Afang soup (gnetum)
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What: This iconic Charleston dessert has nothing, it seems, to do with the Huguenots, the French Protestants who left France for South Carolina in the 17th century, seeking freedom from religious persecution. Rather, culinary historians believe the dish is descended from something called Ozark pudding, a custard with apples and nuts, and that it was created in its current form by a cook in Charleston, in the 1930s or ’40s, after she’d had an Ozark pudding in Texas (or Arkansas, depending on whom you’re talking to); the name comes from Huguenot Tavern, where she worked (origin sources here and here). The more important information, of course, is how it tastes, which is delicious. Crisp and meringue-like on top with a gooey pecan-and-apple bottom, it’s like pecan pie meets apple pie meets smashed meringue. Sweet!
Where: This uniquely Charleston treat is unfortunately hard to come by in Charleston outside of locals’ kitchens. So you have to go a little out of your way to find it, to the restaurant at Middleton Place (4300 Ashley River Rd., map). The bonus? It’s a great excuse to visit Middleton Place, a 65-acre plantation and National Historic Landmark with gorgeous grounds around which to stroll—the oldest landscaped garden in the country (dating to 1741), according to the pamphlets, plus lily-pad-speckled lakes, hills of Spanish moss-draped live oaks, and peaceful cypress groves. It’s not cheap to visit ($28 per adult), but it’s worth it.
When: Lunch, daily, 11am-3pm (general admission required). Dinner, Tues-Sun, 6pm-9pm.
Order: The Huguenot torte ($5) is a pleasant surprise, its crisp, sweet crust encasing soft, sticky innards of cinnamon-spiced crushed pecans and apples. It’s a decadent, delightful mix of textures and flavors: nutty, fruity, crunchy, and oh so sweet. At Middleton it’s served with whipped cream, but we heard a side of cinnamon ice cream is really the way to go. Pair it with a coffee for a lovely afternoon treat.
Alternatively: The only other places we could find this dish available to the public are in the tea rooms of historic churches, during the popular fundraising efforts that happen briefly in the spring for which homemade Lowcountry dishes are served at lunch. If you’re in town during the season, check out the offerings at Grace Episcopal Church’s Tea Room (98 Wentworth St., map), which opens in late May through early June, or St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Tea Room (142 Church St., map), typically open in late April through early May.
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