Category Archives: January in Charleston

Dine Like a Charlestonian

Frequently I am asked, “Where is your favorite restaurant?” With so many nationally renowned ones, new ones, and ones that have stood the test of time, it is hard to narrow it down.  But when it comes down to it, I have to admit my favorite place to dine is in my friends’ homes and my own.

 

The art of entertaining is the art of hospitality.  And you do not have to be accomplished to entertain. You just have to care more about your friends than your fear of failure.  Pull out all the stops, not to impress but to delight and for breaking routine.  Your guests will feel they are worth the trouble when you pull out the family heirloom china, crystal, and silver. It is the culture of dining with friends and family around the table, where conversation and breaking bread together are passed on to us in Charleston, that is worth perpetuating.

Why have nice things if you are not going to use them?  Charlestonians have continued through the generations to dine with beauty: home made food served on china platters, covered silver vegetable dishes, with white linens and fresh flowers gracing the table as enjoyed in Downton Abbey. As implied by the circle motif of the Guilloche Pattern in the woodwork of the Antebellum home of the doctor who delivered me, “May the circle be unbroken.”  From generation to generation, the heritage, faith, and culture are passed on.  “The chain is only as strong as… the weakest link.” Who is going to pass on the beauty and culture of Western Civilization in daily life? If not us in Charleston then who? If not now in Charleston than when?  If not here in Charleston than where?  Charlestonians and the Chinese have a few things in common: we both eat rice, drink tea, and worship our ancestors! (Old Charlestonian saying from my parents era.)

Spring flowers from our gardens to grace our tables. Luminescent orbs like Chinese lanterns were my persimmons hanging in my downtown back garden from my  persimmon tree, from which I made persimmon sorbet and pudding. I am picking kale, and lettuce leaves for salads from a raised bed.  After spreading a year’s worth of compost: vegetable, egg shell, coffee and tea scraps, the contents of my warm compost bin, onto the raised beds, I scattered the fuzzy flowering lettuce seeds I saved from last years’ lettuces that bolted. In November and all through the winter til spring I have had a carpet of lettuce, much more than from seed packets or nursery bought plants. The shopping basket becomes the garden basket as I get closer to the earth, like Francis Marian, the Swamp Fox.

We see the portrait of Francis Marion’s aid-de-camp, ancestor of owner, dramatized as Luke in the historic novel, Celia Garth, by Gwen Bristow. The owner’s grandfather was Lucas Simons, descendant of Keating Simons in the portrait.”That Old Swamp Fox” is what the British called Francis Marion. The ancestral portraits in this private home are worthy of art museums.  Mrs. Porter, mother of The Reverend Anthony Toomer Porter, who started Porter Military Academy, which today is Porter Gaud School, is by Samual F. B. Morse.  Toomer Porter gathered together as much of “the seed corn” as he could, as encouraged by Mrs. Jefferson Davis, so as not to lose a generation.  The chain is only as strong as the weakest link, as emphasized in the Guilloche pattern in the woodwork.  The tensions were building in the Antebellum Period where they felt the importance of passing on the culture, the history, the heritage, and the faith to the next generation even as they felt they were entering the unknown at the end of an era.  C’est la meme chose maintenant.

843-708-2228. Laura Wichmann Hipp

 

 

 

 

 

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Camellias are our Winter Roses; Persimmons and Calamondins our Winter Fruit

I dreamed that a profusion of roses was in bloom everywhere I went.  Despite the threat of thorns, I was exhilarated as I rode my bike at the sight of a new view of life in the everyday with such beautiful roses of all shades and scents and heady clusters.  I thought I must be in England.  I will have to go see my mother’s family and have a cup of tea, I thought. My mother was the rare English Rose of Beauty.  She loved giving tours with me and wanted nothing more than to get well to get back to them again.  We lost her to throat cancer in late August.

I awoke with a sense of expectation for the New Year.  Will it be filled with briars, or roses?  As I stepped into our back garden, what had been green buds were transformed overnight into round jewels of camellia balls about to open into many petaled delights.  With the winter green rye grass up, and now the camellias in bloom, we are a winter wonderland without the snow.   All summer and fall I scrub with leftover tea leaves the scale from under the foliage of camellias in anticipation of these winter delights.

