforward, unfussy, easy-to-pull-off recipes fit right into my classic Southern holiday spread. 

GullahGeecheeFINAL Cover

Meggett was a home cook at every point of her life—as she was growing up, as a mother of 10 children, and as a professional cook for a family that wasn’t her own. Meanwhile, she cooked for anyone and everyone she came across (and still does!)—the plumber, neighbors, friends on the beach. Her mantra is to always cook a little extra and give something away. And she never arrives anywhere empty-handed (a rule of thumb that felt especially prescient during the holidays). Her recipes read that way, too. Many of her dishes feed 10 or more, another bonus when you’re hosting a group. “I cook big,” she writes, and this time of year, I think we all should, too.  

Another detail about her book that I find refreshing is that she encourages you to put your senses to work. Some recipes don’t include exact measurements because she thinks you should trust yourself and your preferences, especially when it comes to seasoning and spice. To me, that’s how recipes should be written—the guidelines and specifics are there, but you should always leave a little room to allow the user to adjust, tweak, or play. Plus, she reminds us, “If something doesn’t work, you can always try again, just like I have.” 

Being a lifelong resident of Edisto Island, South Carolina, Meggett’s dishes lean heavy on seafood and Southern staples. Think: Oyster stew, fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, and baked cheese grits. She offers instructions for easy, weeknight casseroles as well as feed-a-crowd frogmore stew. I found myself flagging her comforting classics, like chicken perloo, shrimp rice, and meatloaf, which I’ll dig into over the upcoming wintery months. I pulled out her recipe for a new potato casserole and her pecan-filled chewies over the holidays—and, because I love spending time in the Lowcountry, I can try my hand at her coveted recipe for deviled crab for when I’m not there.

Not just a cookbook for the holidays, Gullah Geechee Home Cooking is quickly becoming my go-to book for comforting, simple home cooking, any day of the year. 

Meggett’s Gullah Geechee Recipes That We Can’t Stop Cooking

A bowl of red rice with shrimp and sausage from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily Meggett

Red Rice 

Meggett professes a love for fatback, which she calls for in this dish—do not substitute, as it adds a layered dimension of smoke and salt to this perfect one-pot meal. 

Platter of crab cakes from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily Meggett

Crab Cakes 

These are total crowd-pleasers (and the measurements here are going to serve many), especially thanks to the addition of mace, which she rightfully claims sharpens the flavor of the crab. 

Platter of Chicken Perloo from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily Meggett

Chicken Perloo 

A cousin to both Ghanaian jollof rice and Spanish paella, this Lowcountry classic might is fast becoming my family’s new Monday night routine.  

Emily Meggett's benne cookies from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking

Benne Cookies 

I love the toasty, roasty notes of the benne seeds in this classic Carolina wafer cookie; this is definitely a recipe to make and share throughout the year. 

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