A ‘Cumya’ cooks Gullah



Most Gullah recipes have remained unchanged over the decades, passed down from generation to generation. As a “cumya,” the Gullah word for a non-native islander, I knew very little about traditional Gullah dishes. I had tried menu mainstays like collard greens and fried chicken, but I didn’t know how to prepare them — at least, not until Louise Cohen welcomed me into her kitchen to give me a tutorial for an article I was writing. I arrived armed with ingredients like collards and smoked turkey wings, and we spent a few hours bonding over a simmering pot on the stove.

Cohen wasn’t the only Gullah woman to teach me traditional Gullah favorites. Daufuskie Island native and cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson, who makes a divine deviled crab by picking the crab by hand, taught me to fish — baiting the hook, casting the line, taking the fish off the line, cleaning the catch and trying not to fall off a rickety dock. I finally caught a whiting large enough to keep, and took it home and cooked it the only way I knew how: sautéed in butter with white wine and capers. When I told Robinson about my meal, she laughed: “What? You need to flour, salt and pepper it and then deep fry it.”

Native islander Ruth Germany taught me how to make sweet potato pone, which can be served as a side dish or dessert. As much as I enjoyed learning the preparation, it was the conversation and the feeling of being welcomed at her kitchen table that I treasure to this day.

collard greens2


Stuffed Collards in Tomato Puree 

by Carrie Hirsch / Serves 4-6

8 large collard green leaves
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
1 pound ground beef or ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 cups cooked rice of choice (Carolina Gold is perfect!)
1 ¾ cups tomato purée (not flavored sauce)
½ cup vegetable or beef broth
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon

Rinse the collard leaves. Place on a cutting board and cut off the base stems, then carefully trim the leaves off the stem. Fill a 12” skillet with 1” water. Stack the collard leaves on top of each other in the water. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove leaves all together by picking up from underneath the stack with a spatula and transfer to paper towels. Lay out separately so they dry. Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a 10” skillet and sauté onions and carrots until soft, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a large bowl. In the same skillet, heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil over low heat. Brown ground beef, salt and pepper and then transfer to onion and carrot mixture. Add cooked rice to bowl and stir until well incorporated. Check salt and pepper and add more if needed.

Bring the tomato purée and vegetable broth to a boil in a small sauce pot for 2 minutes, then stir in lemon juice and lemon zest. Lay each collard green leaf on a cutting board. Pack down 1/2 cup of the rice mixture into a measuring cup, then invert it onto the base of each collard leaf. Roll up the rice mixture tightly all the way to the outer edge of the leaf, tucking in the edges of the leaf as you go. Pour half the tomato purée into the bottom of the 10” skillet.  Arrange the stuffed collards side by side on top of the tomato purée then pour the remaining tomato purée over the top. Cover, bring to a boil, then and simmer on low heat for 35-40 minutes.