A bowl of red rice with shrimp and sausage from Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Stories and Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island
Photography by Clay Williams

“Red rice goes back to the old, old days—the days before me, my momma, and hers. Red rice is a beautiful, earthy one-pot rice dish that borrows from the traditions of my African ancestors. Sometimes called Charleston red rice, red rice really owes a great debt to the enslaved Africans who brought their knowledge of rice and vegetable farming to the United States.

Here on Edisto, Wednesdays and Fridays were seafood days. We had shrimp or fish with red rice, so it was something to look forward to. Back in my day, you didn’t use tomato paste and sauce, you used the tomatoes you’d planted in your garden. The tomato paste works just as good, though, and Gullah Geechee red rice is one of the best dishes you can enjoy. Now, red rice can be a tricky thing. If you don’t have enough rice, it will come out like mush. If you have too much rice, you can add water, but the texture will be uneven. Early in the cooking, you want to use your spoon to feel the weight of the rice, and make sure it’s cooking evenly.

Don’t let this dish intimidate you—with well-seasoned vegetables, slices of sausage, and perfectly cooked rice, you’ve just about got yourself a meal. Oh, and when you put some fatback in there? Now you’re talking.”

Excerpt from the new book Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from The Matriarch of Edisto Island, by Emily Meggett, published by Abrams. Text © 2022 Emily Meggett. Photography by Clay Williams.


Serves 8 to 10

  • ½ pound salt pork, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 3 smoked sausages (about 14 ounces)
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons Nature’s Seasons, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice, unrinsed
  1. Fry the salt pork in a large pot over medium heat until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Cut the sausage into bite-size pieces and add to the pot; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and 5 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the crushed red pepper and Nature’s Seasons and stir. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.
  2. Add the rice. Cook, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. If using a rice steamer, transfer the absorbed mixture to the steamer. Cover the steamer, and cook on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed and the rice can be fluffed with a fork. If using a pot, cover the pot and cook over the lowest possible heat, stirring with a fork as needed, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.

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Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island

Author: Emily MeggettThe first major Gullah Geechee cookbook from "the matriarch of Edisto Island," who provides delicious recipes and the history of an overlooked American communityThe history of the Gullah and Geechee people stretches back centuries, when enslaved members of this community were historically isolated from the rest of the South because of their location on the Sea Islands of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Today, this Lowcountry community represents the most direct living link to the traditional culture, language, and foodways of their West African ancestors. Gullah Geechee Home Cooking, written by Emily Meggett, the matriarch of Edisto Island, is the preeminent Gullah cookbook. At 89 years old, and with more than 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Meggett is a respected elder in the Gullah community of South Carolina. She has lived on the island all her life, and even at her age, still cooks for hundreds of people out of her hallowed home kitchen. Her house is a place of pilgrimage for anyone with an interest in Gullah Geechee food. Meggett's Gullah food is rich and flavorful, though it is also often lighter and more seasonal than other types of Southern cooking. Heirloom rice, fresh-caught seafood, local game, and vegetables are key to her recipes for regional delicacies like fried oysters, collard greens, and stone-ground grits. This cookbook includes not only delicious and accessible recipes, but also snippets of the Meggett family history on Edisto Island, which stretches back into the 19th century. Rich in both flavor and history, Meggett's Gullah Geechee Home Cooking is a testament to the syncretism of West African and American cultures that makes her home of Edisto Island so unique.About the AuthorMeggett, Emily: – Emily Meggett is the 87-year-old matriarch of the Gullah community on Edisto Island, South Carolina. She has been featured on television and in print by PBS, the Food Network, Bon Appétit, Eater, and NPR. She is also a member of the family who was raised in the Point of Pines cabin, a 19th-century slave cabin from Edisto Island that has been relocated to Washington, DC, as the central exhibit of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Her website is www.motheroftheisland.com/. Meggett lives in Edisto Island, South Carolina.

  • Excerpt From
    Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from The Matriarch of Edisto Island, by Emily Meggett, published by Abrams. Text © 2022 Emily Meggett. Photography by Clay Williams.
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