Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

An Antebellum Plantation Household: Including the South Carolina Low Country Receipts and Remedies of Emily Wharton Sinkler with Eighty-Two Newly Discovered Receipts

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

An Antebellum Plantation Household: Including the South Carolina Low Country Receipts and Remedies of Emily Wharton Sinkler with Eighty-Two Newly Discovered Receipts

Article excerpt

An Antebellum Plantation Household: Including the South Carolina Low Country Receipts and Remedies of Emily Wharton Sinkler with Eighty-Two Newly Discovered Receipts. By Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006. 240 pp. Cloth: $29.95, ISBN 1-57003-634-9.)

The life of Emily Wharton, following her marriage to Charles Sinkler at the age of 19 to her untimely death at age 52, is carefully chronicled by her great-great-great-grand-daughter, Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq. Emily left the comfort and security of a prominent Philadelphia family and culturally vibrant urban community to be with her new husband and his plantation family in the isolated and swampy region of Upper St. John's Parish, South Carolina. While both families were wealthy, closeknit, and equally esteemed within their communities, their ways of life were quite different. As the author points out, the marriage of Emily and Charles was a "mating of opposites: northern erudition and sophistication with rural, southern plantation culture" (p.xi).

Relying upon letters written by Emily to her northern family and a "receipt book" she had kept which included recipes, household formulas, medical remedies, and cosmetic potions, LeClercq provides a glimpse into how Emily interpreted and responded to the cultural differences she encountered in her day-to-day life as Mistress of Belvidere Plantation. While the original edition of this book has been reviewed previously by others in several sources, (including The Southern Quarterly); in keeping with the special theme of this edition of the journal, this review of the newly updated edition of the book focuses exclusively on matters relevant to food history.

While food and eating activities play a central role in the everyday lives of all human beings, cooking and culinary pursuits were especially salient in Emily's life as an upper-middle-class wife in the antebellum South. She readily assumed the primary role of managing the nutritional and medical well-being of the entire plantation - no small task on a plantation with over 195 slaves. Additionally, as a member of the southern elite, Emily was expected to be a gracious hostess for the frequent and extended visits by family members and friends that were so common in the antebellum south. A major part of being a gracious hostess entailed being a talented cook - and, it is within the culinary domain that Emily was especially adept.

Emily's cooking combined elements of French, African, Native American, regional northern and southern American, and even Italian culture. While much of her cooking was reactive in the sense that she relied upon methods of cooking and ingredients that were common in the low country; a great deal of Emily's style was unique for the time and place in which she was living. It might even be considered a precursor to what is commonly referred to today as fusion cuisine - a type of cuisine which deliberately combines elements from two or more temporally or spatially distinct cuisines.

In the sense that Emily's cooking was a response to local conditions, she relied heavily upon the ingredients that were readily available and plentiful at Belvidere Plantation, including corn, rice, flour, poultry, wild game, mutton, and vegetables in season. Her recipes also reflected the African American slave cooking traditions that permeated so much of the cooking that took place throughout the entire south, such as flavoring soups and vegetables with salt pork, deep-frying meats, and using hominy and cornbread. Emily readily adopted the low country's use of rice and the Native American's use of corn - particularly as the main ingredients for her favorite course of the meal, dessert. Emily's receipts included such entries as "French Rice Pudding," "Rice Cakes," "Rice Scones," "Rice Bread," Bannocks," "Indian Cakes," and "Baked Indian Pudding."

Similar to others who find themselves in a new environment without the familiar surroundings of home, Emily had a nostalgic longing for the comfort foods she associated with her Philadelphia upbringing. …

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