By Luana M. Graves Sellars
Last year I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Gullah Geechee Chef and the Matriarch of Edisto, Mother Emily Meggett after she released her first cookbook. She is so sweet, it was an honor and pleasure to not only sit with her, but to meet some of her daughters, who were busy putting together the evening’s dinner. When I left that day, I felt like I was adopted into the family, a family that instantly took me in and shared their love. In addition to the wonderful conversation that we had, I was gifted with a bag full of delicious fresh muffins, which I sampled on my 2 hour drive home.
Several months later, when Mother Emily turned 90, I was invited to her birthday party. Held on an Edisto plantation on the water, It was obvious that people came from all around to celebrate her. Other than my mother and Mother Emily’s daughters, I didn’t know anyone, but just like everyone else, I was happy to patiently stand in the long line to get a hug and wish her well. Not knowing anyone didn’t matter, as the conversations around the table all began with “how do you know her?” and “isn’t the food amazing?” and “oh, this is your first time experiencing her food?” and “be prepared for a treat!”
Of course, the dinner was amazing, and I was able, matter of fact, encouraged to take a plate or two home, which became my dinner for a couple of days.
Being around Mother Emily is just like being at home, even though she has been honored by the City of Charleston, on countless TV interviews on CBS and other major mediums, but, through it all, she is just as gracious and generous with her time as any great grandmother would be.
This interview was originally planned to be uploaded to the Lowcountry Gullah Podcast, but the audio got corrupted. I enjoyed our conversation so much that I decided to share the transcript.
Luana | I’m so incredibly excited to have come to meet you! I’m so grateful to be able to sit down and talk to you, and rumor has it that you are the matriarch of Edisto Island.
It’s my first time on island, which is exciting in itself and I got a chance to see a little bit of the island.
So welcome to my podcast Miss Emily, I’m so glad to have you.
Mother Emily | I appreciate that. I appreciate that.
Luana | I’ve heard so many great things about you and when I mentioned to some of my listeners that I was coming to meet you, I even got questions from them. So, it’s not just me, we’re all very excited to meet you.
So tell me a little bit about yourself before we get into your cookbook and all that you’ve done.
Mother Emily | I am a native of Edisto. Still been here all my life. And so this is home. I had large family with my grandmother and grandfather and then I came along and had a big family.
So here we are.
Luana | How many children do you have?
Mother Emily | 10
Luana | Oh, wow. That’s a huge family. God bless you!
Mother Emily | I had 10. Lost two.
Luana | Oh, I’m so sorry. So you came from a big family. How big is your family? How many siblings do you have?
Mother Emily | My grandmother had 14. She had seven boys and seven girls.Seven lived and seven died.
Luana | Wow. And, so I guess all combined that’s a big family reunion.
Mother Emily | Yeah, with just my family and grand and great grand.
Luana | That’s a big family. Absolutely.
Mother Emily | It’s like 23 grand and 30 something. Great grand and seven, great, great, great grand.
Luana | Wow, that’s such a blessing. That’s such an incredible blessing. So, well, with a big family like that, how did you start to learn how to cook?
Mother Emily | I learned to cook big from my grandma because she had a big family. So she cooked big, so then when I came home, I had a big family. So then I cooked big.
Luana | So was it something that you were doing just because you were cooking for the family or was it just something that you began to love to do?
Mother Emily | Before I just did it. I got a passion to cook big now. So, well, when I went out to cook, I cooked big. And when I came home, I cooked big. Cooking didn’t really bother me, if someone needed to cook they threw me in the kitchen.
Luana | Really?
Mother Emily | Me, threw me back and said, well, you right? No, she says cook, throw me in the kitchen and, I actually heard that when you do cook, you continue to cook a lot. So, that you can feed other people. My grandmother used to say you’ll never cook enough just for you and your family because you don’t know who’s gonna stop by. And it’s true. So, and that’s how I cook. When I cook and we’ve got some left over and most of the time we don’t leave because somebody be coming to the back door to get some.
Luana | Yeah, that’s nice. Well, as good of a cook you are, I’m sure that the people are always, looking to get whatever they can get because it’s so good.
