Heirloom recipes are the touchstones of holiday traditions, and the Lowcountry's rich culinary history shines when friends and families gather around the table. From nibbling hot-from-the-oven cheese straws at a cocktail party to the custom of eating collard greens on New Year's Day (said to evoke wealth), food plays a pivotal role in the charm of Christmas in Charleston.
She Crab Soup
Often called Charleston's signature dish, She Crab soup is an evolution of Scottish seafood bisque. A rich-in-flavor recipe that melds succulent blue crab meat with a hearty cream soup that is finished with a dash of dry sherry, the dish dates to the early 1700s and was famously served to President Taft (1909 - 13) during his visit to Charleston. Synonymous with special occasions, She Crab soup often appears on local's Christmas Day dinner menus.
A delicious example of plantation era ingenuity is the Benne wafer, a recipe born of a few basic ingredients-butter, brown sugar, flour and toasted sesame seeds. Said to invoke good luck, Benne wafers pack a crunch and make a popular holiday party host gift.
Heirloom grits, ground corn grown from seed cultivated long before the industrialization of agriculture—when farming was arduous labor but also an artisanal craft—are a staple of Lowcountry cuisine. In the late 1990s, an ambitious but earnest plan to grow near-extinct varieties of corn that predate the Civil War sparked a phenomenally successful resurgence of the humble ingredient. Today, restaurants across the country serve heirloom grits milled in the Lowcountry, but there is no better place to discover this versatile and flavorful food than Charleston area restaurants. Shrimp and grits, anyone? Buy heirlooom grits online or in-store at local retailer Charleston Cooks!
Carolina Gold Rice
Rice was the king of all cash crops during Charleston's robust plantation era. The small grain launched the fortunes of the Lowcountry's landed gentry and appeared at every meal. Carolina Gold Rice is a flavorful variety that appears on many area menus and is the premium choice for pirloo, a popular special occasion dish. Buy Carolina Gold Rice online or in-store at local retailer Charleston
The City Market, located in the heart of downtown Charleston, was established in 1804 and is one of the nation's oldest public markets. Comprised of individual sheds that canvas four city blocks, the market houses more than 140 permanent vendors selling souvenirs and collectibles, everything from tins of Lowcountry benne wafers to Gullah sweetgrass baskets. On June 27, 2011, doors opened at the new Grand Hall, an enclosed galleria of 20 locally owned shops, including Historic Charleston Foundation's flagship store and the Charleston Angler.
Historic St. Cecilia Punch
Formal balls, a revered social ritual in the Lowcountry, traditionally take place at Christmastime, when the plantation aristocracy historically arrived in town for debutante season. The custom of presenting a signature punch dates back to the 1700s, and many of the recipes—Planter's Punch, Tradd Alley Punch and St. Cecilia Punch—remain the toast of contemporary parties. Vintage cocktails are in vogue, so why not offer a centuries-old libation to your guests this holiday season?
Download Historic St. Cecilia Punch Recipe
Slightly North of Broad
Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp and Grits is a quintessential Lowcountry recipe. Originally served as a hardy breakfast during the plantation era, contemporary interpretations of the dish are popular for both brunch and supper—and especially during festive holiday gatherings. Thanks to esteemed Chef Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad, who shares his favorite shrimp and grits recipe, you can adopt this taste of Charleston as your own. Serves two.
Download Shrimp & Grits Recipe
Eggnog, Peppermint Bars, Santa Mice Cookies
We promise you will find something delicious among the tempting array of pastries, cakes, cookies and confections prepared daily by the kitchen staff at Bakehouse, where wholesome ingredients are used to create delectable preservative-free treats. Peppermint takes center stage during the holidays when the bakery pulls out its favorite Christmastime recipes to produce seasonal sweets. The Santa Mice cookies are always a hit!
Made with an indubitable collection of premium ingredients that have been native to Lowcountry pantries for centuries, Charleston Mix is "The Bloody Mary Perfected." Available in Original or Bold & Spicy flavor, Charleston Mix Bloody Mary's are sure to put the wind in your sail. Charleston Mix is a certified South Carolina product and is currently available in South Carolina with regional distribution on the horizon.
Charleston Tea Plantation
Island Mint Tea
A love affair with tea has been brewing since colonists imported the daily ritual from Mother England. Charlestonians drink it all day long—hot, iced, sweetened or not—and everyone has a preference when it comes to preparation. There is one thing most agree upon—local pride for Charleston Tea Plantation, America's only tea garden. For a limited time every holiday season, the Charleston Tea Plantation produces American Classic MerriMint Tea, a refreshing blend of spearmint and green tea.
The poinsettia, the flame of a flower affiliated with Christmas, is native to Mexico, but its geographical destiny by a Charlestonian named Joel Roberts Poinsett. In 1828, Poinsett was dispatched as the first ambassador to Mexico. The flora of the foreign post fascinated the amateur botanist, and he carried clippings home to the Lowcountry. After successfully cultivating the plant in his greenhouse, Poinsett began sharing the exotic flower with friends and family. Today the "painted leaf" flower is synonymous with the Christmas season and is officially celebrated every December 12th, the Congressionally designated National Poinsettia Day that commemorates Poinsett's work.
Trim Your Tree
Trim your tree with ornaments celebrating Lowcounty landmarks and the artisan craft of blacksmith. The selection of 24k goldplate on brass ornaments available at Historic Charleston Foundation's City Market shop ranges from a depiction of the Nathaniel Russell House façade to the Pineapple Gates, the often-photographed private entrance to a Legare Street mansion.
Croghan's Jewel Box
Charleston is a treasure trove of resplendent heirloom silver, and one peculiar-looking piece of flatware stands out as an iconic Lowcountry gift. The ancestral rice spoon, with its unusually long spindle, dates to the plantation era, when delicacies were cooked inside game dishes. Synonymous with holiday feasts, this gift is as beautiful as it is useful, and the selection of Charleston Rice Spoons at Croghan's Jewel Box dazzles.