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With ‘Gullah Geechee Home Cooking,’ Emily Meggett Preserves a Legacy


Many highly skilled cooks in the region have been overlooked for years, said Hanna Raskin, a former restaurant critic for The Post and Courier in Charleston, who writes a newsletter about Southern food. “The elite of the Lowcountry have a long history of taking Black women for granted.”

The book might never have been published in its final form if Mr. Smith hadn’t asked BJ Dennis, a well-known Gullah chef in Charleston, to weigh in. Mr. Dennis had known Mrs. Meggett for only five years, but quickly became part of the family. “Once you meet Emily,” he said, “game over.”

A few weeks before the family was going to pay a company to print the book so they could sell it themselves, Jonah Straus, a literary agent, asked Mr. Dennis if he was interested in writing a book. Mr. Dennis already had one in progress, but made a suggestion: The first high-profile book on Gullah Geechee cooking should come from Mrs. Meggett.

“It’s never the grandma who gets the first book deal,” he said.

At first, Mrs. Meggett didn’t like the idea, because it would take so much longer than self-publishing. “I thought I would be dead and gone because of Covid by 2022,” she said. “But I prayed about it, and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The Smith family handed over the manuscript and asked for no money in return, though Mrs. Meggett eventually insisted they get some anyway. “I just feel so grateful that this is the way we did it,” Mrs. Smith said. “It is the most freeing thing. It makes it sweeter for me.”

The cookbook was a communal effort featuring a mostly Black creative team. Ms. Stewart, a co-writer, embedded with the Meggett family for a few months. The Gullah Geechee oral historian Trelani Michelle signed on to help tell the family and cultural history. The New York photographer Clay Williams shot the images. Lavern and Marvette Meggett, two daughters whom Mrs. Meggett refers to as the general and the corporal, kept their mother and the project on track.

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