Free CCPL lecture covers Charleston fruit history

(Grace Beahm/Staff)

It’s not often that an event postponement counts as a teachable moment, but the scheduling of Charleston County Public Library historian Nic Butler’s newest talk on local food history may qualify. Butler’s Aug. 26 lecture was cancelled because of heavy rains, one component of a climate that contributed to the “Fruit-Filled History of Charleston.”

“As early as the 1670s, Charlestonians had access to a surprising variety of fruits, from the exotic to the mundane,” Butler wrote in a blog post previewing the talk, now on the calendar for Dec. 16.

Seventeenth-century Charlestonians enjoyed indigenous fruits such as muscadines; serviceberries; figs; mulberries; cranberries and plums, along with transplants, ranging from muskmelons to strawberries, and tropical fruits brought by boat.

“The plantain was once a common taste in the Lowcountry,” Butler says.

Still, despite the dozens of fruits available to city dwellers, they were curious about which other delicacies they could cultivate. Butler is especially interested in the drive to establish orange groves. “Early letters from Lowcountry planters writing back to England brag of a massive orange planting effort,” he writes. “And local newspaper advertisements from the 1730s onward frequently mention plantation tracts for sale on which are found hundreds and even thousands of fruit-bearing orange trees.” The effort petered out as growers acknowledged South Carolina was too cold to succeed as an orange colony: All that’s left of their ambition now is place names, such as Orangeburg.

Butler’s talk in the library auditorium, 68 Calhoun St., starts at 6 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 843-805-6968.