Women at Work in Charleston

Albertha Grant’s cooking philosophy was a simple one: If someone tells you they’re hungry, you feed them. This idea echoes throughout Charleston’s food traditions—modest, humble beginnings, stretching a pot as far as it can go. The culinary history is deeply connected to the Gullah culture, to rice plantations, to the sea, and to women. These are the stories of three women who contributed to the fierce glow of the city’s renowned culinary reputation: Martha Lou Gadsden, Charlotte Jenkins, and the late Albertha Grant (as told by her children). In their restaurants, the stove mirrors home: A few simmering pots turn into a mighty feast. Recipes are committed to memory, to the air. The act of serving up a plate is one of ambition and love.

The women interviewed here are not cooking for the glory of it all; they are cooking to continue a family tradition, to earn an honest living, to mend community. Cooking is independence. Fixing a plate is an act of love, a quiet promise that no matter how bad things get, there is always this stove, this simmering pot, this ability to stretch a dish from one household into the rest of the neighborhood.


Interviews and photographs by Sara Wood.

Interviews

Albertha Grant

The things that mattered most to Bertha were her family, her church, and feeding people.

Charlotte Jenkins

Raised in Awendaw, South Carolina, Charlotte was brought up in the Gullah tradition, spanning centuries and carving a deep cultural and culinary influence in the region.

Martha Lou Gadsden

Before she opened her own restaurant, Martha Lou Gadsden worked for everyone else. When an empty service station on Morrison Drive became available for rent, Martha Lou decided it was time to do things her way.