Nothing speaks Charleston more than the camellia, developed by Andre Michaux here in the 18th century for the court of France.  In addition to introducing the camellia to North America through Charleston, he also brought us Crepe Myrtles, which are water nymphs, cursed, and put on land as these trees, with their fluid bark- like sculpture; and our beloved Tea Olive, the essence of Charleston when its tiny flower blooms in the spring and in the fall. Charleston gardens were designed to bloom in the winter for the highlight of the social season in the 18th and 19th centuries, The Races.  Many of the plantation owners were the trainers and breeders of these magnificent thoroughbreds. The Races were held at Washington Race Course, now Hampton Park, near The Citadel.  Hampton Park is a beautiful camellia and rose garden with a pedestrian bridge over a pond.

My white table cloth is now the snowy contrast to show off the three arrangements I have of camellias.  Two bowls are of silver and the center is a ver de gris pedestal bowl with handles on either side and classical swags.  My husband bought it for me one year for our anniversary from The Charleston Garden Shop.  I use wet oases in it to arrange my jewels of camellias interspersed with a few calamondins to give it a zing!

Calamondin oranges are being made into marmalade in my kitchen, the perfect thing on a cold winter’s night.  I risked life and limb to pluck these winter fruits yesterday on the tip top of our ladder in our back garden while hugging the tree’s upper branches.  Ours reach for the sky.  They are no bigger than golf balls, but they make the Queen of Marmalades. Our family had a calamondin deseeding party with our three daughters and friend, Jon, ’round the table after dinner last night.  We played vintage albums on our new phonograph we got from Santa!  We laughed until tears came to our eyes, giddy with light-hearted low stress after the holidays.  Now, for the adding of sugar to my copper jam pan;  nothing saves time in marmalade making like a copper pot.  It cuts the time in half.

For those who have been followers of my calamondin marmalade in the past, I did not have any to share last year due to the rare freeze.  I only put up one batch.  This year there is only enough for one batch as well; however, I will be serving it upon request at our tea parties at the end of the tour in jam tarts and in glistening dressing over golden beets and goat cheese, Russian onion dome style.  These are a few of my favorite things. It is served on Blue and White Cantonware China, the 18th and 19th century everyday ware of Charleston, shipped here in abundance on clipper ships. The English Tea Clippers were the fastest.

Persimmons are the luminescent orbs of transparency, like tiny Chinese lanterns,  hanging from an otherwise leafless tree in our back garden.  There is an abundance of persimmons despite my having picked at least 50 to put in floral arrangements and to make persimmon sorbet.  They have been bitten by frost, which is good for them; their chalkiness has been transformed into sweet, velvet lushness to the palate. My handy husband got out his loppers, and I got out my big round basket; he lopped, and I danced underneath to catch the persimmons.  Those that split were an invitation I could not refuse to receive to my salivating mouth.  If not me, then the squirrels and birds will get them.  When I go out before dawn, I hear an early bird squawking that the persimmons are its feast, not mine. Many have been transformed into persimmon sorbet with the help of cool Simple Syrup, and my electric ice cream maker. One calamondin is the citrus in place of  a squeeze of lemon that marries well with persimmons to give it that… je ne sais quoi!  My friend, Pringle, thinks I must have subtle spices included, but it is clean-and-easy and the best thing you have ever put into your mouth. Come while the supply lasts.  Persimmon pudding and persimmon bread to follow. Persimmon bits tossed in a salad with the different lettuce leaves, garlic and chopped swiss chard from my raised beds in the back garden made this an all fresh garden to table salad in January grown here on Tradd Street in Charleston.  Why didn’t I think to put persimmon in our kale salad tonight?

My neighbors, the Deans of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits,  Lee Manigault and Suzanne Pollak, are invited to pick persimmons in my back garden. According to Lee, they have been having to BUY them for their recipe Twelve-Months-a-Year Parsley Salad on page 31 in their newly published book : The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits; with Etiquette and Recipes.  P.S. Who do I have to thank for this Christmas gift?  It is my favorite read with only Lee and Suzanne’s signatures.

