Oscar Vick III has lived his life as a keeper of Lowcountry traditions. As a sportsman and cook, as a prolific writer of more than 50 self-published books and a watercolorist who paints native flora and fauna in a folk-art style, Oscar pays homage to our natural world and its resources through creative expression.
Many of his titles are cookbooks, inspired by ingredients and dishes coming out of local kitchens for generations. They include a "Gullah Cooking" series, as well as "Oscar Vick Cooks Venison" and "Oscar Vick Cooks Rice." But he's also penned "How to Make Your Own Turkey Caller" and there's some fiction in the mix, too.
Oscar has been a generous contributor of recipes to this column for many years. He always wrote his recipes in longhand and sent them the old-fashioned way, via envelope and stamp.
You may have spotted a Vick book at the City Market, in a local seafood store such as Crosby's, in a bait-and-tackle shop, or in one of the former Piggly Wigglys.
A few years ago, he also launched www.oscarvick.com and now sells a selection of his works there.
At 67, Oscar professes to be retired from writing, but I'm not totally convinced. He certainly continues to spread the gospel of Lowcountry food wherever he goes. (His wife, Nancy, overheard him giving a recipe for red rice to an occupational therapist during a hospital stay a couple of years ago.)
I caught up with him by phone last week to ask him a few questions about food and cooking. Before we get to those, here's the condensed version of his bio:
Oscar, whose middle name is Napoleon, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to an Irish mother, Jane, and Oscar Vick Jr., who hailed from the Lowcountry. But he grew up here, steeped in the ways of hunting, fishing and cooking, and graduated from St. Andrews High School.
He went to Clemson in the mid-1960s, where he earned an bachelor's degree in science. Then, after a stint in the Army, he returned to Clemson and got a master's in industrial engineering. He's been in the Lowcountry ever since. He and Nancy live west of the Ashley.
Q. Oscar, you are a lifelong sportsman who combined that with a love of cooking. How did the two come together?
A. Well, the two of them came together with the Gullah cooks Grandmother and Momma had. Daddy was a hunter and fisherman and my grandfather, he didn't hunt much but he was a Charleston harbor fisherman, a Stono River fisherman; he loved to fish flounder and bass, all of it. Daddy did inshore and offshore, and Daddy hunted.
Every week is a different time in the Lowcountry. As a matter of fact, deer season is Aug. 15 to Jan. 1, the longest in the United States. Back then there was no limit.
Not that we went out and slaughtered the deer, there were just so many deer. If you had a farm, they were a nuisance ...
It was just a natural progression for me to get in there with Daddy when I got old enough to go with him.
(The cooks) always let me come in the kitchen and get up on the table and be quiet. And I watched them. I asked them about how they cooked the red rice. ... It was by assimilation. I just watched them and was enthralled.
I started writing the menus down, what I thought the menus were. At Clemson I carried all these notebooks, and I ended up with probably 2,000 recipes of different things you could cook.
Q. To someone from off, how would you describe the magic of Lowcountry cooking?
A. It's simple. I think it's not as complicated as all the reductions - not to say there's anything wrong with French cooking. It's not so many steps in it. My great aunt described it to me as "dump": You put the rice in and you put the tomatoes with it, you put the sausage with it, put the cap on it and put it in the oven at 250 degrees for an hour and you have red rice ... Just dump and mix.
Q. What is your favorite game food, and how is it prepared?
A. My favorite game food is venison loin. Having said that, there are all kinds of venison and all kinds of venison loin. What you have to do with venison is tender loving care. When you shoot the deer, you have to take the loin, wash it, dry it off and then put it in a pan without anything. This is the secret: Put it in the refrigerator for 10 days. Aging. On the fifth day, you turn it over, wipe any blood and leave it in for another five days. Then you cut it up, wrap it in tinfoil and freeze it. ... Aging breaks down the connective tissues.
I like to roast it. I like to cut it up in medallions, about an inch thick, salt and pepper, flour them and then put them in either some olive oil or bacon grease.
Brown it on both sides. I usually cook a pound of loin, which would probably be about eight nice-size pieces of loin.
Then, take a can of cream of mushroom soup plus a real strong onion, cut that up and put that in there and put some celery and bell pepper with it.
I do this in my cast-iron Dutch oven, which I've had since 1963. Put all that in the oven at 250 degrees and bake it for about 2 or 3 hours.
Q. What is your favorite seafood, and how prepared?
A. Shrimp. And this is an easy recipe: Three for Three.
Take the water and put it in a pot, 4 cups, bring it to a roaring boil, pour the shrimp in - pound and a half - stir them up good. Cook them for 3 minutes. (For) the second 3 minutes, take them off the eye and let them soak in the water.
You can put whatever seasoning in there you want, but I usually put salt and pepper. That's an old Gullah recipe from Johns Island.
Miss Bab's Pecan Pie
(Oscar's mom's recipe)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan halves
1 tablespoon butter, melted
11/2 cups corn syrup
4 beaten eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Fill the pie shell. Dot with a few extra pecans if desired. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.
1 pound diced flounder
1 pound crabmeat
1 pound diced clams
1 pint oysters
1 pound diced okra
1 pound diced tomatoes
2 cans of beef broth
1 tablespoon parsley
1 can tomato soup
2 cups diced ham
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Rice for serving
Blend all ingredients in a large soup pot. Bring to boil and simmer for an hour. Serve over rice.
Who's got the recipe?
Still looking: Marie Link of Ridgeville called, asking about an older recipe for homemade caramel cake that called for sweetened condensed milk that was boiled in the can. Today, for safety reasons, that's no longer recommended. Does anyone have an alternative method for caramel cake with sweetened condensed milk?