By Chef Joseph Lowery

One of the strong influences in American cooking today is actually one of the older food traditions in the US. The term “Low-Country” refers to the costal plains and Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The climate, history, location and cultural identity of this area have all combined to create a remarkable example of “fusion” cuisine.

Fusion is a word that we see often describing the amalgamation of different cultural and cooking traditions in restaurants across the country. Today’s chefs do have incredible resources from which to draw their inspirations. However, the phenomenon of fusion cuisine has really been occurring ever since the first immigrants combined their ideas of cooking and eating with the foods they found in the new world.

Although there are similarities between Low-Country cuisine and other styles of southern cooking, it is the presence of the Gullah culture that gives the area its historical uniqueness. The Gullah, also known as Geeche are descendents of slaves brought from Western and Central Africa. They are recognized for having preserved more of their unique cultural history than any other African-American community and as such, are a source of pride for all African-Americans. Resort development along the coast has posed certain threats but fortunately this unique part of American heritage continues to thrive.

This includes maintaining their distinctive dialect, craft traditions and a living and vibrant approach to cooking and eating. The Gullah culture is known for their storytelling, music, quilt making and most especially basket making. Using locally harvested sweet grass, palmetto leaves, longleaf pine needles and black rush marsh grass, they produce beautiful coiled baskets, prized by collectors.

It is however, their culinary achievements that are having such an impact on contemporary American cooking. This is not only obvious in the fine dining establishments of Charleston and Savannah but the widespread appearance of such dishes as Shrimp n’ Grits on menus all across the country. In 1976, grits were actually declared the official state food of South Carolina.

There are many foods brought from Africa that are now associated with Southern eating habits and also cooking techniques. Techniques coupled with available foods resulting in many dishes that would be familiar to just about any southerner. Even foods that did not originate from Africa have become part of the Gullah experience thanks to their methods of preparation and cooking.

There is a long list of Gullah influenced food, besides Shrimp n’ Grits such as She-crab soup, Okra gumbo, Hoppin’ John, Frogmore Stew, boiled peanuts, collard greens and many other examples of one-pot dishes. Today the Low-Country of South Carolina is a hot spot of traditional Gullah cooking and Gullah inspired crossover innovations. We have even seen sushi rolled in collard leaves instead of nori. Rice is and always has been a dominate element in low-country cuisine. Many African-Americans came from rice growing areas of West Africa and at one time the low-country was covered by thousands of acres of rice producing plantations.

As part of Avanti Savoia’s commitment to search out “culinary treasures from around the world” we are excited to introduce you to the fine products from Low Country Produce, a small South Carolina business that specializes in high-quality relishes, chutneys, sauces, preserves, and pickles made in the old fashioned southern way. We think that you will appreciate these slow cooked, hand packed, all natural products as much as we do.

We highly recommend the intensely flavored Blackberry Preserves and zippy Garlic Pepper Jelly. When we tasted the Sweet Potato Butter we found it not only fantastic, but a perfect interpretation of the low-country tradition. Are you a fan of homemade pickles? We are and we think you will love this line of Sweet Pickles, Sweet Pickles with Jalapeño, Pickled Okra (a special southern treat), Pickled Garlic and Dilly Beans. We complete this rainbow of flavors with Peach Salsa, Tomato Sauces, Chutney, Artichoke Relish and Red Tomato Chow Chow.

In the south, serving Chow Chow relish alongside a pot of beans is a long standing tradition. Low Country Produce’s In House Chef, Maggie Radzwiller recommends adding this Red Tomato Chow Chow to homemade pimento cheese spread or to turkey or ham sandwiches. The chef also recommends the tomato sauces as a base for quick versions of Italian favorites such as Puttanesca and Fra Diavlo sauces. In a particularly creative expression Chef Radzwiller purees her Colonial Chutney with brandy, Marsala or Madeira wine for a sensational sauce with pork or game.

Whether you are a long standing connoisseur of low-country fare or just beginning to appreciate this historic cuisine, we know that you will be charmed by the great offerings from Low Country Produce.

Browse Avanti Savoia's Low Country products...