Mother Emily | Everyday someone stops by to get something to eat. There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t stop by.
Luana | That’s really interesting. Wow, that’s, amazing. And, you do have such an incredible reputation, for kindness. I have also heard for kindness and generosity. So I guess that all makes sense.
Mother Emily | Yes.
Luana | So, how did you start cooking? Was it your mother that taught you or your grandmother?
Mother Emily | I didn’t like to go in the field. So my grandmother said, well, you stay home and cook for me because when we were little, she would set us up on a bench and she would show us what she was doing. And, after we got a little older, you know, when we would stand up to the stove and watch her. She would show us how to make the biscuits, she would also make the salad. She also made cornbread and so forth. So when I went off to work, there were somethings that I already, you know, knew how to do, or know how to do it, like how to cook over there, you know, does it. So I have to learned to cook, in the Daw’s house, a little different from cooking in my grandmother’s house. The lady that taught me over there, she learned from a German woman and she didn’t play because if you didn’t do it right, you had to do it over. If it was not right, she would just throw it out. With that lady, it was hard for me to do because I used to do it like mom would, I would fix something and she would throw it out, you know? But that lady, she, I fix that biscuit, fix that chicken or whatever I’m fixing and it’s not right. She’s throwing it out.
Luana | Wow.
Mother Emily | So I learned the hard way.
Luana | Yes. Yes.
Mother Emily | So I say that if you learn something the hard way you learn how to do it right.
Luana | Exactly. And, it’s a lesson well learned.
Mother Emily | Oh yeah. I could kill her every day that I walked in that door. I could just kill her. But I thank God everyday for her because she taught me things that nobody else could do when cooking.
Luana | Yes. Like what?
Mother Emily | Like with a fish that has alot of bones.And you have to clean it and refirigerat it overnight and then take it out the next morning cut the center bone out and then put it in the freezer all night.
Luana | Ok.
Mother Emily | And take it up the next day and cut it up, set out and when you put that center bone out it, like your hand then you gotta take your finger and you go down and be millions of bones. You gotta go down there. See it’s firm now you have it in your freezer. You go down there and get all of them out, come down here, get all that bone there, you have to get all that gonna be there and all that gonna be there. Then you come on this side with all that going until you, you think you got them all because you do have more. Then you take it to the sink and run some water on it, rinse it off and dry it with the paper towel, then you stuff it with it, you stuff it with pasta, rice, celery and onion.
Luana | Wow, that sounds good.
Mother Emily – Now, in other books, they do seafood on seafood, then stuff, your fish with shrimp and with this, you got your vegetable, you went to starch and you got your meat.
Luana | Very nice. That sounds delicious. And I wish people could see what
you were doing or that this was videotape because we’re sitting at a dining room table and I’m watching you on the place mat. literally moving as if you were doing it and I can tell that it’s something that, that you’re very familiar with doing, that it’s muscle memory for you, and the technique, based on your experience, that you are able to your visualize what you’re doing. I would imagine that you have a lot of special techniques like that.
Mother Emily | It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Like for instance, how you make the deviled crab.
Most people would buy the crab at the store. Then I would pick the crab. And making your own crab with the celery and the onion and the bread and worcheshire sauce. And then maybe if they break, you mix it with two forks, then you don’t break the meat up.
Luana | Wow. Instead of stirring it.
Mother Emily | Mhm. Instead of just, just kind of stirring it or breaking it apart. Just mix it together. Mix it together is all you need.
Luana | That’s so awesome.
Mother Emily | It’s in the cookbook. Have you seen it?
Luana | Yes, actually I not only have it, but I have cases of it. I was one of the first people to order it directly from the publisher. I have a website called Lowcountry Gullah and there is an online market where I carry the book.
Mother Emily | Oh ok. (Chuckling)
Luana | And so actually, I don’t know if you even heard how I got connected with you, at the Gullah Festival in Beaufort through one of your family members. I had the books on the table and they started taking pictures of it. They were very excited about seeing it and told me that they were related to you. So yes, I do have your cookbook. Matter of fact, I bro even have a case in the car.