It is a good year.  Look for the Good News.  Report it to others.  My husband’s numbers are good.  The dream of roses foretold it.  The Dream Maker is on the move, listening and speaking in that still, small voice.

Come to Charleston to renew your dreams, and to feel afresh the Wonder of Life.  Charleston is where Magic happens, which is one of the reasons she is called The Holy City.  Her history makes America’s history make more sense when you understand what first happened here, and the correlation to quotes from the Founding Fathers and diarists.  I never tire of telling it.  Few really know it. It is like looking at the moon that you have gazed at all your life, but from a side you have never seen before.

Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday.  Make a long weekend of it. The South Carolina Wildlife Exhibition will be in February followed by the Charleston Wine and Food Festival  March 4-8; then the Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Festival of Houses and Gardens. Charleston Arts and Antique Forum is coming up soon as well.

As Audrey Hepburn said of Paris, Charleston is always a good idea.

Call me on my cell phone for reservations at 843-708-2228.  Tours are weekday mornings starting at 9.

Laura Wichmann Hipp, founder of the Charleston Tea Party Private Tour

Our 1773 tea party was before Boston’s!

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Spring in January and February in Charleston

January and February are the best kept secret in Charleston.  The camellias are in bloom, cultivated for the social season when Charlestonians and plantation owners were in town for the races.  Magnolia Plantation is not to be missed with their world renowned collection of camellias in bloom now, which peak in February.  Those who wait til spring miss our spring like winter, especially refreshing if you live in environs where you see nothing green all winter.  Bulbs are coming up.   We are to ourselves again after the many visitors of autumn and Christmas.  It is quiet.  We have time get to know you better.

It is also the season of Lowcountry oyster roasts.  My family and I went to the SAVE THE LIGHT oyster roast for the Morris Island Lighthouse last Sunday.  I stood at the same spot for HOURS eating steamed oysters.  People would go away from our table and come back hours later to say, “You still here?!”  If anyone wants to have an oyster roast, my husband roasts some up for 6 or more.  He is renowned for doing it the old Charleston way.  He builds a fire in our old brick outside chimney; he puts a metal slab over the fire and piles on the Lowcountry oysters, ” locals” we call them.  Essential then is the wet burlap sack to put over the oysters so that they steam, roast, and smoke.  Where does one get a burlap sack these days?  Only those who are committed to LOCAL oysters know that secret!

Thank you to all who made 2011 a great year.   A young couple loitered after my last tour of the old year, waiting till everyone else left after Tea.  The young man had a guilty look.  Finally he  outed with it.  It was not my money of which he wanted to rob me;  it was another English Plum Pudding,  for the road.  He explained, “I’ve never had anything like this before.”

I also served  Hoppin’ John with a refreshing twist:  Field Peas with chopped Roasted Beets,  Ginger,  Meyer Lemon, and dried cranberries, inspiration from The Taylor Brothers, for whose cooking demonstration I first made it.  I made it it New Year’s Day for our family gathered at Aunt Dee’s.   I am using my home grown Meyer Lemons before a freeze comes along.  I was not as wise last year.  I am making Meyer Lemon Sorbet, my favorite, and Meyer Lemon Curd with scones.  Yesterday I baked two persimmon pies, which filled the house with their wonderful aroma.  You have to wait til the persimmons look soggy or they will taste like chalk.  We have a tree in back.  We have something new for the eyes to see, persimmons and calamondin oranges in my camellia flower arrangements.  Winter joys of life in Charleston keep us in good spirits until the full bloom of magic culminates in spring.

I am still up to my eyeballs in Calamondin Marmalade.  I cannot work in the front garden without a passerby wanting to know what that tree is with tiny oranges.   I gave tiny jars for party favors at a fabulous  New Year’s Eve dinner party with our friends at Cathy and Harry Gregorie’s, owners of GDC.  I ran out this morning of the marmalade jars I took with me to a citrus lecture at the Garden Club of Charleston.  Don’t worry; I am making more.

