Tara of course is the name of the fictional plantation found in the novel Gone With the Wind, the defining account of Southern plantation life around the time of the Civil War. Jan loves the book by Margaret Mitchell and probably reads it once every other year only because it takes that long to read. On our trip through the South she really wanted to see an authentic plantation so here we were at Middleton Place, and while it is not located in Georgia as Tara was, it does evoke a lifestyle of opulent Southern living, charm and history much like what you find in the Mitchell novel.
With 65 acres located on the Ashley River about 15 miles northwest of Charleston, Middleton Place has it all, the oldest landscaped gardens in America, the remnants of a Southern family mansion and the African American heritage that sustained an economy designed to maintain an opulent lifestyle not their own. From the ruins of the original main house, burned by Union troops and then leveled by an earthquake 10 years after it was rebuilt, you can see the view across the main lawn, down the rolling terraces and across the lakes only to disappear in the Ashley River in the distance.
The plantation was a working endeavor, replete with a carriage house, a textile shop, a carpentry shop that not only fashioned farm implements but also a “periauger”, a cypress river boa, a cooper shop that among other things made the barrels for the export of rice grown on the grounds, a pottery, and a blacksmith shop to name a few of the enterprises found at Middleton Place. Eliza’s House was a typical dwelling that exemplified the domestic conditions of enslaved people on the plantation.
There are gardens throughout, replete with azaleas and magnolias, rare camellias that bloom only in the winter, creeks that lead to the Ashley River, ornamental lakes, and the famed Middleton “Oak”, a giant of a tree nestled along the banks of the rice fields.
A visit to Middleton Place defines the lifestyle of centuries ago, a life of opulence, of Southern charm, a full on glimpse of the life and plight of African American slaves, into a land of vibrancy, culture and history torn apart by our Civil War and only rebuilt back to an original state by the donations and hard work of donors and volunteers throughout the Low Country.
Low Country cooking derives its cuisine from the abundance of seafood, fruits and vegetables that is found along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. There is a large African influence in this regional cooking as well and “comfort food” was probably developed here. This recipe is derived from the Gullah influence of hearty casseroles combining the rice that is abundantly grown here with the chickens that along with other stock were a mainstay of the old plantations. This is Southern-style comfort food.