Understanding and cooking the food of our heritage allows us to appreciate the same aromas and taste the same flavors as our ancestors. Recipes in the South are a sacred link to our forebears, passed from generation to generation like a good story.
Richard Stoney, The Boathouse:
Tales and Recipes from a Southern Kitchen
Stepping through the humble gates at Kensington Plantation, a 670-acre ancestral site north of Charleston, SC, feels like stepping back through time… Reminiscent of the antebellum era, dozens of horses graze on large, open fields. Lush gardens have been planted, next to the unassuming family cottages and reaching out toward the 200 acres of rice fields. The fields stretch all the way to the Cooper River, which is narrow in this section. Because the water is fresh in this part of the Cooper, plant life is a deep rich green – water lilies, tubular grasses and trees reach toward the water, just touching the surface.
Richard Stoney, his brother Ted, sister Beverly and two first cousins and their families frequently spend time at Kensington. Most of the land remains the way it has been for hundreds of years – a place of their youth, a recreational plantation. It is an area of natural beauty – pristine Lowcountry landscape populated by wildlife and indigenous plants that flourish in this natural habitat as they have for centuries.
Today, the plantation is functioning again as a working farm – a “Plantation-to-Plate” initiative with recently planted heirloom Carolina Gold Rice fields and gardens that grow indigenous produce exclusively for Richard Stoney’s Crew Carolina projects (Carolina’s, Carolina Catering, all three Boathouse Restaurants and a number of Boathouse and Carolina’s food products now available in stores).
Using the freshest local ingredients and resources available is part of Stoney’s approach to cooking – “all that can be plucked, pinched, pulled caught in a net, on a line or raked up from the pluff mud.” In fact, the garden is expanding and evolving in unprecedented ways. Tended by a family of farmers who have worked this land for 4 generations, it currently boasts rice fields, a variety of herbs, peppers, seasonal vegetables and a standard variety of onions, chives and garlic. Plans are also underway to plant more vegetables and legumes and a wide variety of fruit trees.
The story of this land parallels the story of the Stoney family through generations, a story that brings together history, culture and cuisine in truly unique ways. Richard Stoney and his brother, who together with their cousins own Kensington, are direct descendants of the both the Middleton and Stoney families – lineage with centuries-old deep connections to the agricultural and maritime commerce of the Charleston Lowcountry. They and their kindred families – names that include Croft, DuBose, Hazelhurst, Marion, Means, Porcher, Robertson and Whaley – are all intrinsically tied to the history of this great land.
In fact, for more than a century, the Stoneys were rice farmers at Medway Plantation on the upper Cooper River.Richard Stoney’s great, great grandfather Peter Gaillard Stoney planted rice here from the 1830’s until his death in the late 1800s. Medway was owned by the family for more than 100 years.
Stoney’s grandfather, Thomas Porcher Stoney, was the first in his line to “leave the land” and became a lawyer in Charleston. He was born at Medway Plantation, which, along with Gippy Plantation further up the river, were still family working plantations at the turn of the 20th century. “Papa” continued to purchase and sell additional plantations during his lifetime.
But his favorite was always Kensington Plantation.
The history of this land (and this food) is especially tied to Carolina’s Restaurant, the oldest fine dining restaurant in Charleston… In fact, many of the dishes served at Carolina’s today are on the menu because they are connected to the past. Scroll back a century or so: In a war-ravaged city lean on resources, grits were available and cheap. Resourceful cooks developed a knack for taking this mainstay and making it exceptional through an artful marriage with other foods. Over time, those embellishments have become part of the haute cuisine of the region.
Acts of necessity turned to acts of art. Such are the ways that food tells the story of a place. Lowcountry palates and our lives are imprinted by the rich history of the cuisine. And Kensington Plantation and Carolina’s Restaurant continue to tell the stories of this history – through the art of harvesting, preparing and serving classic Charleston cuisine.
A 670-acre estate off the Cooper River, Kensington Plantation is a privately owned working estate featuring several gardens and rice fields – which supply Carolina Gold Rice, specialty herbs and baby vegetables to Carolina’s restaurant. The estate was first settled by Elias O. Ball Jr. as a rice plantation in 1740. In the mid-19th century, the land was acquired by Dr. John B. Irving, author of A Day on the Cooper River and The South Carolina Jockey Club. Thomas Porcher Stoney, grandfather to the siblings who own the site today, purchased the plantation – alongside several others– during his lifetime. But his favorite was always Kensington. Today, an archaeology site, the 1745 oak allee, and the overseer’s house built in 1830 are all noted on the National Register of Historic Places – and an easement for 224 acres has been granted to the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.
Portions of this text reference Richard Stoney’s introduction to “The Boathouse: Tales and Recipes from a Southern Kitchen,” by Douglas W. Bostick and Jason R. Davidson. Published by Joggling Board Press, 2006.