Tag Archives: Low Country Backyard

Gullah & More Backyard Eatin’

Gullah culture survived on Hilton Head from the end of the Civil War period to the 1960’s when it started to deteriorate. A bridge from the main land to this barrier island brought the outside in. Developers followed and Gullah peoples, who once owned 1/3 of the Island given to them by Union troops, now own less than 1000 acres.

Originating in West Africa, Gullah people were enslaved and brought to South Carolina by the British, where they were ideally suited to work the island’s rice, indigo, sugar cane and sea cotton crops as they had some immunity to the diseases that ravaged the area as well as knowledge about herbs and medicines to treat yellow fever and malaria. There are no grand plantation homes on Hilton Head as British plantation owners preferred to live in a less plagued environment.

Union troops descended during the Civil War. 1700 of them are buried on Hilton Head. Escaped slaves were considered property and spoils of war. Contrabands. They were paid to work, and children were educated, but they were not exactly freedmen until the emancipation proclamation issued by President Lincoln, January 1, 1863.

Hilton Head offers a tour of Gullah lands and culture. It was very disheartening to see how little of this rich culture survives. In our lifetime it has all but disappeared. Gullahs survived as a hunting, farming and fishing community for 100  years before modern development overtook them. Still, today, some of their language and food culture persists.

Our tour guide and driver Irvin is Gullah. We chose this particular tour because of him. Irvin, one of 13 kids and a Viet Nam veteran, is living history. He remembers when you could look from the coastal waters clear across to the Atlantic. When he is gone pretty much so will anyone who remembers the old ways. His family for the most part has held on to their Gullah lands. They own a good chunk of Spanish Wells. As he drove past golf cottages, manicured medians, retirement villas, he painted a vivid picture of his boyhood and what used to be there. There is nothing left to see but a few delightful homes his relatives own, their gardens and their kitschy yards filled with doodads and portraits of Jesus and the like. Offensive enough to newcomers that they were asked to please fence them in.

After we get back to the bus depot, the Basket Man, Micheal Smalls, is sitting in the shade weaving sweetgrass baskets.  “Sweetgrass is a fine bladed, sweet vanilla fragranced perennial grass that grows behind coastal sand dunes in moist soils.” says Wikipedia. Coils of dried sweetgrass are sewn together with palmetto threads. Beautifully crafted, the baskets are a much sought after Low Country art form. Basket Man says it takes him about three days to complete one piece. I had noticed the baskets in the gift shop before the tour left. I had to have one. It was a treat to get off of the bus and find the artist there.

After saying goodbye to Irvin, we head once again to the Low Country Backyard for a lateish lunch. We so enjoyed our dinner last evening we decided to hit it up again as their sammy menu was so appealing. So many items look great on this creative menu, available all day. We opt to order and split a Nancy’s Tomato Sandwich and a Shrimp Burger. We have a choice of two sides and go with Mom’s Macaroni Salad and Collards. Ice tea, half and half (half sweet, half unsweet for the win) for me and Diet Coke for the man. Moonshine is legal in South Carolina and the Low Country  Backyard has a good selection but we opt out as we would like to get to DC at some point.

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The tomato sandwich comes lightly toasted on excellent white bread. Made with perfect, ripe, juicy South Carolina tomatoes, mayo and iceberg lettuce, this is the perfect hot day lunch. The macaroni salad is unremarkable except for pieces of green olive which are quite nice.

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Collard greens are often overcooked or too greasy with pork fat. Backyard’s collards are the BEST EVER collards. Perfectly cooked, not over stewed, lightly sweet and sour. The Shrimp Burger will absolutely make you forget that beef burgers were ever a thing. A patty of chopped, seasoned shrimp served up in a soft, eggy bun topped with more of those South Carolina tomatoes, mayo, lettuce and butter pickle, this is a world class sammy.

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The pickles are homemade and remarkable in that they are the perfect balance of salty and sweet. They come on the side but Rob slipped them onto the burger.

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Lunch is a nice size, leaving room to share the home made Banana Pudding we regretfully skipped last evening. Sweet, creamy pudding with chunks of just ripe banana on a shortbread cookie base and a dollop of lightly sweet whipped cream. Perfect. Now a swim and some afternoon sun.

