Emily Meggett, Gullah Geechee Cuisine Trailblazer, Dead At 90

On Friday, April 21st, 2023, Emily Meggett passed away at age 90 following a brief illness, according to the New York Times. An inspirational authority on Gullah Geechee cuisine, Meggett will forever be associated with the people and customs of her hometown, Edisto Island, a small South Carolina community an hour south of Charleston. Known as "M.P." to neighbors and friends, she was recognized as the undisputed matriarch of Edisto Island and the grand dame of Gullah Geechee cooking. 

In 2022, Meggett published her first and only cookbook, "Gullah Geechee Home Cooking," a compendium of a lifetime of recipes devoted to the cuisine originally brought to the Carolina Lowcountry by enslaved West Africans. Until that point, Meggett had cooked her locally famed dishes completely from memory and by feel, making her cookbook a rare artifact for those hoping to carry on the tradition of Gullah Geechee cooking. The cookbook was an immediate bestseller, and shortly afterward, Meggett was awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award by President Biden. 

An enduring legacy of generosity

Though Meggett experienced the hype of the national media and a book tour at the late age of 89, her culinary career began as a young cook in the historic vacation homes of the Dodges and other families on Edisto Island. She cooked for the Dodges for over 45 years, honing her talent alongside other Gullah Geechee veteran cooks. Over time, she mastered the cornerstones of this style, from the benne cookie, a sweet wafer made from African benne seeds, to the Hoppin' John, which Meggett amended by swapping in field peas for black-eyed peas. Her tomato-rich red rice was passed down through generations and was another of Meggett's better-known dishes. 

Still, Edisto became acquainted with her fabulous food not through a restaurant but from Meggett's enduring generosity. For 50 years, she would make extra portions of her cooking for whoever wished to have it, no strings attached. In return for feeding generations of the Edisto community, Meggett was often gifted ingredients free of charge when out shopping in the local market. At the award ceremony covered by the Post and Courier, for her service medal, she spoke about her life philosophy, "Be willing to give and expect nothing in return."

Luckily for the world at large, more people had the opportunity to experience Meggett's generous spirit with the publication of her cookbook. With this tome, she will forever be a reminder that culinary traditions, as well as the food itself, are best when shared.