An ever-evolving thing; food. From what we eat, to how we eat it, food is always changing. That’s where the fun lies. Even more so, the story behind our food is something that gives it life.
Food’s biggest super power is bringing people together. Grace Jennings, Beverage Logistics Manager at Charleston Wine + Food puts it’s perfectly by saying, “A restaurant is a small economy in and of itself; It fascinates me how many different people a restaurant can touch.”
I sat down with Grace recently to talk to her about an event she had put together that highlights the ancestry of food. With a passion for food and the history behind it, Grace saw an opportunity to share the story behind ingredients indigenous to South Carolina with Charleston chefs. The premise behind this event is to capitalize on foods natural super power – bringing people together while sharing its unique story.
What better way than kick off the series with the South Carolina Bradford Watermelon? This watermelon was so desired that farmers used to stand overnight armed by their fields to protect it. Grown by Nat Bradford and his family in Sumter, SC, this watermelon is one of the 3 oldest watermelons in the United States. The ancestry behind this watermelon starts with a American soldier being shipped across the ocean to imprisonment. This soldier saved the seeds of a watermelon on the ship and the seeds made their way to South Carolina in 1840. However, with the change in times and the desire for shippable food, the watermelon all but disappeared by the 1920’s.
But, it’s story doesn’t end there. The Bradford family had a secret of their own; by planting the watermelon in their backyards they were able to keep it from disappearing altogether. Once Nat Bradford realized that his family grown watermelon was the infamous Bradford Watermelon, he looked into how to revitalize it. By 2013 the Bradford Watermelon was alive again.
Driven by a passion for revitalizing the way food is seen in Charleston, the Continuing Education program puts Charleston Wine + Food’s core values into action. Bringing a story normally confined to family farmers to renowned Charleston chefs such as Andrea Upchurch (Pastry chef at Magnolias), Forrest Parker (Executive chef at The Vendue/Drawing Room), Kevin Kelly (chef at Rappahannock Oyster Bar), Melissa Butts (Bar Manager Rappahannock Oyster Bar), Ryan Jones (Director of Culinary Operations at Mex 1 Coastal Cantina), Kelleanne Jones and Kristina Loughrey and has allowed them to learn more about products made from the produce such as watermelon molasses, pickles and brandy. It brings together members from a like-minded community, with a passion for food.
Driving down a dirt road, surrounded by fields of green, the saying “back to your roots” is taken to a new level. Looking out over the sea of green, Nat shares their family story while the watermelons start to peak out of hiding. Those attending the event get a sense of life on the farm, the signs of a truly ripe watermelon, and what has gone into keeping this ancient melon around. Over a picnic at the Bradford home, the guests share conversation and become friends. As they get to taste the sweet molasses and experience the saltiness of rind pickles, Nat gives a demonstration on how he cuts the melon to preserve seeds. Smiles grow wider after the first bite of watermelon – easily one of the sweetest around. What started as an educational event quickly turned into a day of conversation, enjoyment and new friends that now had a greater understanding for the ancestry behind the Bradford Watermelon.
Charleston Wine + Food is hoping to expand this program into a full experience of learning by taking chefs from the farms and to a test kitchen where ingredients will be available for them to experiment. With a second event already planned for late October featuring the South Carolina Runner Peanut, the program is off to an amazing start. The Continuing Education program not only spreads knowledge and brings people together, but has also created a space for food to shine.