When you travel north this fall to “leaf peep” or just to visit family, consider taking some Carolina food specialties to your hosts as gifts or thank-yous.
I’m sure if our northern hosts could choose, they would request warm weather and blue skies along with a large dose of ocean breeze and some sand for castle-building. Since those items don’t travel and Carolina items like local shrimp and fresh fruit are perishable, it makes finding decent gift basket items a little tricky.
No problem. The Carolinas offer a plethora of delicious local specialties that are easy to transport — from potent potables to plantation-grown rice to barbecue sauce and more. Most are easily found in local supermarkets, many of which now stock a Carolinas section. Others can be ordered online.
Allyson Hirsh, bailli of the Myrtle Beach Chaine Des Rotisseurs, says, “There are a few special hostess gifts that I enjoy giving because they reflect the area and culture. A small sweetgrass basket containing a bag of Carolina Gold Rice. The baskets are sold on Esty. Homemade goodies like spiced nuts, cheese biscuits or pecan pie. Young’s Pecans located on Highway 52 near Interstate 95 in Florence has a variety of food gifts that can be ordered online.”
If you are driving a short enough distance to take cheeses, Hirsh adds, “Clemson bleu is a delicious South Carolina cheese.”
Carolina Rice and Carolina Gold (a premium variety of the local rice) are sold in local stores and online at www.carolinaplantationrice.com.
They also sell grits, locally grown and ground. However, do be sure to include a recipe if you take grits above the Mason-Dixon line. The website above offers recipes as well as rice and grits.
Over the years living here, I’ve learned that South Carolina’s pecans are among the best. I am also a fan of Young’s pecans. You can find them in some local stores. They bring a great variety of their items to Coastal Grand mall at holiday time but the nuts are readily available year-round online so you don’t have to drive to Florence. I have purchased from www.youngplantations.com. I recommend the sweet and savory sampler or the delectable pecan logs.
Another local treat is boiled peanuts. While most folks prefer them fresh from a roadside stand, Young’s sells a reasonable canned variety: “peanut patch” boiled peanuts.
Another possibility to add to the basket are potables, potent and otherwise. One of these is Blenheim Ginger Ale — real ginger gives it a kick (in varieties from mild to hot). This glass-bottled Dillon beverage is sold at many local markets and can also be purchased online at www.blenheimgingerale.com or by phone at 1-800-270-9344.
You can regale your friends with the tale from the company’s history: Blenheim Ginger Ale is a Southern tradition that dates back to the 1800s when Dr. C.R. May advised his patients with stomach ailments to drink the local mineral water flowing from a Blenheim natural spring. When these patients complained about the strong taste of the water, Dr. May added Jamaican ginger to it to conceal the mineral taste. The company is still family owned and operated.
Belle Amie Vineyards (1120 St Joseph Road, Little River, 843-399-9463) has long been a local favorite for wine tastings and music festivals. Michele Caliendo says many people like the sweet wines made from local grapes, the “Sweet Carolina Girl” and “Sugar Daddy” being two of the most popular.
If you prefer a drier wine, Belle Amie offers a Chenin Blanc (vinifera grapes, brought in and blended at their winery) called “High Maintenance” which Caliendo says is also popular.
Duplin Winery (4650 U.S. 17 S., North Myrtle Beach, 1-800-774-9634) now has a tasting room on the Grand Strand at Barefoot Landing. Jennifer Blanchard recommends the Hatteras Red from among their red wines, which are all made from local muscadine grapes. They also offer a white wine called “The Mother Vine” made from scuppernong, (the North Carolina State fruit).
If beer is more your or your host’s style, take a quick drive to the New South Brewing Company (www.newsouthbrewing.com, 1109 Campbell St., Myrtle Beach, 843-916-2337).
They brew and can and bottle on site. They offer tours of the brewery and have a wide variety of brews — from light to dark, ales to lagers. Call or check the website for information on the tours, types of beers being brewed at the time you want them and what grocery stores carry their product — a few do.
Several area stores (or you can order directly) carry the only tea grown in the United States from the Charleston Tea Plantation. Check their website or call to find out about more varieties offered for sale, local outlets, plans to visit (843-559-0383 or www.bigelowtea.com/Charleston-Tea-Plantation).
If barbecue is your passion, instead of trying to keep a box of pulled pork fresh on the trip, simply take up the area’s two iconic sauces — South Carolina’s mustard sauce and North Carolina’s tart, hot vinegar sauce.
These two creations are, in my opinion, far better than the sweet red stuff that calls itself barbecue sauce in other places. My favorite place to purchase the sauce (and eat it when I can get there) is the BBQ House. I live closer to the North Myrtle Beach outlet (1561 U.S. 17 N., North Myrtle Beach, 843-249-6901) of this local chain, but they also have a place in Surfside (1205 U.S. 17 N. Surfside Beach, 843-477-1801). If you are too busy to go to either outlet, just order the sauce from the website at http://bestbbqonthebeach.com/shop/.
Did you know that there is a local Carolina salt? Bulls Bay Saltworks hand-harvests salt in small batches from Bulls Bay and evaporates it almost entirely by solar energy. Bulls Bay is located in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina. Some shops in Pawleys carry their product but you can order online or by phone at www.bullsbaysaltworks.com or 843-226-3360.
Looking for more options? The South Carolina Specialty Food Association website lists its members and their specialties, from nuts to cheeses to tea to rice and more. Check it out at http://www.scsfa.org/#!members/c68q
Bacon Cheese Grits
Reprinted with permission from Carolina Plantation.com. Recipe submitted to Carolina Plantation website by: Nancy Sorensen.
- 6 strips of thick bacon, diced
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup white or yellow grits
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1-1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
- 4 green onions
Place diced bacon in a cold cast iron skillet and begin to cook over medium heat until the bacon is crisp. Remove bacon to paper towel to drain. Reserve 2 teaspoons of the bacon grease. Pour off the excess drippings and set the skillet off to the side.
Place chicken stock and milk in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and gradually add the grits, whisking until smooth. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon until grits are soft and creamy, about 45 minutes (add more chicken stock if needed). Stir in cream and cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and add the reserved bacon drippings, cooked bacon, 1 cup of the cheese and two of the green onions.
Preheat the broiler. Spread the grits back into the cast iron skillet. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Place under the broiler just until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish with the remaining green onions and serve.