Mother Emily | Would you like for me to sign them?
Luana | yes, absolutely! If you would, I would appreciate that. My daughter loves to cook. So, I would like to give one to her, just so that she can treasure that.
We were talking earlier that your family had a rice field and that you grew up having the rice field around. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up with the rice field and working it?
Mother Emily | My mom and them, we had like 10 acres of land and we planted the land and eat off the land. They had a rice farm and their best garden with okra tomatoes and corn and beans. They would grind the corn. You had the yellow corn and the white corn.
And my uncle would agree to come on Tuesday and we shuck them on Wednesday. And if we hadn’t finished it on Wednesday, then we have to do it Thursday and Friday because we got to do the white corn and the yellow corn. And then the guy would come from Jericho on Saturday pick those bags up with the corn and take it to Jericho and process it.
So would he bring it back. And the next week he would bring back like a 50 pound bag of grits, 50 pound bag of yellow grits, a 50 pound bag of white grits mixed in with the yellow and then a bag with the hucks for the hogs. So a lot of people, but it’s still a lot of hucks on that grit when you wash it. The other day, I said I wash my grits because I don’t like to see all those eyeballs in it.
Luana | What? Eyeballs?
Mother Emily – Yeah. I don’t like seeing the black specks in mine.
Luana | Speaking of rice, I brought you some Charleston Gold Rice straight from White House Farms in Georgetown, South Carolina.
Mother Emily | This is good rice. This rice here reminds me of the rice that mom and them had and it looked like it was like our long grain. And it was white like the rice is right now. Not bleached. But today, I think they polish it.
Luana | Yes. Yes, they do polish it.
Mother Emily | That rice we grew was almost something similar to the brown rice. But there was no husks on it.
Luana | Yes
Mother Emily | The rice we grew, it was sort of a creamy color. It wasn’t white, white like you
get at the store. This is good rice . But now, everything is so processed.
Luana | I think they do. They do and just so that everybody knows what you’re talking about. I was recently at the White House Farms in the Georgetown and I was able to go to the rice fields at the farm and I’ve been watching the process of the growth and White House had gifted me with some bags and I told them I was coming to see you, they gifted you with a bag of Andy’s Charleston Gold Rice The rice is, not as, over processed as most store brand rice is and there is a big difference from what comes from the store.
Mother Emily | Yes.There is a difference. The other day, they were cooking, I guess hoppin’ john, and we wanted to know where we would find Carolina Gold like we had growing up .
I don’t really find a lot of Carolina Gold, but that’s how I grew up seeing it that way and eating it. That’s what it was.
Luana | Yes. And that’s what, I mean, I grew up in New York, but my grandmother always used Carolina Rice because she’s from Charleston. So that’s what she’s always been familiar with and what I’ve always been familiar with even though I was there. But you’re right. Andy’s rice has a better, natural, texture to it and flavor as well.
Mother Emily | And this rice is not white, white and is not creamy or brown.
Luana | Right. It’s just like the original. Yeah.
Luana | And, I think, probably in the process with, store brand because most of it is very, very right white. So it’s probably bleached a little bit just to kind of brighten it up. But no, this has more of a natural texture to it. And, you know, the beauty of being out on the farm is that you can actually smell the nuttiness in the fields, from growing the rice.
Mother Emily | Now, if you, tell people that they grow rice on Edisto they would never know what you’re talking about. Rice on Edisto? Who grew rice on Edisto? But, like I said, we had our own rice farm. It was over where the pond is at on the Mitchel plantation, but it was right across the fence from us where the pond was at. You have to plant it on the low land. It can’t be planted on the hill.
Luana | Yes, It has to be, and it also has to be in proximity to salt water as well as fresh water.
Do you have access to both of those here? And are there any rice trunks on Edisto? And if so, where were they?
Mother Emily | No, not that I know of. I don’t think so.
Luana | Interesting.
Mother Emily – Yeah.
Luana | There are several around the lowcountry that I’m familiar with so that you can change the water from the salty to the fresh. But that’s interesting.