We are now in the 151st year since the War Between the States began at Ft. Sumter, April 12, 1861, in Charleston, “That Hellhole of Secession.”  One of the houses we visit is my friend, Francess Palmer’s, on East Battery with a dead on view of Ft. Sumter, where was fired the shot that was heard around the world.  I never tire of the sunlight on the water, the ever changing views of white caps or lazy glassiness where dolphins are jumping  and white sails are gliding by.  To add more value in these times to the tour and to highlight the history as seen from the Battery, I am offering a full, hot Southern breakfast in my friend Francess Palmer’s home and  B&B.  It has been in her family for three generations. I first went there for her debutant party when we were 18.  The Big Band from her grandparents era played on the lawn under a full moon.  There as we gaze at the view of Ft. Sumter,  I  talk about the history of this War of Northern Aggression!  You come to understand why Southerns had the audacity to call it that.

Our own  house had been Francess Palmer’s uncle’s.  We have owned it for 14 years this winter, having bought it from the Edmonds, who lived in it for 30 years after the Palmers.  I cried when we moved in.   I did not want to give up my home I had bought before marriage on Legare Street, where my tours had ended with tea in the garden.   I said I was only moving here because I loved my husband.  Preston in my face said, “Mark my words.  You’re gonna love it!”  And HE WAS RIGHT!  Sunlight and moisture for a citrus grove and flower garden, a view of the water, open air circulation and good sea breezes, SPACE for family living and for entertaining you, my guests,  all contribute to my love for our home.  Though it is old enough to have problems, its assets outweigh the responsibilities…so far anyway.  Your one hundred dollars each goes to the preservation of this historic Charleston house, be it ever so humble.

I realize I am living the life of my gregarious father, Fred Wichmann.  He is the epitome of Charleston hospitality, inviting strangers in who he meets often through sailing or through real estate.   Despite all the “strangers” I have had in my house, when I put everything back in their proper place, they are all there.   No one has taken from me yet after six years of my private tours.  I use old things for my enjoyment and that of of my guests as they were used in 18th and 19th century Charleston.   Thank you for being the people to whom  this Holy City of Charleston was meant to be hospitable.  Lafayette was amazed at Charleston hospitality when he visited here in 1825, saying there were so few inns or hotels because Charlestonians were so hospitable, “they would take you into their homes be you prominent or indigent.”  Read the first translation ever published of “Lafayette in America, 1824-25”, until now hidden in the French language.

I meet some of America’s nicest people on my tour.  I don’t want to let them go.  And so, I invite them in!   I learn from them.  Jump in and tell me something if it is on your mind.  I learned from Johnny Kicklighter that a scene I show of an old print of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, was on a South Carolina dollar bill and a Confederate bill.  I did not know that connection.  It is a scene of him loving his enemy, doing good to those who mistreat you.  Marion is sharing with hated but lost Redcoat Tarleton hot sweet potatoes just pulled from the fire. That picture tells the story of the heart of Charleston hospitality.  This value is an aspect of Charleston that once understood completes the picture of who we are.  Until newcomers get this understanding that it is more blessed to give than  to receive, they are not going to be regarded as belonging.  We are not a gated community of arrogant rich people trying to keep everybody else out.  We are an open city with a heritage and culture that is still alive,  to be shared,  and which has defined us for centuries.  This sentiment I learned growing up in Charleston and from Elizabeth Verner Hamilton, poet, gardener,  and daughter of Charleston artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner.  I am sharing my larkspur seedlings, which came from ones she shared with me decades ago.

I do my best in my humble efforts to give you that experience of Charleston that has persisted from generation to generation.  My tours are once a day at 9 a.m. with entrance into private homes and gardens. At the end of my tour I invite you in to my home.   After my last tour of the old year, a man moaned, “A hundred dollars!”  “Y-es”, I replied holding my breath.  “This tour is worth MUCH more than a hundred dollars a person! ” he exclaimed,  to my relief.  May God bless us, every one.–Laura Wichmann Hipp– Call 843-577-5896 for reservations.

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