Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Charleston Recipes from Rhett Butler's Real People

I will be completely honest with you: despite my best efforts to the contrary, cooking makes me about as agitated as Aunt Pittypat mid-swoon--easily excitable, hopelessly flustered, prone to fainting at the slightest provocation, and liable to be revived only by a handy swoon bottle (okay, maybe the last two are teeny tiny exaggerations).  

But although cooking isn't a natural talent of mine, I must say I'm very excited to introduce yet another feature here, something that we fondly call Southern Cookin'. From time to time, we'll be posting authentic Southern recipes (or "receipts" as they said in yesteryear) from the era of Gone with the Wind.

Today we're getting things started with a five-course dinner from Charleston, that genteel city and birthplace of Rhett Butler. 

Some quick background info: the recipes, which you'll find after the jump, are excerpted from Charleston Recollections and Receipts: Rose P. Ravenel's Cookbook. Rose P. Ravenel (1850-1943) was the daughter of a Charleston planter, merchant and shipowner, who kept lifelong journals and sketches describing Carolina coastal life, her family's lineage, and her memories of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

She also collected more than 200 recipes from her Charlestonian friends--and here's my very favorite part--this collection was based on an earlier cookbook developed by her mother, Eliza Butler Ravenel (emphasis mine, of course!). Meaning that these recipes were not only circulating during antebellum Charleston, but were actually known and used by Rhett's own Butler kin (yes, yes, that is only *if* he was a real person, I know).

The author of the cookbook (wisely) updated the instructions for modern times--so you won't see any steps like "boil water in a pan over a wood burning fire" or "cure the meat for five days in the smokehouse on your plantation."  But beyond that, they appear as they did 150 years or so ago.

If you're more clever than me when it comes to culinary matters and try out these recipes (or any others we post in the future), let us know. We'd be curious to find out if they were, in fact, tasty or if they should best be left to the historical dustbin.  Either way, I hope they provide an interesting glimpse into the life of antebellum era.
Dinner Menu:
  • Deviled Crab
  • Grist Cake
  • Green Salad with Mayonnaise Sauce
  • Pickled Shrimp
  • Charlotte Russe

Prepare the Charlotte Russe and green salad the night before. If the grist cake is prepared early, be sure to stir it thoroughly before starting to bake it in a pan of water one and a half hours before dinner.

Deviled crabs are best prepared two hours ahead and popped into a hot oven twenty minutes before serving.

Deviled Crab
1 dozen large crabs-- (1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds meat)
Salt, pepper, mace
4 boiled eggs chopped fine
Bread crumbs
2 stalks celery chopped fine
2 large tablespoons mayonnaise

Boil the crabs twenty minutes. Remove from heat, cool and pick. Be careful to remove "dead man" meat and fat. Use only the white meat and the claw meat.

Lightly add four boiled chopped eggs, chopped celery, a little salt, pepper and mace (to taste) with mayonnaise. Put mixture lightly in crab shells. Lightly cover with crumbs which have been salted. Put a lump of butter on the top of each shell. Put in a large biscuit pan or shallow baking pan. Bake in 350° oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until hot. Do not burn the tops or let the meat dry out. Put a dab of chutney on top.

Serve immediately. Makes 8 deviled crabs.

Hominy for Grist Cake
1 C. grits
3 C. water
1 tsp. salt

Today Quaker or any good Quick grits should be used. Into 3 cups of boiling salted water, sprinkle 1 cup grits stirring often to avoid lumps. Cook 20-30 minutes until it's done, but not stiff. Add more water if it gets too thick.

Grist Cake (continued)
2 C. cooked grist, hot
2 eggs
2/3 C. milk
Grated sharp cheese
1/3  stick butter
Salt, pepper to taste

Beat butter and hot grist together. Beat eggs and add to milk. Stir mixture into grist. Salt and pepper to taste. Grate sharp cheese into all and bake 1 and 1/2 hours in a baking dish set in a pan of water.

Green Salad
1 envelope gelatin
1 C. cucumbers, diced
1 and 1/2 C. boiling water
1 C. canned pineapple, diced
1 and 1/2 C. pineapple juice
2 Tbs. vinegar
1/2 C. Mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. onion juice
juice of 1 lemon

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water, add lemon juice, pineapple juice, vinegar, salt, and onion juice. Chill. When beginning to thicken, fold in cucumbers, pineapple, and mayonnaise.

Put in mold and stand till cold. Serve with mayonnaise sauce on lettuce.

Mayonnaise Sauce
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs. vinegar
1 saltspoon of salt (1/4 tsp.)
1 tsp. mustard
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 pt. olive oil

Beat well together and add, while beating, 1 pt. of olive oil.

