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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gullah-inspired Red Rice w/ Shrimp, Bacon & Fennel | Vanishing Time

Gullah Red Rice w/ Shrimp, Bacon & Fennel
Have you ever had an author sort of sneak up on you? That's basically what Katharine Britton has done to me. I was first introduced to her books 5 years ago when I reviewed Her Sister's Shadow as part of a book tour. A few years later, I reviewed her novel Little Island, again as a part of a book tour. I really enjoyed the honest, down-and-dirty quality of her stories and characters, but then she did it—snuck up and became one of my favorites.

I read her latest book, Vanishing Time, on the plane to New York and back last week. And darnit all if I didn't have to hold in the tears a couple of times. I kind of thought that would happen after reading the description, though. It's a story about Cama Truesdale and her pursuit to find her son, who she believes deep-down is still alive even after her ex-husband was found dead, seemingly from a boat fire that happened on a "boys only" fishing trip the two were taking.

Her return to the South Carolina Low Country, to which she has painful ties, not only brings back painful memories, but also unlocks hidden ones. This thriller is entwined with Gullah culture, which fascinated me and left me wanting to know more about these people from the coast and islands of South Carolina.
Gullah Red Rice w/ Shrimp, Bacon & Fennel
Aside from the fact that this book kept me on the edge of my seat, fervently cheering Cama's drive to find her son—alive, it also made me hungry. I have this "thing" for comforting Southern and Creole food. If it weren't for the oppressive heat that inevitably came with it, I feel like I'd have made a great southerner.

Some of the foods mentioned in the book (both Southern and not) were peanut butter and orange marmalade, endive filled with goat cheese, shrimp satay, bread and butter, popcorn, iced chai tea, coffee, milk, bananas, eggs, cheese, cereal, lemonade, crab cakes, french fries, hamburgers, milk, Tang, grilled meat and fried seafood, shrimp and grits, sweet tea, eggs and grits, homemade hot sauce, ribs, boston butt, okra gumbo, tomato pie, bread pudding, red rice, Frogmore stew, fish and seafood, chocolate chip cookies, bourbon, crackers, blueberry corn muffins.

To go along with the vibe of the book, I really wanted to make a traditional Low Country dish, and since one of the things that intrigued me about the story was the culture, I decided to focus on the bit of history that dealt with the rice plantations that used to be a big part of the area. Although simply called "red rice" by the people who come from the area, you'll find it called Gullah red rice, Charleston red rice, and even Savannah red rice if you search the internet.
carolina gold rice package
To be as authentic as possible, I ordered some Carolina Gold rice, which comes from a plantation that still offers the "original grain that started South Carolina's rice culture", that began in 1685 when a distressed merchant ship paid for repairs in Charleston with a small amount of rice seed from Madagascar. The seed was planted in South Carolina and began the state's 200-year history as the leading rice producer in the US. Rice cultivation ended in the Low Country because of a weak market, inadequate machinery, and competition from the gulf states at the turn of the century.*

Today you'll find all sorts of variations on the rice, from no-frills red rice without any add-ins to rice filled with everything from fish to sausage to shrimp to pork. I chose to use shrimp since it also made an appearance in this story. Enjoying a bowl of a classic Gullah dish felt like the perfect connection to the soul of Vanishing Time.

Vanishing Time book cover

Vanishing Time

author: Katharine Britton
publisher: Brigham Books (June 8, 2016)
genre: Literature, Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
soft cover : 306 pages

"foodie" read: Not per se, but there's a lot of inspiration in the pages!

opening sentence: Cama Truesdale was removing a heart when Beethoven's Fifth trumpeted forth.

teaser: Cama Truesdale’s ex-husband and young son leave Boston for a "boys only" fishing trip in South Carolina’s Low Country. In the early morning hours, Cama is jolted awake by a phone call. There’s been a fire on board the boat. Her ex-husband is dead. Her son is missing and presumed dead.

As she sets off for South Carolina, Cama's belief that her son Tate is alive is unwavering. But her frantic search soon stirs up painful memories that send her reeling back to her childhood and the mysterious car crash that killed her Gullah mother and white father. As the clock ticks down, exhausted, haunted by dreams, and stymied by the police and local community, she enters a world in which she must rely on instinct over fact, and where no one and nothing is what it seems—not even the boundary between the living and the dead.

about the author: Katharine Britton’s first novel, HER SISTER’S SHADOW, was published in 2011, by Berkley Books (Penguin, USA). Her second novel, LITTLE ISLAND, came out in September of 2013, from the same publisher.

She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College, and a Master's in Education from the University of Vermont.

She is also an avid, novice birder and volunteers at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, where she loves to hang out with owls and feed orphaned baby birds. Read more about Katharine HERE!
Katharine Britton headshot

connect with the author: website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

recipe inspired by the book: Gullah Red Rice w/ Shrimp, Bacon & Fennel

Gullah-inspired Red Rice with Shrimp, Bacon and Fennel
Sometimes called Charleston red rice or Savannah red rice, red rice is a South Carolina Low Country tradition associated with Gullah heritage.
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Gullah Red Rice w/ Shrimp, Bacon & Fennel
by Heather Schmitt
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Keywords: bake entree side nut-free soy-free bacon rice shrimp American Southern

Ingredients (serves 8-10)
  • 6 ounces bacon, diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds small shrimp, peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups Carolina Gold rice
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken (or fish/seafood) stock
  • kosher or sea salt (garlic sea salt is nice here)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped fresh parsley, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a large shallow casserole or cast iron pan cook the bacon over medium heat until it is crisp, 7-9 minutes. Use a slotte spoon to transfer to a paper towel lined plate; reserve.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, add shrimp to remaining fat in pan and cook until pink, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove to a bowl; reserve.

Turn heat back down to medium and add the fennel, onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic to the hot pan and saute the mixture until the veggies have softened, ~5 minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir until each grain is coated in fat and some have started to turn just a tad golden.

Add the tomato puree, paprika, and turmeric, then stir until combined. Add the stock, a pinch of salt and several good grates of black pepper; bring mixture to a boil.

Put a lid on the pan and slide into the center of the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove the cover, fluff the rice with a fork, stir in the shrimp with any accumulated juices and the bacon. Let the mixture cook uncovered for 5 minutes longer to "dry out".

Sprinkle rice with a good smattering of parsley and serve. Goes great with a green salad and bread.

-adapted from Savannah Now

*source: Carolina Gold Plantation
Gullah Red Rice w/ Shrimp, Bacon & Fennel

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.