Al's Old Walled City Blog

Charleston Shrimp and Grits - My Very Own Shrimp and Grits Recipe,

When I was younger , in a simpler time pre-Hugo, Shrimp and Grits was a Lowcountry breakfast dish. Of course today it has emerged as a signature dish along with She Crab Soup and Huguenot Torte. It is delicious, and there are numerous excellent versions to be found around town. The version at the Marina Variety Store immediately comes to mind for me. Since I made Shrimp and Grits today, and it looked so good in my cast iron skillet, I thought that I would share my version. It is simple, inexpensive, honest and maybe better for you than some other versions. Still, my version provides all the indulgence that a hot creamy plate of Shrimp and Grits implies. Please read through the recipe first, and note the ingredient list at the end. You will want to start the grits well before the sauce. Enjoy!

                                       Al's Shrimp and Grits
Set burner to 3/4 high.Place 1 slice of bacon plus 11/2 tablespoon canola oil in skillet, then start slicing.

I start out with the Holy Trinity----Onion, bell pepper and celery. The old recipes call for using a tablespoon each. That misses the point. Lets get some veggie fiber in breakfast!
so I use a small whole onion, sliced lengthwise and the chopped in half
three stalks of celery medium dice, hearts and leaves fine dice and reserved
1/2 bell pepper, chopped fine

Saute 5 minutes, Add 3/4 lb peeled shrimp, and then a tablespoon of flour , saute 3 minutes stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom. We're working on browning the flour for a roux.Add some more canola if you use too much flour.

Then add 1 cup or more of shrimp broth, 1 tsp of salt,a tablespoon of tomato paste,  an authoritative dash of cayenne pepper and reduce to a thin sauce. Combine 1/3 cup of milk and a teaspoon of flour, well blended together to form a thick liquid, and add to the sauce. Whisk it all together until you have a creamy sauce, then add finely chopped celery leaves and stalks finely chopped and three or four chopped raw shrimp.  The celery added at the last provides a bright crunch in the finished dish.

Cover the pot and remove from the heat. Wait 10 minutes.

For the grits, which were called hominy when cooked B.M.E. (before the modern era) ,  I prefer to use plain grits cooked with a little salt. Sometimes I use shrimp broth if I have it. I think of grits as a canvass in the painting. The secret to a good pot of grits is not to add cream or cheese. That makes grits different, but not always better. Good for  ham and eggs perhaps, I see those additions as superfluous fat and cholesterol when the intent is to place a creamy sauce on top. Plain  Quaker Grits is just fine. The secret is to forget the ready in 15 minutes on the box.A good pot of creamy grits takes at least an hour, and there should be a crust in the bottom of the heavy bottom pot that you always use to cook grits.

Grits can be cooked thin or thick. Since thin grits with a sauce turns into a soupy mess, thick is what I want to place a sauce on top.Its not a bad thing to turn over the spoon and the grits still stick to it.I
 was taught to cook grits the old fashioned way. I pour the grits into the pot, add a dash of salt, then I put water  in the pot up to the first joint of the index finger. Then I stir it and put it on high to boil, cover it, and reduce it to a simmer for an hour. Works every time.

Plate it by placing the hot grits on the plate, and mash a depression in the center with a serving spoon.
Ladle the sauce and shrimp over the grits. Serves three.

For three:
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled . four held in reserve
1 cup or more shrimp broth* see recipe at the end
1 small onion
three stalks celery, leaves and upper stalks reserved
1 small bell pepper --or red--or yellow
11/2  tbs or more canola oil
1 slice of bacon
1 tsp salt
cayenne pepper to taste
2 tbs  plus one teaspoon flour
1/3 cup milk
1 tbs tomato paste
optional: finely diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup

* for the shrimp broth, place shrimp shells in a quart container or a bowl, cover with water,cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for two minutes.

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers public and private tours on foot or by car.
For information go to


Happy Fort Sumter Day??

At two o'clock today it will be the 155th anniversary of Major Robert Anderson's surrender of Fort Sumter to hostile forces. His men were starving and down to their last rounds of artillery. The Officers Quarters were burning and there was concern that the Powder Magazine would blow and take out everyone and everything on the man made island. The news of the surrender resulted in jubilation in the streets of Charleston.

Happy Fort Sumter Day?

That arrogant generation, those politicians of the slave owning class, were certain that the Federal Government had not the will to fight to retain the southern states that were falling away. If there was a war, it would be a short and glorious one, with victory pre-ordained. Remember that these were men who had grown up as absolute lords of their estates with unquestioned control over a class of people. Who dare question their motives or their methods now?

