Today marks Juneteenth, the day when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, over two years after the proclamation had been issued on January 1, 1863. This year, Juneteenth celebrations are especially poignant across America. Though initially most popular in Texas, celebrations commemorating Juneteenth have spread throughout African-American communities in the US, incorporating regional foodways along the way. A dish from the African Diaspora Gullah community in the South Carolina lowcountry and sea islands that is perfect for any Juneteenth celebration is the Benne wafer. Benne wafers have deep roots in African cuisine, and their name comes from the Bantu language group word for sesame seed. After being brought over from Africa, sesame was cultivated in the South Carolina lowcountry by enslaved Africans. The African-American Gullah community created and popularized these cookies using the fruits of the sesame crop, and they are now a staple of lowcountry cooking (and can be either savory or sweet). Benne wafers are easy and delicious to make at home, and you can try sweet recipes from King Arthur Flour, Simply Recipes and Serious Eats. You can also make a savory version of Benne wafers, like these recipes from Edna Lewis and Toni Tipton-Martin. I tried the Simply Recipes version (the result of which you can see below) and we love them!
Tag Archives: Gullah cuisine
Benne Wafers for Juneteenth
BBQ Tour: Gullah Grub in the Sea Islands
877 Sea Island Parkway (Route. 21)
Saint Helena Island, SC
We spent one of our first days in SC visiting the Penn Center, a Gullah museum and research center dedicated to the African-American populations of the coastal lowcountry. The Gullah cultivated a unique culture with a distinct language, and of course a distinct cuisine, so we figured if we were in Gullah country we should definitely try some Gullah food.
Gullah Grub is located in an old wooden house on a somewhat busy road, right before the turnoff that leads you further out to sea (and the Penn Center). There’s no AC, but the place managed to stay relatively cool, courtesy of overhead fans working double time. As we entered we were greeted to a cozy interior dotted with knickknacks and mismatched tables and chairs – reminiscent of the living room of a southern Grandma. Perhaps best of all, as soon as we sat down, a plate of free cornbread (and excellent cornbread at that) was plunked down in front of us. Both of us ordered Sweet Tea ($2) to accompany our lunches, which came served in Mason jars with unlimited refills.
The menu consisted of mainly Southern favorites. Fried chicken and BBQ ribs seemed to be popular choices, but the menu boasted some more unusual items as well, including a fried shark-n-shrimp dinner ($17.50). Sharks are not uncommon in these coastal parts, we suppose. Not in the mood for shark, L ordered the BBQ Chicken ($8.50). It came with a side of potato salad and a generous slathering of red, vinegary Carolina -style sauce. Despite the heat, M was feeling the soup, and he asked our waiter if he would recommend either the gumbo or the She Crab Soup. He replied that “Well, they are both good, but the gumbo is healthier.” M therefore, made a beeline for the she-crab soup ($6 for a medium bowl/$9 for a large). True to our waiter’s word, the She Crab soup was creamy, filling and delicious.
We had heard that the service was especially slow, however, our meal moved along at a good pace, even with a big party table ordering right ahead of us. The vibe of our late lunch was laid back and friendly, the food was good and this was the only place we’ve ever actually had drinks out of jelly jars. Eating in the little wooden house, sipping on Sweet Tea, we felt completely transported.