My mother-in-law grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina, naturally taking advantage of the nearby Charleston beaches for every vacation. She raised her family doing the same, exposing her sons to Sullivan's Island every summer throughout their boyhood.
Since moving to the mountains of North Carolina, my husband and I have followed suite, enjoying a relatively short drive to one of my favorite cities of all time.
Charleston itself is a city all too easy to fall in love with: great restaurants, salt-air, massive history captured in the grand architecture, live oaks sprinkled everywhere, incredible fresh sea food, all surrounded by some of my favorite beaches.
Also a professional bookworm, my mother-in-law recently handed me Pat Conroy's South of Broad, a book which takes place in the heart of Charleston. Within the first few pages, the notorious junior league cookbook: Charleston Receipts is mentioned with sovereign affection. The main character refers to his favorite go-to recipe for benne seed cookies.
After finishing the book, I pulled my copy of Charleston Receipts from the shelf (a gift also given to me by my mother-in-law).
As is reads at the top of the recipe's page; "According to legend among descendants of negro slaves along the coast of Charleston, benne is a good luck plant for those who eat thereof or plant in their gardens. It was originally brought in by the slaves from West Africa to this Coastal region."
The benne seed (or sesame seed) cookies lived up to my expectations. Yes, they are sweet and undoubtedly apt to break even the most resistant Weight Watchers dieter, but I have a soft spot for the occasional "dirty" cookie as much as I do for regional tradition and history. If that's wrong. . . I don't want to be right.
Benne Seed Cookies from Charleston Receipts:
*3/4 cup butter, softened
*1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cup high quality AP flour
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (you can toast them stirring often in a cast iron skillet over med heat, allow to cool)
*1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter and sugar together and mix with other ingredients, in the order given. Drop with a teaspoon on parchment paper lined baking sheet leaving space for cookies to spread. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes. Makes 7 dozen. Can be stored in an airtight container and frozen.
Cookies will be crunchy.