So, with your cookbook and obviously, living on Edisto and growing up on Edisto, you’ve grown up in the Gullah culture, first of all, which do you consider yourself? Do you consider yourself more Gullah or Geechee or Gullah Geechee?
Mother Emily – You know what, when we were going to school, they, older girls and the older boys, y’all need nothing but a bunch of Geechee! And so I said, look, I said, and who are you? So I said this is, Edisto is for Gullah Geechee, so it’s Gullah Geechee.
Luana | So they were saying that as a kind of a insult or thinking that it was even though that’s what they were too?
Mother Emily – Well, they were, they were bigger girls and bigger boys, you know, and the little ones coming along, you know, we were the Geechee.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily – So I see makes no matter what it is. I’m here.
Luana | Exactly.
Mother Emily – We got a good living and chance to be on an island where I can call a little bit of heaven.
Luana | Yes, absolutely. It’s beautiful here.
Mother Emily | It’s a little bit of heaven because you have no crime here.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily | No carrying on and killing and shooting and raping them. And everybody, looks out for everybody, especially the Edistonians, not the newcomers. That is the way we live here, you look out for each other.
Luana | How big is the community out here?
Mother Emily | Oh, not very big. No. I said when you cross the Mckinley Washington bridge, this is all, Edisto. You can’t miss it. Like I said a little of heaven.
Luana | It’s nice, definitely beautiful.
Mother Emily | Cross, you know, on the other side of that bridge you’re in the world. Yes.but when you cross the bridge you taste a little of heaven. So you come today, you got a little heaven.
Luana | Well, you know what, I live on Hilton Head, it’s the same, and I feel the same way. When you cross the bridge I feel like it’s like what I call the bubble.
Mother Emily – Yeah.
Luana | It’s a very big difference,when you go on the other side of the bridge, you’re out of the bubble, you know? But, it’s nice to have that small town feel and the serenity that comes with island living. So, I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Mother Emily – Yeah. It’s very peaceful and quiet. You can’t get that everywhere. No,
not anymore. Here, we take care of everyone, including everyone’s children. When we were little we thought that a neighbor was punishing us, or being mean to us, but she was just protecting us. But I say now, the kids of today, you better not touch them, cause if you touch them you’re going to court.
Luana | Not anymore. It’s totally different now. But that’s very cultural, you know, that it, that it takes the village of everybody.
Mother Emily – It’s totally different now.
Luana | Yes. Absolutely.
Mother Emily – Mhm. If you did something, before you got home, your mom knew what you did. I don’t know how they did, but they always did.
Luana | Yes. My mother used to say there is nothing that you can do that I will not find out about
and so quick.
Mother Emily – Yes. And if you saw an adult they would come and discipline you just as quickly as your mother would. Everybody was like playing telephone. When this one knew, then that one and that one and so on. From this house to that house. Everybody knew.
Luana | Exactly. Now, it is a different world. It is definitely a different world and it is changing every day.
Mother Emily – I pray for all of the children since my children come along.
Luana | That’s all you can do. I really am concerned about the future generations because, I can’t imagine how it will be In, you know, 5, 10 years because things are changing so quickly.
So, what is your favorite favorite meal that you either enjoy cooking or enjoy eating
after you cooked it?
Mother Emily – All of it.
Luana | All of it. You sound like me. I can’t pick just one.
Mother Emily – All of it. I cook with love. It doesn’t matter what it is. I put all of the love and care in it that I could. I just cook the way that I can. If you put all of your love and care into the bowl, it’s ‘s the time that I put in and I don’t take from this one for that one. I cook with love. It’s all love.
Luana | It’s all love. Oh, that’s beautiful.
Mother Emily – It’s all love. And if you put all the love and the care in that food, mix them up, it just is bits and pieces. That’s me. And you would enjoy it.
Luana | That’s beautiful. Are you still a dash cook? For the most part, you have never really measured anything with your cooking.
