A newcomer to the Charleston area says she has heard of an old Lowcountry dish called Hobotee and wondered if local cooks are still making it or have recipes.

Somewhat surprisingly, we didn't hear a peep from native Charleston cooks, which suggests that this dish has faded from local tables. A few people pointed to the Internet for information, but I was hoping it was surviving in some old recipe files.

As it turns out, the recipe specifics aren't a mystery, but tracing its name and history continue to elude me. None of the comprehensive food reference books in my office mentioned it at all.

The original "Charleston Receipts" published in 1950 by the Junior League of Charleston has Hobotee on Page 115, with the recipe credited to Mrs. Richard C. Mullin (Hasell Townsend). But there's no context offered.

James Villas also included Charleston Hobotee in his 2007 cookbook, "The Glory of Southern Cooking." Villas wrote:

"Innovative Charleston and Savannah chefs seem finally to be discovering perloo, awendaw, Huguenot torte, and any number of other distinctive dishes that once figured prominently in Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry cuisine. But, so far, not one seems to be even aware of this superlative curried meat custard that probably graced both breakfast and dinner tables during the plantation era.

"I can remember eating hobotee at the old Fort Sumter Hotel in Charleston and hearing my grandmother tell about fixing it for breakfast and elaborate fish dinners. A recipe for the dish is included in the classic cookbook 'Charleston Receipts,' but other than that, the only recorded method for making hobotee I know of is this sacred one my mother inherited from her mother, who no doubt inherited it from hers. Served with glasses of semidry sherry as a starter to any seafood meal, small ramekins of hobotee make for a unique culinary experience that should never have been allowed to almost disappear."

Here is Villas' recipe:

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked beef, veal or pork

1 slice white bread, soaked in milk and squeezed dry

2 tablespoons chopped almonds

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Salt to taste

1 cup half-and-half

Dash of white pepper

Small bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat, add the onion, and cook, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes longer. Transfer the onions to a mixing bowl, add the meat, bread, almonds, lemon juice, one of the eggs, the sugar, and salt and blend thoroughly.

Butter six 1/2-cup ramekins and divide the meat mixture among them. In another bowl, combine the remaining 2 eggs, half-and-half, and white pepper and whisk until well-blended. Pour equal amounts of the cream mixture into the ramekins, garnish the tops with a bay leaf, and bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.

For comparison's sake, here is the "Charleston Receipts" recipe, verbatim:

2 pounds cooked meat

2 onions

Large slice of bread

1 cup milk

2 eggs

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 dessert spoon sugar

Juice of lemon or 2 tablespoons vinegar

6 to 8 almonds, chopped, or 1/2 cup coconut

2 tablespoons cooking oil

Mince the meat, soak bread in milk and squeeze dry. Fry chopped onion in oil and when nicely browned sprinkle in curry powder and cook for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. Mix all ingredients with minced meat and bread, adding 1 egg. Whisk up other egg with milk, and after putting curry mixture into greased cups, pour some of this over it, sticking a slice of lemon or bay leaf into each little cup. Bake for 30 minutes and serve (in cups) with rice and chutney. May be baked in a casserole and any leftover meat may be used instead of fresh. Cook in moderate oven.

Serves 8.

Terry Campbell of Walterboro emailed to say about the "Receipts" recipe, "I suspect this dish has Mediterranean origins because of the use of curry, lemon, and almonds, and that the leftover meat is probably lamb. Also, the 'little cups' are probably ramekins. ... Just on a personal note, I don't think I'd care for any."

On the other hand, Gwen McCurdy also wrote to say she has tried the Villas recipe and found it to be delicious -- "a found treasure."

Also thanks to Sharon Cook of Charleston.


Milk was mistakenly left out of a recent recipe for Caramel Cake, for the cake itself. If you clipped this recipe from Carolyn H. Blue, here's the corrected version:

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk, either whole or 2 percent

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Cream butter; gradually add sugar; beating until light and fluffy and sugar is dissolved. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat on low speed just until blended. Stir in lemon juice and extracts.

Pour batter into greased pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (If you do just two layers, it takes 30-35 minutes). Cool in pans about 10 minutes, then remove.

Who's got the recipe?

--Florence Brewton of Goose Creek has a food-related request: She wants to know how to dry sage and basil from her garden for storage and future use.

--From Kathy Emrich of Ladson: "I was wondering if you could help me out on my search for true Southern macaroni and cheese. I have been on the search for some time for a recipe I could hold on to. I had Sunday dinner with a friend back in my teens at her grandma's house. The macaroni was the best I have ever had. I know she used sour cream in the recipe. It had the fat soft noodles and cheese. Plain and simple, but oh so good. I have tried over the years to duplicate it with out success. I have also done Internet research for recipes. Either they were a flop or had extra stuff like tomatoes or bread crumbs! I am looking for simple old school mac and cheese."

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at food@postandcourier.com, 937-4886, or 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403-4800.