Conroy’s book, The Water is Wide is set in Beaufort County, South Carolina, arguably the heart of the Lowcountry. Conroy, in his first year of teaching, take a job on Yamacraw Island (the real Daufuskie Island), one of the many Sea Islands that dot the low country’s coast—the islands spread from Charleston to Savannah. These islands were the homes of freed slaves after the civil war, and their ancestors still carry on the Gullah traditions of years long past. It is the 1970s, and the students of Yamacraw Island are for the most part secluded from modern living. See the Beaufort County library’s page for more info on Gullah culture. Pop Quiz: Daufuskie is “Gullah” for what? (hint: it’s phonetic).
Conroy feels the need to expose them to the modern world and invites them to his home in Beaufort, and even takes some of them to see the Harlem Globetrotters perform. As a reader, I was somewhat perturbed by his view that these students needed to be a part of what happened across the sound. However, as I read the text, I realized that many of these students would, in fact, leave their secluded island someday and would benefit from some experience “across the river”.
Before making the trips, Conroy manages to get the permission of most of his student’s parents; however, a few refuse including one grandmother who tells Conroy [written in Gullah dialect]: “I lose three fam’bly in the river. They drop in the water and sink like rock to the bottom. When they come up, they swell like toadfish. I been libbin’ on Yamacraw for seventy plus seven more years and I ain’t gonn lose no grands to that river. You young and you don’t know the river. I is old and see what it can do. Dat river can eat a man. None of my chillum goin along wit’ you.”
And, actually, based on my experiences on boats in the river, I think I agree with Grandma.
A very famous South Carolina dish that originated in one of the Gullah Islands, St. Helena Island near Beaufort, is known as LowCountry Boil. It was originally called Frogmore Stew (after the town it was first made in—and no, the recipe doesn’t contain frogs). Here is the recipe for Frogmore Stew. My good friends made it for a party last fall, and served it with beer and wine on a beautiful Lowcountry night. Everyone loved it, and it’s relatively simple to make.
Frogmore Stew (aka lowcountry boil)
- 6 quarts water
- 3/4 cup Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 pounds hot smoked sausage links, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 12 ears corn – husked, cleaned and quartered
- 4 pounds large fresh shrimp, unpeeled
- 10-15 small, red-skinned potatoes (you can use larger potatoes—just slice them).
1. Bring water and Old Bay Seasoning to boil in a large stockpot.
2. Add potatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Add sausage and cook for 5 minutes more. Add corn and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook until shrimp are pink, about 5 minutes. Drain immediately and serve.