Frogmore Stew

If you were lucky enough to get to visit my mother’s house in Beaufort, South Carolina, and she was happy to have you there, odds are that she would serve you the great staple special dinner of my upbringing: Frogmore Stew. And you would be very happy to have it, indeed, especially since my Mom would likely have gotten the shrimp in the Stew still wriggling-fresh off of one of the ubiquitous shrimp boats that ply the waterways of Low Country South Carolina, like this one . . .

Fishing Vessel Ophelia Rae
(Copyright 2004, J. Eric Smith)

The sun’s rising on the horizon
as our boat motors into the east,
with nets hanging low on her winches
like wings on some cumbersome beast.
She’s a mote in that vast living ocean,
a speck catching yet smaller specks,
which we haul up in great writhing masses
and then dump in her tank, below decks.
With a full metal belly, she shudders
as we turn her back ’round t’wards the shore,
and then ease her back into her harbor,
where she vomits up shrimp by the score.
And the townsfolk, they scoop up her purging,
which they take home to shell and de-vein,
and then eat with their families at dinner,
while our boat, she gets hungry again.

I periodically see watered-down, neutered versions of Frogmore Stew on menus here in Upstate Yankonia and environs, though it almost always carries another name, something like “Low Country Boil” or “Carolina Seafood Stew” or something like that. For some reason “Frogmore” seems to be word that can’t be used to describe food up here in the North,  I guess because it evokes images of frog legs or other amphibian delicacies.

But Frogmore Stew is actually named after a little village on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, near the site of the historic Penn Center. Eating any boiled combination of corn, shrimp, potatoes and sausage under any other name does a grave injustice and disservice to the good folk of the South Carolina coastal islands who created this tasty, simple, practical dish.

Katelin and I will be heading back to the Low Country in October. I can’t wait to have me some Frogmore Stew while we’re down there, and perhaps also a shrimp burger or two. Mmmmm . . . . shrimps . . . . . they always inspire me to creative flights of fancy, since even murder ballads need to have culinary grounding.

P.S. Go Navy!

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