In many Gullah Geechee families, recipes are not written down, and it’s not always easy to learn your grandmother’s best dishes. “Children weren’t really allowed in a Gullah kitchen,” says Kardea Brown, who grew up in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. So in high school, she started writing down recipes from her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother.
After college, she embarked on a career as a social worker, but the kitchen kept calling to her, and the recipes became her culinary gold. She used them when she started catering, and they formed the backbone for Delicious Miss Brown, her Food Network show now in its seventh season. In October, she’ll release her first cookbook, The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family with over 100 Recipes. Although many of the recipes are twists on Lowcountry Gullah classics, like chicken perloo and crab rice, she tucks in a few sleepers. One is salted Georgia peanut pie, a textural cousin to pecan pie that Brown secured from her mother, Patricia, who got it from a coworker. “I have my own version of a pecan pie that I love, but I prefer the peanut pie,” Brown says.
That’s in part because she loves the flavor of molasses, which costars in the recipe along with peanut butter and a cup and a half of honey-roasted peanuts. The marriage of molasses and peanuts brings to mind the taste of Cracker Jack. “It reminds me of the old Sugar Daddy with the yellow-and-red wrapper,” Brown says. “It has those same flavors and same notes.”
Cooks who prefer a less pronounced molasses flavor can mix in cane or corn syrup, as long as the volume of liquid sugar equals a third of a cup. And for those who want a little more crunch and heft, be extra generous with the peanuts. The addition of a good spoonful of vanilla-scented whipped cream is essential.
The filling is a snap to mix up. And though a buttery homemade crust will elevate the pie, Brown has no problem using a store-bought shell, a shortcut that’s especially welcome during busy holidays. The Brown family Thanksgiving dessert table always includes sweet potato cornbread (essentially a layer of sweet potato pie filling with cornbread batter baked on the top) and peach cobbler (though it’s not in season then, her mom loves it). And of course, there are pies. Her grandmother Josephine, who is from Wadmalaw Island outside Charleston, makes what she calls “an insane amount” of sweet potato pie for their large family. But there is always room for peanut pie.
“It’s a lovely surprise to add to your holiday dessert table,” Brown says, “because most people don’t expect to see it.”