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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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Charleston Festivals Launch First Signs of Spring with Walking the Preferred Mode of Transportation

Francis Marion Square is full of white enclosed tents  for the Wine and Food Festival that began March 6.  Bacchus is there in the spirit of conviviality, mirth, and enjoyment of all good tastes and comradeship in which Charleston abounds.  “Ho!  Everyone that thirsteth. Come ye to the water!”  It started wet and chilly here, but chances are not as chilly as where you are, from what I see on the news.  No snow and ice are to be found here.  “For lo, the winter is past.”  Red Bud is in bloom and the purple Japanese Tulip tree, what you may call Magnolia.  “Daffy Down Dilly is come up to town; in her yellow petticoat and her green gown.”

We were kindly the guests of Lisa and Glenn Kline of Houston, who bought our beloved kitchen house on Legare Street.  The Wine and Food Festival culminated with the Jazz Brunch at the Gov. Thomas Bennett House in the garden.  It was actually warm!  The sunshine day was what you picture more of Easter  than the day we spring forward.  Our table started with the most delicious poached egg on an open face benne seed biscuit with an artistic sprinkling of tomato bits and candied bacon, baby arugula, melting Gruyere cheese , and lemon mayonnaise. My husband, who is used to only the best homemade fare, aptly said,”This is not your salad for the masses.”  We then found out it was only our table and one other who had that menu.  I told our server to tell the chef how impressed we were.  Rick Widman at that next table popped over to say it is on the menu at HIS restaurant, 208 King Street KITCHEN, next door to his Fulton Lane Inn, where he used to have the Victoria House Inn.  I have done tours for years out of his inns but never imagined he would venture into the realm of restaurants.  We do break out of the box every now and then, as has his daughter, Lauren, home for sunshine from phd studies in psychology from Wheaton C0llege in Illinois.   She is called to take her counseling skills to places of need around the world, perhaps Turkey.  See KITCHEN208.COM for her dad’s restaurant with great fare and fresh air.

CAMELLIAS are in full bloom, our winter flower that peeks in late February, early March.  I have a platter mounded on my table of choice camellias from the 19th century summer home of the Draytons of Magnolia Plantation, owned now by the Shelbournes in Summerville, some of our best friends and our teenage Godson, Sloan.  While my husband was on a quail shoot at Edisto, I got a spur of the moment quick get-away to bask in their company, home, and camellia garden over last weekend, just as people on my tour get away with friends to invest themselves in what really refreshes the soul, time apart spent with loved ones in a beautiful place like Charleston.  I awoke to see the windows full of camellia bushes, gargantuan in size, all in full bloom.  You can imagine the choice camellias there from the Drayton’s time in the 19th century.  Magnolia Gardens and Plantation now has the largest planting of different varieties of camellias in the world.  Gardens here were designed to peek for the highlight of the social season, The Races, held at Washington Race Course in the 18th and 19th centuries, now Hampton Park.  Plantation owners were the breeders and trainers of these magnificent thoroughbreds.  Camellias compliment the season of festivals beginning today.

Charleston Art and Antiques Forum,  celebrating 300 years of Georgian architecture in Charleston,  is March 12-16.   Our own Tom Savage, past curator here of the Nathaniel Russell House before moving on to the White House and now Winterthur, will be back home speaking at the Forum.  Charleston Antique Show sponsored by Historic Charleston Foundation is unlike any other in its quality of furniture and fine arts as well as in the authenticity of the Old Charleston experience.  It’s no flee market.  The prices reflect it.  You get what you pay for, and it is worth it.  It is March 21-23.

Overlapping the Charleston Antique Show, the city swings into high gear with The Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 20-April 19.  All through college I was their indispensable volunteer docent for these spring candlelight tours for the Historic Charleston Foundation, being moved hither, dither and yon, to wherever they had a need.  The rest of the year I gave tours on weekends and holidays of the Edmonston -Alston House and the Nathanial Russell House.  Frances Edmunds, the director for almost 40 years, was my role model and tutor.  I was blessed to receive a dual education while in college at The College of Charleston, the best a home grown girl could have.  I rose to be Assistant Administrator of the Edmonston-Alson House at 21 E.Battery, a job I stepped into when I graduated from college.  Remembering to lock the door behind me was a challenge!