Mother Emily – No I don’t measure. You know what, when I did that cookbook, I was worried and said, I don’t know how I’m gonna do this cookbook. I don’t measure. They came down to get the recipes and to test them for the book. So I was thinking maybe they just say, oh, I tell them that I don’t have them written on paper. That’s what’s gonna be. But they had us to test those recipes. And it had 85 recipes that we sent. In the 85, only 3 came back wrong.
Luana | Oh, wow! That’s amazing!
Mother Emily – And I said I can’t compete with those New York people. But they ain’t taught me nothin’, I taught them something. You know, because see, I don’t cook like you cook and you don’t cook like I cook. Right?
Luana | Yeah,
Mother Emily – I could. But a passion if I said I, you know, cook some sausage, I cook and I know I got too much for my family.
Mother Emily | So then I would take a plate down to Ms. Irena, ‘cause she had a stroke and she can’t really get around, then to Mr. Flood, his wife has cancer. I go around to all of the sick people and I call the man from the real estate, come to get your mama and your daddy food because he got Alzheimer’s. I hope I cook with a passion just to serve somebody everyday.
Luana | Yeah, that’s, that’s such a beautiful blessing.
Mother Emily | Everyday.
Luana | You are truly a blessing to, to not only the community and the people that are around you, but now it’s all over the world all over.
Mother Emily | All over. When I go to the bank, I take them something, I go to the post office, I take them something. I go to the car dealer, I take them something. I walk in, meet people and they get my car serviced and come on out. No charge.
Luana | That’s fabulous!
Mother Emily | I go to the vegetable stand. They said, don’t bring your pocket book in here. Just get what you want and get out of here. Let’s go to the shrimp house up here. Get the crab. Same thing. Get what you want to get out here. I said now, I believe I am the only person here on Edisto that can go into any store to get that kind of treatment because you have to give to get.
Luana | Absolutely.
Mother Emily | You can’t expect for somebody to give you all the time. And then you got your hand full. You have to give a little to get a little.
Luana | Yes. Ah, that’s, that’s so beautiful. So, so beautiful. And, what it tells me is that it speaks to your spirit. It’s coming from your spirit of giving and love, which is one of the most amazing qualities you can have, really.
Mother Emily | and when they don’t see me, they call. Did you see Red? Then it’s time for me to put the pot up. And it don’t be a week pass that I’m not taking food or sending a plate to the sick and shut in. The blind, those with cancer people,Alzheimer’s or with stroke those are the people that I take it too.
Luana | Yes. Those that need the most.
Mother Emily | Yeah. And I get joy out of it.
Luana | Of course.
Mother Emily | I get a lot of joy out of it.. Especially when they say “oh that food was so good!” It makes me feel like I need to go put the pot on and cook some more.
Luana | Wow. So, are you still cooking every day? I mean, I know your daughters are all in the kitchen now.
Mother Emily | Mhm. Yeah. I cook everyday. Yeah, they’re here now, but I cook everyday and it’s just me. They’re here for this thing Friday night, but I cook everyday. And when my daughter stops by everyday and doesn’t see the pot on the stove, she asks “Ma what happened to you today? You’re not feeling good?’ You’’ll always see the pot on the stove.
Luana | That’s great. That’s just, that’s just amazing. So, when it comes to, like a holiday, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, are there any specific Gullah foods or recipes that you like?
Mother Emily | They’re gonna have turkey and ham when Christmas comes. Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Luana | Recipes that you like to cook or that you’re gonna have that you always want? Are there any particular Gullah foods that you tend to make?
Mother Emily | It’s the same old same old.
Luana | What do you consider same old, same old?
Mother Emily | You got hoppin john, red rice, fish, turkey, ham, shrimp, crab over and over.
Luana | You’ve checked all of the right ones.
Mother Emily | Yeah. Those are part of the traditions.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily | Pies and cakes.
Luana | What kind of pies?
Mother Emily | Apple pie, sweet potato pie, apple pie is the number one. And cakes, lemon cake with rum icing, sweet potato cake and honey bun cake.
Luana | Wow. Sounds delicious. I’ve never heard of the honey bun.
Mother Emily | Oh yeah. Mhm. Deedee is the baker.