Of course, their assumptions were incorrect, and what ensued was the bloodiest war in American history with over 700,000 dead. The vast majority never owned a slave. They were there to defend their families and their homeland. As we ponder the great tragedy that was the War Between the States, I ponder the service of my own great-grandfather Richard Jaques. He was personal Secretary to General Robert E Lee  during his brief stint in Charleston in 1861 - 1862. He then went on to serve as personal Secretary and aide to General Ambrosio Gonzales when Gonzales was Chief of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. His was a desk job, and despite the siege of the city, he slept in the family home on Society Street. After the War, he put away his uniform and never spoke of it.

I do honor his service. He served because it was the honorable thing to do. He was there to defend the homeland. But the politics  that brought on the war and the reasons behind it, those I cannot honor. We can honor our ancestors and still disagree with their politics.Richard Jaques, like so many others, was pulled into a conflict that had long term consequences that they could never have anticipated.

So, Happy Fort Sumter Day? I think not.

Shake It Up! The Great Earthquake was 130 years ago today!

Perhaps the greatest trauma Charleston has endured is the 1886 earthquake. Estimated to be a 7.6 Richter Scale event, 92 people died as a direct result, although it is asserted that many more died afterward  from PTSD. Its easy to see why. When you read the below attachment, you learn that tremors both great and small continued for weeks. This is a link to a report put out after the earthquake complete with pictures of ruin and great ads from the time!

Source: College of Charleston

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers daily themed tours of Historic Charleston. For further information got to

Charleston's Old Walled City Tours: Charleston Ghost Stories: The Vigilant Guardian Ch...

Charleston's Old Walled City Tours: Charleston Ghost Stories: The Vigilant Guardian Ch...: This is my own true story. The Vigilant Guardian Church -or- "Haint Misbehavin" This is my own true story, a st...

Charleston Ghost Stories: The Vigilant Guardian Church

This is my own true story.

The Vigilant Guardian Church
"Haint Misbehavin"

This is my own true story, a story that took place on a beautiful spring day two years ago. I helped a friend make it to day surgery at Mt Pleasant Hospital. For this West Ashley guy I felt half way to Georgetown. So me and my bud Jamie decided to venture out for a few hours and headed to McLellanville, a sleepy fishing village 30 miles north of Charleston. I hadn't been there in 20 years, so sightseeing was on the agenda. 

Not really knowing the town I first went through a section that was on the street grid but there were few houses. You could see that at one time there were more residences, probably lost to Hugo in 1989. Mostly just woods, coming around the corner was a noble Carpenters Gothic style church with cedar shingles situated prominently on a corner. 
I recall no signage. So beautiful, yet so lonely, we had to investigate. 

Stepping up on the porch I peeked in the abandoned sanctuary. It struck me that, quite a while back, this construction site was abandoned. Whoever left it never came back to retrieve tools and ladders and tarps. It was all very odd.

Leaving the porch we walked around to the large graveyard. The cement monuments with conch decorations clued me in the it was an African American graveyard. I had to muse, where are the descendants of these dead? Where have they gone?. We circled the church and as we were walking to the car on the road we sighted a rusty folding chair laying flat. Jamie, being the curious sort, pulled it back. I saw a brick cylinder with fast food trash. There might have been a valve down there. Jamie saw a sepulchre, brick compartments.* I told him to put the chair back so nobody would step in the hole.As he put it back and started to walk he said
"HEY! Something just grabbed my leg!"
Well, my input on that was if you knew Jamie like I do, you never know what he might say next.We got in the car and continued the grand tour. Maybe four minutes out he says to me
"Its gone, it let go. That thing in the graveyard."
He could see I wasn't getting it. He points down and says "Feel my leg!"
I will never forget that moment. Through the denim his thigh was plainly cold, an unnatural cold  that made me recoil. My first thought was "dead meat". 
So remember, dear reader , should you seek out the old cedar church in McLellanville, remember to tread lightly on that hallowed ground.A vigilant guardian that tolerates no disturbance,  the hain't will getcha!

* We had this discussion much later.