Come as soon as you can get down your icy road or onto a flight out of your snow and sleet.  I hear there are new great flights into Charleston.  Spring comes in March to Charleston.

WALKING is the best way to see Charleston.  Whoever calls me first can determine the mode of transportation for that day, our feet, or my van.  As on a golf course, the price is the same whether you walk or ride.  As I wrote this paragraph, a lady called for a 60th birthday celebration in Charleston, cheering that they get to walk April 1st. We start with breakfast on the Battery in one of the mansions overlooking the Harbor.  Walking, we stay South of Broad.  We go into the home of the doctor who delivered me, unsurpassed in antiquities and plaster and woodwork.  We see gardens and end with High Tea at noon in my house overlooking the Ashley River.  I gave a walking tour to a happy Yoga class here from Texas for a retreat.  We covered so much of the nooks and crannies of Old Charleston on foot.  They inspired me to stay active with walking tours offered as well as my van tour. Varnetta, who works for me,  spoke to them at High Tea at my house in her Gullah dialect, saying, “My Daddy was a fushamun cross de Cupper…”  I told Varnetta while making the tea fare together that there was no one else in the world I’d rather be with preparing for this group.  We are a team.  You can meet her on Tuesdays and Fridays, she who my husband calls the core of our family’s sanity.  I can’t wait to hear from you as your plans shape up to visit the Holy City of Charleston, which like George Washington, was first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of all Americans.–Laura Wichmann Hipp–843-577-5896

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Husband Preston Helps with Large Group Tour

A first!  We did it!  With husband’s Preston’s help, I gave my largest private tour yet.  FAUSA, a Federation of American Women who have lived overseas, came on my tour.  Sue and Hugh Ripps came to Charleston earlier to check me out. I rented two vans of 14 passengers with my husband driving one and and with me driving the other.  Charleston native guide and friend, Angie Hewitt Chakeris, gave the tour in Preston’s van as he drove to the private houses and gardens.   We had yet another vehicle, Sue and Hugh’s car filled with  people.  Sue brought along high technology: walkie talkies!  They worked beautifully, a lot better than when my brother Bunky and I had them as children.  They could hear everything I said perfectly as they followed behind me.  That was a first for me which I will invest in for the future!

Dick Bennington, furniture restorer, returned my recaned chairs and loaned me 11 more. Preston took two days off from his office to help me be prepared.   Somehow, we managed to seat  32 people in our front drawing room, which is as wide as the front of our Charleston Double House.  We served lunch and tea with Varnetta’s help and the unexpected help from my father’s lovely wife, Joyce Wichmann.  The FAUSA group also used the occasion seated together in our home to have their meeting.  Their ice breaker question President  Louise posed was  what was the most unusual and favorite dish  they learned to prepare and in what country.  These ladies have lived ALL over the world.  They have had such varied experiences.  Cooking, of course, immerses you in the culture, changing and sealing you forever as a part of that culture.  Gardening abroad does the same.

For Sue, the treasurer and organizer to say those magic words, “It was perfect”, makes all the headache of preparing worthwhile.  Her smile and faith in me are with me still, refreshing me, making me believe I can do it again for others.  I sold them my first freshly made batch of  Calamondin Marmalade as well,  which we served over roasted pumpkin cake,  and used the proceeds to treat our family that night to the movie, Courageous, an inspirational film for our times.

I wish I could have got to know all the ladies better and to hear all their adventures from the far corners of the world.  They have a zest for life from living abroad, but have not forgot to be proud to be an American.  Thank you to all who were pulling for me in this venture outside my routine of typically touring  small groups of  up to six.  At our Saturday night dinner party with good friends, Preston could talk of nothing else but our tour.  This was a rare opportunity for my man to step into my shoes for a day, breaking routine himself.  He was proud of me!  And I was thankful for him.

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