Pickled Shrimp
1 qt. peeled small shrimp (3 lb.)
1 dessert spoon salt
1 clove mace
1 Tbs. butter
1 pt. (2 C.) Spice Islands vinegar
1 dessert spoon allspice (1tsp.)
1 pt. (2 C.) water in which shrimp were boiled
1 dessert spoon ground pepper

The shrimp must be washed carefully before boiling. Peel the shrimp and squeeze juice out of the heads over them. Boil vinegar and 2 C. of the water in which the shrimp have been boiled with the allspice and mace added. Pour boiling hot over the shrimp, butter, pepper, and salt.

Drain before using. Place in bowl surrounded by ice and have toothpicks nearby for serving. If to be bottled and kept, put rather more vinegar and less water. Cork or seal tightly.
— receipt from Miss Rebecca Holmes

Charlotte Russe
1 oz. gelatin
8 beaten egg whites
1/2 lb. sugar (1C.)
1 qt. whipping cream
1/2 C. warm milk
1 lb. pound cake

Mix gelatin and sugar together. Dissolve in warm milk (or water). Beat egg whites. Beat cream until quite stiff (Be sure gelatin mixture is completely cool, or cream will curdle.)

Line a dish with thin slices of cake. Add the beaten egg whites gradually to the cream, and the dissolved gelatin and sugar stirring all thoroughly. Pour over the cake. Put in refrigerator until ready for use. (Sherry may be used to flavor the whipped cream.)


  1. I'll have to give the crab, green salad and charlotte russe a try. The pickled shrimp and grist cake don't really sound that appealing.

    A few years ago I visited Charleston. My husband and I were both delighted by the wonderful ways crab was prepared. We live in Maryland, and crab meat is always prepared with Old Bay seasoning. Not so, of course, in Charleston.

    Just in case you wanted to know more about Old Bay!

    Also, in RBP didn't Rhett's sister Rosemary marry a Ravenel? So he's (sort of) related to them by blood and marriage!

  2. That's exactly what I said to iso, that there was a Ravenel in RBP! Andrew or whatever his name was.

    We're not big on crab around here, so I think I only had claw fingers, and that once or twice in my life. Spices? Thoroughly welcomed :D

  3. Iris, pickled shrimp and grist cake aren't your thing? I can't imagine why. :)

    Ah Maryland crab. The best crab I ever had was during a visit to Maryland (not surprisingly). Here in the pretty much landlocked Midwest, there's really not much to be said in the way of great seafood. We just stick to corn and sausages instead. :)

  4. Another fabulous series! I continue to be just blown away by the quality of this blog and the fascinating topics and thorough research. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to do all of this. This is amazing.

    BTW, I love how this thread is titled Rhett Butler's *Real* People. Hahahahaha.

    I'd love to see plenty more blog threads about Charleston, especially its architecture (something on Single Houses, perhaps?). You could also explore New Orleans. Tons of possibilities!

  5. OK, practically drooling over the deviled crab recipe and it is still only morning here. I think I will give that one a try (though I will add some snipped red pepper to the mayonnaise filling to give it some extra oomph). Just have to wait for a windfall since crab costs a fortune here unlike places like Charleston I suppose.

    What was fun in this article is that I can really see Rhett eating those things (and I am doing my best to get other associations with crab out of my head) and of course we know that Scarlett would scrape the plate if we served her that.

    On a general note: I did not get a morning paper today and so I used the time to catch up on the blog and I have to say ladies: It is amazing! Like others said: The quality is very high, I know you put loads of effort into it and it shows. But the best part is that no matter what subject you address I never get the feeling we are in class; it is thoroughly interesting and loads of fun to read. Plus next to the regular and much valued crowd we get to see comments from people that we had not ‘met’ in the world of GWTW before and I think that is super.

    Thank you so much for this great addition to my reading material!

  6. @ bluesneak We will have a series about Creole cuisine. And Charleston is a great suggestion. We'll never really run out of topics.

    @SJ Thanks! I'll make iso find recipes for landlocked people as well :P

  7. @SJ- I agree, I can actually envision Rhett eating this kind of food. I wonder if he sometimes requested Charleston dishes (or others he liked) to be put on the menu at the Butler house, or if he took a hands off approach and let Scarlett have whatever she wanted?

  8. I have to echo the feelings of everyone else here. I'm totally blown away by the effort and research you're putting into this blog. The quality of the research, writing, graphics, photos, etc. are beyond anything I've seen in most blogs.

    Incredible! I'm enjoying reading each and every entry!

  9. CC- Oh thank you so much for your very kind words. I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog. :)


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