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers Ghost Tours each evening at 8 PM. Go to for details


Charleston Walking Tours: Beat the Heat - A Guide to Charleston in the Summertime for Yankees and Scandinavians

Charleston Walking Tours have been my passion and my forte for many years. I am a member of that hardy breed that goes out all year long, so I know a few things about summer weather. Summertime weather in Charleston gets hot. It also gets humid. The combination can lead to dizziness and heat exhaustion. Every summer I am amazed to see Scandinavian visitors and the Dutch walking in full sunlight when the heat index is hitting 110. They LOVE it. Coming from a cold land, they relish the warmth. They spend their summers with the windows open.
But for most Americans in the southeast and west, air conditioning is a way of life. Yes, the South has finally won the War with a new weapon, air conditioning. So we are least prepared to spend time outside in the heat of the day. So as you tour our fair city, or attend that family reunion in July or that Gay Pride Celebration in August, here are a few tips to keep you on your feet.
Rule Number 1: HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE. Drink plenty of water. Don’t be afraid to pour it over your head.
Rule Number 2: Dress For Success. Wear light colors in fabrics such as cotton, linen or seersucker. Wearing a T-shirt beneath will absorb sweat and form a cooling insulation.It also eliminates sweaty shirts and pit stains.
Rule Number 3:  Use Cooling Strategies. 
Freeze water and take it out in the morning and wrap it in a heavy handkerchief or a high  quality paper napkin. The cool condensation creates a refreshing brow wipe. It will also cool you down to wipe the cool napkin across the back of the neck.
Never rush in the heat. Plan accordingly.
Stay on the shady side of the street. Walk in  the direction of the breeze when it gets you there.
Rule number 4: Proper Planning Prevents Puny Performance. Charleston is the perfect city to see on foot. When the sun is baking the sidewalk, take a tour that has you finished up by 12:30. Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers 10 AM Walk 7 days a week.(Visit our website at allows time for lunch before the real heat sets in between 2 and 5 o’clock. Mid afternoon is a great time to visit the cool and quiet of the Charleston Museum. It’s also a great time to get on the water and tour the harbor, Fort Sumter or even an eco tour! If we are lucky this year, and a tropical pattern sets in , the intense heat and humidity of the midafternoon gives way to a thunderstorm that drops the temperature and cleanses the air. Afternoons like these are perfect for walks before dinner. After dinner, walk south towards the Battery and see the grand mansions lit up along the way.  Check out the night vendors at the City Market.
Rule number 5: Protect your skin. Wear sunscreen. Wear a hat, not a baseball cap. They leave the nape of your neck exposed.

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers public and private tours on foot or by car.
For information on things to see and do in Charleston go to 


Charleston Walking Tours - National Park Service Centennial Celebrations

All across the nation, the National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial Year with special events at its parks nationwide. In Charleston, SC we have three National Park sites  including Fort Sumter National Monument, Fort Moultrie, and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. 

 The Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12 1861 was the first battle of the War Between the States. Fort Moultrie was built for the War of 1812 but sits on the site of an earlier wooden fort. That fort, Fort Sullivan, was the primary defense for a city under attack by  the British on June 28,1776. Against apparently insurmountable odds, the  Patriots won the day. The Battle of Fort Sullivan was the first victory in the Revolutionary War against a British attack by land and sea. The Charles Pinckney Historic site is the country seat of Charles Pinckney. A signer of the US Constitution, 25 clauses in the Constitution are uniquely attributable to Pinckney, more than any other signer.

As a Centennial Celebration Event, authors have been invited to present and sign their books that have NPS or park related themes. Offered from the public auditorium at Fort Moultrie, this NPS Centennial event will connect with new audiences for the park and create Find Your Park experiences. On 23rd 2016, CL Bragg will present his book Crescent Moon Over Carolina. March 25th author Grahame Long will present Stolen Charleston: The Spoils of War. June 25th, Danny Bernstein will present the book Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. And finally on September 24th 2016, we will learn about the book For Brotherhood and Duty: The Civil War History of the West Point Class of 1862 by Brian McEnany.  This event is offered  in conjunction with the Fourth Saturday Musket firings in January, March, June and September. For details on National Park Service events in your neighborhood, go to


Charleston Christmas Walking Tour -Celebrate the Season!

What was Christmas in Charleston like....

In 1860? Five days after South Carolina seceded from the Union?
In 1886? Four months after the Great Earthquake?
In 1929? Two months after the Black Friday Stock Market Crash?

Hear about these events while we tour the streets of Charleston made even more beautiful by Christmas decorations! Visit churches decked out for the Season!

City Christmas Tree at Marion Square
 2 PM DAILY (except Christmas)

Call for reservations 843 343 4851
Tours depart in front of the Liberty Center at 151 Meeting Street


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