Emily Meggett, best-selling Gullah Geechee cuisine author, dies at 90

She died Friday at her home in Edisto Island, South Carolina.

Emily Meggett, queen of Gullah Geechee cuisine, passed away on April 21 after a short illness, her daughter Lavern Meggett confirmed. 

According to The New York Times, Meggett died Friday at her home in Edisto Island, South Carolina. She was 90. 

In April last year, she published the first notable cookbook about the food of descendants of enslaved people in coastal-southern areas such as Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Matriarch of Edisto Island” is a New York Times bestseller and a nominee for a 2023 James Beard Book Award in the category of U.S. Foodways.

cookbook author Emily Meggett
Gullah chef and cookbook author Emily Meggett in a 2022 interview with CBS Mornings. She was honored last year for her lifetime of service to her community. (Youtube screenshot)

Meggett cooked for almost 80 years before publishing the cookbook. In the publication, she shares 123 recipes she developed while cooking for her family, her church and some of the white families she worked for throughout her life.

Meggett’s rich and flavorful recipes include fresh-caught seafood and vegetable dishes, rice and one-pot African dishes such as chicken perloo and okra soup, The Times reports. According to Barnes and Noble, there are also regional offerings like fried oysters, collard greens, and stone-ground grits.

In addition to delicious, easy-to-make recipes, the cookbook highlights the Meggett family history on Edisto Island, which dates to the 19th century, according to The Times.

“She left us with a lifetime of work that was overlooked and undervalued for years,” said Kayla Stewart, co-author of the cookbook.

Stewart said Meggett “moved the needle in terms of how we’re talking about Gullah Geechee cuisine and culture.”

Born Emily Hutchinson on Nov. 19, 1932, Meggett was a descendant of the Gullah-Geechee people. As a child, she learned how to cook from her maternal grandmother, Rosa Major Doctor, who raised her on Edisto Island, southwest of Charleston. It was common for the passing of recipes orally without any measurements or written instructions. 

Meggett began compiling recipes for the cookbook in 1994 while working for the family of Becky Smith. Smith reportedly used measuring cups to note the amount of ingredients Meggett used to prepare dishes. She also encouraged Meggett to compile and share her recipes. The two women ultimately spent years working together on the project. 

Smith’s son Elliot edited the manuscript during the COVID pandemic and later suggested to his literary agent that they publish the first-ever cookbook on Gullah Geechee cuisine. Three months after “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking” was released in 2022, it made the New York Times bestseller list in July.

According to The Times, Meggett notes in the book, “Many Black women paved the way for cooks like me to find a career that could support my family and give me the chance to do something I’m good at.”

Meggett was honored in 2022 for her lifetime of service to her community, CBS Mornings reported.

She married Jessie Meggett in 1951 and they had 10 children. Her husband passed away in 2006, according to TheTimes.  

Meggett leaves behind her daughter Lavern and seven other children, more than 65 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

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