Culinary Blessings

Heritage recipes shine in Matthew Raiford’s Gullah Geechee cookbook

Photography by SIOBHAN EGAN

“IT IS TRADITION among the Gullah Geechee that when we need answers, we turn to the wisdom of the ancestors, our source,” Matthew Raiford writes in the introduction to his new cookbook, Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth Generation Farmer. “And just as I returned to my source, Gilliard Farms, to follow my life’s calling, I have organized the recipes in this book according to their elemental beginnings: earth, water, fire, wind, nectar and spirits.”

The Gullah phrase “Bress ‘n’ Nyam” translates to “bless and eat.” And self-titled “CheFarmer” (chef and farmer) Raiford, along with his co-author Amy Paige Condon, truly blesses us with this exquisite more-than-just-a-cookbook. Although Raiford’s delectable recipes could easily stand alone, he chooses to create a window into his heritage and the Gullah Geechee culture. Raiford introduces us to his great-great-great grandfather, Jupiter Gilliard, descended from the Tikar people and born into slavery in 1812. After emancipation, Jupiter began assembling property 15 miles west of Brunswick (most likely deserted or sold off by white slave owners), breaking and tilling the land and growing crops with his wife, Riner. 

Raiford tells of the generations since, about their (and his own) journeys away from and back to Gilliard Farms. He shares history from the region and stories from his own life. He intersperses interesting tidbits, like the difference between sweet potatoes and yams and the meaning of our term “Lowcountry.” He even shares where he sources his ingredients, to “lift up and honor the good work of people in our region who work hard daily to harvest wholesome, organic food.” The pages are filled with striking images of ancestors, artifacts, the Spanish moss-covered land, Raiford’s harvest. No wonder it’s an Amazon Editors’ Pick for one of the Best Books of 2021 So Far.


“Thinking about our food and foodways on the coast of Georgia is exciting, and I wanted to show its diversity, that Gullah Geechee wasn’t a monolith.” — Matthew Raiford


“I wanted to write a cookbook with a sense of place,” Raiford shares, in a voice as rich as his Molasses and Stone Fruit Gelato. “Thinking about our food and foodways on the coast of Georgia is exciting, and I wanted to show its diversity, that Gullah Geechee wasn’t a monolith. The food along this 100 miles of coast has always been amazing, the breadth of all these things that come from our area.” This ultimately led Raiford to share his recipes according to the elements, illustrating the way he and his ancestors feel about the land.

Elemental recipes from the different sections of the book include Cowpea Salad and Potlikker Goobers (Eart/Earth); Effie’s Shrimp Creole, named for Raiford’s mother (De Wata/Water); Smoked Ossabaw Island Hog, which Raiford warns is “not for the faint of heart” (Fiah/Fire);  Rose Petal Quail and Dark Wing Duck with Almost Rum Orange Glaze (Win’/Wind); Blackberry Doobie and Magic Cobbler (Sweet’n/Nectar); and Coastal Dreams Spritzer and Buttery Scotch (De Spirits/Spirits).

“There’s a Gullah Geechee gin in the book, and 90 percent of the botanicals that go into that drink come from our farm,” Raiford explains of that last element. He also has another, more lighthearted definition for De Spirit/Spirits: “They’re anything that would get you up to dance around and do a jook.” 


CURRIED VEGETABLE GALETTE

p. 62 Bress ‘n’ Nyam, Serves 4 to 6
As Raiford writes in his book, meat wasn’t always readily available, so vegetables were often “the stars on our tables.” He recommends serving this curry alongside the book’s watermelon steak salad with heirloom tomatoes and sangria vinaigrette “for a balance of sweet and savory sensations.” 

FOR THE GALETTE DOUGH
2 c. all-purpose flour
½ c. finely ground white cornmeal
1 tsp. Spike herb seasoning mix
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
½ c. ice water

FOR THE CURRIED VEGETABLES
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, julienned
1 small eggplant, julienned
1 purple potato, thinly sliced
1 tsp. yellow curry powder
½ tsp. pink Himalayan salt
2 tbsp. cashew butter

1. Combine the flour, cornmeal, herb seasoning and salt in a medium bowl. Using two forks or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.

2. Add ¼ cup of the water and knead with your hands until the mixture turns into a dough. Add a tablespoon of water at a time until the dough is lightly tacky. Wrap the dough in plastic and place in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the galette.

3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil until fine wisps of smoke appear. Add the onion and eggplant, and sauté until the onions
start to caramelize. Add the potatoes, curry, and salt and sauté for another minute. Remove the vegetables from the heat.

4. Place the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 425?F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and roll it out into a ½-inch-think round on a lightly floured surface. Spread the dough with cashew butter, leaving a ½ inch border around the edges, then spoon the prepared vegetables over the butter.

5. Fold the edges of the dough over the vegetables to create a rustic crust. Place the galette on the prepared baking sheet and bake the galette for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

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