Luana | Delicious. I know that at your house, the line is long, I can tell that the line is very long for a plate.
Mother Emily | Yeah. This is the community house. You can find everybody right here.
Luana | So, one of my listeners asked me if you have ever canned any of the foods that you make or preserve them.
Mother Emily | OK. I um do the okra and butter beans. Squash and carrots, uhuh, I wash it I cut it up, and put it in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer. Putting it in a jar is too much work. What it means. But the only two things that I would put in, I will put this, carrots and, but now butter beans and the okra, I freeze that. You freeze it in what you’re going to put it in or you freeze it first. I cut it, I wash it up, put it in the zip lock bag and put it in the freezer. Ok? But, there was a time back what we used to do, we used to put it in a jar and enjoy eating too much and then just put it in there. Put it up, put it in the freezer.
Luana | But what did you have to do if you were putting it in a jar? That was different?
Mother Emily | If you were putting it in a jar, you have to be, you have to put the corn and the tomatoes with it and then put it in the jar, put it in the pot on the stove and let it cook for 45 minutes, then let it cool off. And then, then put it up. That’s more work. This way all that you have to do is just cut it up, get the washing over, and put it away.
Luana | Don’t you just love modern technology?
Mother Emily | Yeah. You know, you learn as you go.
Luana | Yeah.
Mother Emily | Back then, I mean, the elderly people had no other way to do it but to put it in a jar.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily | Yes, because you had no refrigerator, right? No electric stove and gas stove.
I mean, electric and gas. They didn’t have that. So what they did, they put it in that big pot outside with a towel in there and then, stack those jars in it, cover it up and let it boil for like 45 minutes. Everybody had a pantry, a food pantry. You know, they had corn, they had okra, beans, they had shrimp and fish. I don’t know what they jarred, but I know they, jarred. My mom had a long, pantry wall full of food that was eatable..
Luana | Right. And, growing up, I know in the Gullah tradition, most of what one family had they would share with others. Was it similar here in this community?
Mother Emily | Aways shared. I guess that’s how I learned to share. Oh, that’s, I guess that’s how I learned how to see it. Um, mom used to, my uncle used to catch the fish and the shrimp, mom would bag it up and we’d be walking all day long taking it from this house, going from this house to the next house and take it to different people. But now people are going to the creek and you don’t even know that they were in there.
Luana | Right.
Mother Emily | But they shared with everybody, the white shared with the black and the black shared with the white.
Luana | Growing up, were there a lot of white families on the island?
Mother Emily | Umum. There were more blacks than whites.
Luana | It was more black families in Hilton Head. There were only 22 white families before the bridge. And of course, you know, the majority of it was Gullah. So I was wondering if it was similar here?
Mother Emily | More black here.
Luana | Right.
Mother Emily | Mhm. Yeah. And then most of the white had the plantation. There wasn’t too many other whites, like, you know, playing around.
Luana | Interesting. Is there a lot of, heir’s property here as well that, you know, of,
Mother Emily – You got a good many, but I tell you ,the newcomers that are coming in and the people that can’t pay their taxes are getting it sucked up in a blink of an eye.
Luana | Mhm. Yeah.
Mother Emily | But I see them. I will pay that tax if I have to eat peanut butter and jelly the whole year. I’m gonna save that money to get that tax.
Luana | Yeah.
Mother Emily | Once you lose your property you can’t get it, you can’t get it back. You can forget it. They’ll put up a gate and sign saying no trespassing. You’ve been here all your life.
Luana | Exactly. I mean, part of what I really focus on with the work that I do is keeping that land in Gullah hands so that it can go on to the next generation, because to me, it’s the biggest part of the culture; it’s the greatest asset of the culture that we have. And it’s important to preserve.
Mother Emily | Mhm
Luana | So I’m glad that there are people who are still holding on to what they have and people are doing what they need to do just to hold on to your piece of property.
Mother Emily | I advize people to hold on to what they have. Maybe a big piece maybe a little piece.. And maybe, and I said, you know, if you don’t have the money to pay for its it’s noth something to be ashamed..
