May 07 2021

Gullah Sweet Potatoes

Gullah recipes are handed down from generation to generation by teaching in real life as you stand side by side. The Gullah people are West Africans enslaved to work the rice plantations in the Sea Islands, including Edisto Island. They had extraordinary skills for growing rice and successfully did so while living and working on the plantations.  

The Gullah people arrived in America in the 1700s and were isolated from the mainland. They had limited exposure to American traditions and were able to safeguard their African culture, including cooking techniques, artistry, basket making, and music. 

Their slave quarters only had one pot for cooking, and the Gullah perfected the one-pot meal. They used fresh ingredients that grew on the plantation and caught fresh seafood from the surrounding sea. 

Their ability to incorporate local ingredients into their dishes was so unique that it still rings true today. Their delicious recipes are a staple of Southern cuisine and shine through popular dishes such as shrimp and grits, sautéed shrimp and okra, peaches and cream pie, Frogmore stew, fried corn cakes, Gullah rice dishes, and more. 

The history of the Gullah people is not found in academic history books, but their presence in the South still shines brightly through historical buildings, museums, and their descendants. Some of the slave-quarters structures still stand to this day, and the famous Penn School established in 1862 on St. Helena Island is now designated as a National Historic Landmark. 

Their food and recipes remain popular to this day. If you love sweet potatoes, you need to try this Gullah recipe! 

Here’s what you need: 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 Sweet potatoes (medium to large size)
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp of butter
  • 4 tbsp of brown sugar

Now let’s put all these ingredients to work: 

Instructions: 

  1. Boil the sweet potatoes until a fork or knife can slide through it easily. Avoid overcooking because you don’t want them to be too soft.  
  2. Remove the sweet potatoes from the water and allow them to cool. 
  3. Peel the sweet potatoes using your hands. The skin should peel off easily. 
  4. Slice the sweet potatoes in ½” inch slices and place them on a baking dish. You need to butter the baking dish first or use wax paper to avoid sticking. 
  5. Place small pieces of butter over the sweet potatoes. 
  6. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the sweet potatoes. 
  7. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the sweet potatoes. 
  8. Bake the sweet potatoes in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees. 

As you can see, this sweet potato recipe is easy to cook and only requires a few ingredients. The Gullah made one sweet potato per person to ensure everyone had enough food. 

Today, we don’t work as hard as the Gullah people did on the plantations and don’t need to consume as much food to maintain our energy levels. Half a sweet potato per person is ideal for today’s standards unless you love sweet potatoes and plan to gobble down this delicious dish as comfort food. And that’s ok with us! 

This sweet recipe is an excellent side dish that warms the heart and soul. It’s the ultimate comfort food and works great as a holiday side dish. You can serve it at home or take it with you to visit family and friends. It’s also the perfect pot luck addition that feeds many people at an affordable price. 

The Gullah people knew what they were doing. They didn’t realize their tasty sweet potato recipe would end up on almost everyone’s Thanksgiving Day menu in households across America for centuries to come. 

Many Gullah descendants still live in Edisto Island and carry on their ancestor’s traditions. The cooking traditions are evident in almost every restaurant on Edisto Island. This means when you visit this beautiful island, you will get the chance to indulge in authentic Gullah cuisine and learn more about these historical people. 

Visiting as many restaurants in Edisto Island is highly recommended, so you have access to various menus and dishes. While this sweet potato dish is delicious, you also need to try the fresh seafood dishes. 

While you are visiting Edisto Island, you will surely come across sweetgrass baskets. These beautiful baskets are handmade by local Gullah-Geechee. The skills for basket making are passed down through the generations and are still alive today. 

The unique designs and colors are extraordinary when you realize the entire basket is made with natural and local resources. Another interesting fact is the Gullah used these baskets daily to carry rice, vegetables, fruits, and other items to different locations on the plantation. 

It’s so cool to think they carried sweet potatoes in these handmade baskets to cook their now-famous recipe! 

If you love Southern cuisine and are interested in learning more about the Gullah Geechee community, you need to visit Edisto Island. The historical sites, amazing restaurants, museums, baskets, and vibrant artwork allow you to connect with the Gullah people. 

Most of the artwork shows a vivid and vibrant look at the life on the plantation. As a tourist to the island, you will notice signs of Gullah people everywhere because they are responsible for most of the Southern cooking we know today. 

Whether you are researching your ancestry or respectfully learning about the true history of the Gullah people, Edisto Island is the place to begin your journey. 

The Gullah recipes live on today in restaurants throughout Edisto Island, but you can also cook them in the comfort of your own home using your local ingredients. It’s even more special if you grow your vegetables and live farm-to-table just like the Gullah did in the past. 

Start exploring Gullah recipes today and begin with this simple but flavorful heartwarming sweet potato recipe today! Don’t forget to put Edisto Island on the list for your next vacation destination! 

 

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Bob Hart Author

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