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I wanna go back for dinner, but they will think I’m a stalker.

As it turns out it is a lovely evening to sit pool/oceanside and The Porch restaurant in the hotel, independently operated, has decent food. We order a pitcher of peach sangria made with peachshine and cava and fruit purees. Icy cold and perfect for watching the sun set. We order a few apps to chill with before deciding on dinner.

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The house made pickle is creative and spicy with chilies. The pickle has a varied veg mix, including cauliflower, chiogga beet, asparagus, grape, carrots and a pepper.

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The hot out of the oven, served in a well seasoned cast iron pan, corn bread was perfectly sweet and the spicy pimiento cheese was a nice foil.

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Since we ate leisurely watching the sun and sea, we were not overly hungry so we ordered the half rack of ribs. Slowed cooked for 8 hours, they were very decent BBQ. Came with a spicy and a sweet bbq sauce as well as a honey mustard. The bourbon beans had neither bourbon nor were they home made, Libby’s I suspect but none-the-less tasty, as I prefer a sweeter bean. Coleslaw was decent and the soft, hot rolls were excellent.

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Tomorrow we start our trek north to Charleston.

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RT2014: Hilton Head Island, SC

Today is a lazy day. Sleep in, grab a leisurely hotel breakfast, gas up and hit the road for Hilton Head, a mere one hour drive away. We cross over the sky high Talmadge Memorial Bridge into South Carolina. Not much to see at first, scrub, strip clubs, swamps and a few ibis. Very rural. Soon pretty, small bungalows pop up beside run down trailers and farm equipment. We enter a scenic byway which becomes a dappled drive on a country two-laner. Tall pines, live oaks, banks of horsetail ferns, palmettos, mailboxes, rail fences and American flags line the road. This very pleasant drive turns to beautifully manicured medians and stores and services housed in tidy little one story homogenous buildings as we get closer to the resort areas of Hilton Head. When we arrive at our home for the next two nights, they are not quite ready so we grab a drink at the Tiki Hut. It’s close to 90 degrees. We spend the rest of the afternoon in leisure, swimming, reading and drinking coconut-pineapple mojitos.

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Dinner tonight is at the aptly named Low Country Backyard. We are seated outside at the bar in what looks like someone’s backyard. Very homey.

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Staff is pleasant and helpful. Kim, who is looking after us is knowledgeable about the local beers. I’m trying the Blonde Bottletree, a white that is less citrusy than Blue Moon and Rob is having the Palmetto, a full-on lager.

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We have a warm, gentle breeze at our backs and a live musician cranking out Neil Diamond, Buffalo Springfield, Lobo and the ubiquitous Margaritaville. All very pleasant. The menu is creative and everything is home made to order. We try two apps, Blue May Crab Dip and the Pimento cheese. Both come with crisp corn chips and soft pita wedges. The melty, cheesy crab dip is delicate and tasty, while the pimiento lacks much needed heat and is made with both cheddar and cream cheeses instead of just cheddar. It’s decent enough especially when spiced up with a little hot sauce.

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I’m having the Shrimp and Grits. I can’t wait until we get to Myrtle beach where I know I will have some fine shrimp and grits at Mr. Fish. Low Country Backyard’s grits are white grits, impossible to find in Ottawa. They are creamy and well seasoned. The shrimp are sautèed in an applewood bacon cream sauce which I find a tad salty and served up on top. This classic also has a few coins of a very good smoked sausage tossed in.

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Rob has ordered the Potato Chip Meatloaf. It is accompanied by his choice of sides, a delicious coleslaw with apples and raisins and a rather dry piece of corn bread. Unfortunately, corn bread is one of those things that stales fast and must be served hot out of the oven. If you don’t turn it over fast enough, don’t serve it. Portions are not huge but they are substantial. The meatloaf is made with beef, pork and potato chip crumbs instead of bread crumbs, and then glazed with a home-made BBQ sauce. The potato chips aren’t noticeable but we’re sure they amp up the calorie count. It was very good meatloaf, however.

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No room for that delicious looking home made banana pudding. We finish up our local beers and listen to the kids playing the home made games in the Backyard.

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