Luana | Yes. Yasss. I think for some people, I guess they, for whatever reason,. I think that’s a Gullah thing, I think, you know, it’s a Gullah pride that, that privacy and the pride in not wanting to talk about it and, and ask for help.
Mother Emily | Yeah. But I, as you know, it comes down to the only thing, two things. Yes or no.
Luana | Exactly.
Mother Emily | Exactly. That’s the only, you see, yes or no because these folks would take it if it, if it is this that much. They’ll take it. They’ll take it.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily | Yes. Then you can’t walk on it. Been there all your life.
Luana | Yeah. And we have to help each other, of course.
Mother Emily | I said, number one, I said, black people don’t, sometimes they want no help. Someone bought it and some would go to the sale. Yeah. You know, you have to, somebody has to reach out to them.
Luana | Yeah. Now, you know what I do when I’m not writing, I’m literally, contacting people and trying to educate and preserve what we can because just like we were talking about earlier that, as a child, it was a village, everybody looked out for each other, everybody shared what they had. So we need to continue to do that.
Mother Emily | Yes. That’s good. But I don’t remember how the pride of that or something got innovated. And then another thing, people would help you and then before the sun went down everybody know. That’s not good. Not good.
Luana | Right. Right.
Mother Emily | If you gonna help me, you help me and keep it between you and I.
Luana | Exactly.
Mother Emily | Yeah. But now if you’re gonna help me, then before the sun goes down and everybody, you know, people say you don’t have to help me, Miss Emily. No, I can’t stand that.
Luana | Right.
Mother Emily | I said I take food to people. Black and white. Far. I said, all I want them to do is enjoy it. And if they enjoy it, then I go back and put the pot on the stove and cook some more. But if I used to take that food to them and then so that, I have to take some food to, no, I have to take some food. No. Mhm. No.
Luana | That’s what it’s all about. It should be all about the giving and not the, the accolades that, that could, you could potentially get out of it. Mhm.
Mother Emily | I take it and I ask nothing. Nothing. I just get a joy out of doing it. They get a joy out of eating it because before I get back home, the phone rings and they say, Meggett, that food is good.
Luana | It’s a short trip. But you already got the call.
Mother Emily | Then I go back and put the potter and do it and cook some more. The Lord have been so good to me now. I can’t explain how much he had done for me in my lifetime. I said, you know, mama taught us to never eat everything you got and don’t spend all that you got. Save something for hard times. .
Luana | Yeah.
Mother Emily | I said, you know, I go to these people fix these food and take it to them. The car dealer, the doctor office, the lawyer office, the preacher and his wife in Adam’s Run. Three people over there on Blue House Road that has cancer, take their food. And I said, you know, the more I take the more I get back.
Luana | Yes, absolutely.
Mother Emily | The more I give, the more I get and every day I would see for the last. Oh Lord, I can’t tell. Think there’s always somebody bringing something, leave it on that bench or leave it on that chair.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily | If you need corn.okra, fish, tomatoes, shrimp. Oh you name it.
Luana | Yes.
Mother Emily | Somebody brings something. You get something up there every day. My daughter say, she said mommy, you can kill a whole lot of people, but now they can kill a whole lot, they can kill you because, see, they bring it and I don’t know who bring it.
Luana | Exactly. So, is there, a particular dish that people ask you to do the most?
Mother Emily | Uhuh.
Luana | I guess that it doesn’t matter because it’s just all good.
Mother Emily | What ever I fix, that’s what they have. That’s what they have enjoyed.
Luana | That’s amazing. That’s the most important thing, for them to enjoy it.
Mother Emily | Yes. You know, since I’ve been here almost 90 years, nobody had ever went hungry on Edisto. Nobody.
Luana | Oh my God.
Mother Emily | Nobody have every been homeless on Edisto.
Luana | Wow.
Mother Emily | Not that I know of, black or white. And I said, that’s why I said this is a little piece of heaven because nobody is hungry, nobody homeless. And there are so many homeless people in the world. Not Edisto..
Luana | Yes, it is true.
Mother Emily | Mhm.
