Taste the StateSouth Carolina's Signature Foods, Recipes, and Their Stories

From the influence of 1920s fashion on asparagus growers to an heirloom watermelon lost and found, Taste the State abounds with surprising stories from South Carolina’s singularly rich food tradition. Here, Kevin Mitchell and David S. Shields present engaging profiles of eighty-two of the state’s most distinctive ingredients, such as Carolina Gold rice, Sea Island White Flint corn, and the cone-shaped Charleston Wakefield cabbage, and signature dishes, such as shrimp and grits, chicken bog, okra soup, Frogmore stew, and crab rice. These portraits, illustrated with original photographs and historical drawings, provide origin stories and tales of kitchen creativity and agricultural innovation. Historical “receipts” and modern recipes, including Chef Mitchell’s distillation of traditions in Hoppin’ John fritters, okra and crab stew, are also provided.

Because Carolina cookery combines ingredients and cooking techniques of three greatly divergent cultural traditions, there is more than a little novelty and variety in the food. In Taste the State Mitchell and Shields celebrate the contributions of Native Americans (hominy grits, squashes, beans), the Gullah Geechee (field peas, okra, guinea squash, rice, sorghum), and European settlers (garden vegetables, grains, pigs, cattle) in the mixture of ingredients and techniques that would become Carolina cooking. They also explore the specialties of every region—the famous rice and seafood dishes of the Lowcountry; the Pee Dee’s catfish and pinebark stews; the smothered cabbage, pumpkin chips, and mustard-based barbecue of the Dutch Fork and Orangeburg; the red chicken stew of the midlands; and the chestnuts, chinquapins, and corn bread recipes of the mountainous Upstate.

Taste the State presents the cultural histories of native ingredients and showcases the evolution of the dishes and the variety of preparations that have emerged. This is true Carolina cooking in all of its cultural depth, historical vividness, and sumptuous splendor—from the simple home cooking of sweet potato pone to Lady Baltimore cake worthy of a Charleston society banquet.

Kevin Mitchell is the first African American chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston in South Carolina. He has culinary arts degrees in occupational studies and management from the Culinary Institute of America and a master’s degree in southern studies from the University of Mississippi, where he studied Southern foodways, the preservation of Southern ingredients, and the history of African Americans in the culinary arts. In 2020 Mitchell was named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador.

David S. Shields is Carolina Distinguished Professor of the English Language and Literature Department at the University of South Carolina and the chair of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation. He is the author of numerous books, including Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine and The Culinarians: Lives and Careers from the First Age of American Fine Dining, and the recipient of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award.

Taste the State is a love letter to my ancestral state’s disproportionate contribution to our national and global culinary genius. With the dual forces of a passionate chef-scholar and a rigorous and ebullient culinary historian and master of letters, the Palmetto State has found the perfect team to render a splendid volume dedicated to its cuisine.”—Michael Twitty, James Beard Award winning author of The Cooking Gene

“Take an award-winning chef and add a seasoned heritage foodways scholar; blend (equal parts) centuries of South Carolina cooking and agricultural history; and voila—a historical culinary delight to be sampled and savored. This wonderful book will be at home in either the library or kitchen.”—Walter Edgar, author of South Carolina: A History

“A smart and insightful romp through the South Carolina larder, from knuckle hull peas to red horse bread, from liver pudding to shrimp pilau. Taste the State reminds me that our foodways derive power and meaning from the stories we tell about our place and our people.”—John T. Edge, James Beard Award-winning author of The Potlikker Papers

“With Taste the State, Kevin Mitchell and David Shields prove once again that they’re THE dynamic duo of culinary history. Their meticulous research will satisfy anyone who hungers for a deeper understanding of South Carolina cuisine. I definitely wish this wonderful work was available when I wrote my books on soul food and barbecue. Future culinary historians will be grateful for their dedication.”—Adrian Miller, James Beard Award-winning author of Soul Food

“We devoured Kevin Mitchell and David Shields’s Taste the State, which reveals on every page fresh and new information about foods that have all but disappeared, such as palmetto pickle and tanya root, and also traditions still very much alive, like Frogmore stew, barbecue and boiled peanuts. Mitchell and Shields’s collaboration is the most engaging—and cookable!—volume on the Palmetto State’s foodways to date, and we believe it will be a model for a new form, state-by-state foodways encyclopedias. For the time being, South Carolina is the envy of the nation!””—Matt Lee & Ted Lee, James Beard Award-winning authors of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

Taste the State is a delightful mix of recipes, historical stories, and an exploration into the cultural meaning of food. It is a window into the cuisine of South Carolina that resists any whitewashing and leans into the complex mix of Native, Black and European influences in the state’s cuisine. It will whet your appetite to slow down, absorb the rich heritage around you, and taste the Slow Food of South Carolina!”—Anna Mulé, Executive Director, Slow Food USA

“From chubby Palmetto Asparagus to the “cheap high” of Yaupon Tea, Taste the State serves up intriguing bits of South Carolina food history, resulting in an entertaining, edifying treat.”—Foreword Reviews [Starred review]

Taste the State is not only an informative read—it’s an enjoyable one. It’s suitable for all foodies, professional or otherwise, and is written with warmth and humor that serves to highlight the respect that Mitchell and Shields feel for South Carolina food. This is a book to savor, both in short reads and through in-depth perusal.”—South Carolina Libraries

“a delicious read for the culinary armchair aficionado as well as the kitchen gourmet.”—Charleston Magazine

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