By Kristin Hackler
Of all the pastimes in the world, there are few that bring people together as much as good cooking. Everyone has their favorite recipe – whether it was passed down through the generations in a sacred box of recipe cards or treasured as a favorite childhood treat, the art of cooking and sharing recipes is something that crosses all races, religions and creeds. It was this universality of the love of good food that initially inspired Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) Chairman Kelly Bragg to bring her idea for a cross-island cookbook up with some island friends.
“A cookbook is something everyone can participate in,” said Bragg. “I’ve always loved good cooking and this is a great way to bring people together.” The goal of the project, said Bragg, is to donate all of the proceeds to our island schools, including St. Johns High School, Haut Gap Middle School, Angel Oak Elementary School, Mt Zion Elementary School and Edith Frierson Elementary School.
With the help of RoShonda Brown of Johns Island, Joe Bunting of Wadmalaw Island, and Phyllis Westberg of Seabrook Island, the very first edition of the Sea Islands Cookbook is well on its way toward publication with more than 200 recipes already collected in only a few months. Joe Bunting, KICA’s Chief Operating Officer, took the opportunity to do something he had been meaning to do since moving to Wadmalaw Island three years ago: ask his neighbor, Lillian Washington, for her recipe for Charleston Chewies.
“The very first day we moved in, Mrs. Washington brought over a plate of her chewies and made us feel so at home,” smiled Bunting, and when he put out the call for recipes, Mrs. Washington’s chewies recipe was the only one he specifically requested.
Washington was happy to oblige and not only contributed the recipe, she made an extra large batch of them for the Cookbook Launch Party held at Kiawah’s Sandcastle on March 1.
Several dishes were featured during the launch party, and almost all of the contributing cooks were in attendance to taste, talk and occasionally trade some of their culinary secrets. From succulent barbeque ribs prepared by Julius and Shirley Johnson to a rich Chicken Alfredo perfected by Washington’s daughter, Debra Commodore, the range of dishes prepared for the event was almost too much to handle; but that didn’t deter anyone from trying. Even Bragg’s Kickin’ Corn Dip saw attendees going back for seconds, and Linda Connolly couldn’t keep her bowl of homemade guacamole dip full, though diners were happy to wait as she scooped out fresh avocados and crushed in fresh onions, tomatoes and herbs. And when it came time for desserts, no one hesitated to line up at the sweets table. While people “oohed” and “aahed” over the Charleston Chewies, award-winning Tres Leches cake with candied orange peel by Kiawah Councilman Greg Vanderwerker, and a classic rum cake by Marie D’Ambrosio, one dish had the room stumped: a soft white homemade ice cream with “secret” ingredients prepared by Kiawah resident Virginia Abbott.
“This recipe has been handed down for generations,” said Abbott. “We would always make the kids guess what was in it.”
As guests mulled over the ice cream, occasional shouts of “Is there coconut in there?” and “What about mango?” could be heard from all corners of the room, and Abbott would just shake her head and smile. “You’ll have to get the cookbook to find out!” she laughed.
The Sea Islands Cookbook project will be taking recipes throughout the summer, and the project directors hope to publish in early fall. Since proceeds from the cookbook are going toward island schools, many of the schools are trying to find ways to participate. St. Johns High School is already working with their culinary students to contribute recipes, and the Head Arts teacher at St. Johns, Dona Dowling, is working with cookbook art director Doug Reynolds to contribute student illustrations.
To provide a recipe, visit www.seaislandscooking.org, e-mail your recipe with your contact information to recipes@ seaislandscooking.org, or send via USPS to 5524 Katy Hill Road, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487. For more information, visit www.seaislandcooking.org.