Luana | And you know, that’s well, two things that you just mentioned that are truly of the Gullah culture, that kindness and the the sharing that I have yet to go to a Gullah community because I go, all over the corridor where there hasn’t been someone who went hungry or homeless, you know everyone just takes care of each other. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. And, as it should be, you know.
Mother Emily | Yes. It should be.
Luana | It’s just one of the beautiful elements of the culture. And, it’s just remarkable that, that kind of kindness and giving continues through you. And like I said, it is truly a blessing, you are truly, truly a blessing.
Mother Emily | You know, I looked at some people that is homeless or on the street and I know that they are really hungry and I said, if I could just put all of in the back of my car and bring them home, give them a bath and sit them at the table so that they can eat a good meal. That way, I’m really gonna sleep.
Luana | And you know what? Sometimes you don’t even have to think that far, just from the first thought, you know, just everything else just kind of comes together. Yes,
Mother Emily – I see it. I want to have them, like, just little kids on their TV. You see all the little ribs up.
Luana | Yeah.
Mother Emily | Oh, gosh, it just breaks my heart to see that. But, you know, I can’t take them all.
Luana | Yeah. But, but you know what? You have a huge footprint here and it goes a long way. It goes a very, very long way with what you can do. just by yourself. So that’s, that’s impressive. And, you know, I love the idea that you are bringing people to the table and bridging all of the differences between people through food. It’s just, you have an amazing story.
Mother Emily | Yeah, I like to look out for people now. You know what I got. This is as much white as I got black. And I would say I, I can’t find one person on Edisto that says, I don’t care about Emily Meggett. Not when I know when they know her. They’re always saying something nice about Emily.
Luana | Mhm. As they should. Absolutely.
Mother Emily | As they said, you know, I heard people say some bad things about other people. I never heard them say some bad things about Meggett.
Luana | Well, I can’t imagine someone even conceiving of something negative to say about you because all I have ever heard is good things and having had the chance to talk to you, I know that there’s even more good things about you, because like I said earlier, you truly are a blessing and I am grateful to have been able to spend some time with you.
Mother Emily | You know, I tell people, I said, the Lord has a blessing for all his children.
Luana | Yes,
Mother Emily | Rich and poor, black or white, good looking and ugly. He has a blessing for all of us. And I said, you know, you don’t get it when you’re young, you get it in middle age or you get it in your old age. And I said, I lay in my bed and I thought about it. I said, when momma used to say, come take this and this Liza come take this and this Josephine. Sometime in the rain, sunshine, sometime in the cold. We couldn’t say no, mhm, that word don’t come out your mouth. Well, I’m not gonna do this, you know, mhm, you had to go. You couldn’t say that. And Miss Josephine would say bless you for this, and the Lord is gonna bless you. Bless me? If the Lord was going to bless me, I would say that I didn’t need to come out here. But you sit down and think about them. Yes, the Lord was gonna bless you. He was saving a special place for you. A special blessing for you.
Luana | Yes. So, how did you come up with the title of your book?
Mother Emily | Um hm I don’t remember that far back in my memory. Something might be in that book that would jog my mind. But, BJ Dennis, I think BJ was talking to me one day about our culture of Gullah Geechee people. BJ, I think that’s really how it came up. Yeah.
Luana | Well, I’m glad that you not only took the time to share your recipes and put it into a book so that not only all of the amazing flavors that you could put together are, are now going around the world. But I’m also proud to know that you are truly helping to preserve Gullah culture through food, since it is such a significant part of our culture. So I am very, very, very, very honored to be able to speak to the Matriarch of Gullah Geechee cooking, and I’m sure that everyone calls you Mother Emily. So, thank you Mother Emily Meggett for all that you have done and all that you continue to do, because you really truly are a blessing and thank you again and again for sharing your time with me.
Mother Emily – You’re quite welcome.
Luana | That was perfect. Thank you so so much.
Mother Emily Meggett was laid to rest on April 29, 2023. Based on her life’s work and dedication to her island piece of heaven, I’m absolutely sure that a perfect table was set and waiting just for her.
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