Frank Jenkins of Awendaw, a retired firefighter who owned the well-known Gullah Cuisine restaurant in Mount Pleasant with his wife, Charlotte Jenkins, died Thursday after a short battle with lung cancer.
Jenkins was born Feb. 3, 1941, at Hart Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, the son of the late Helen C. Brown and Joseph Jenkins.
He was a prominent voice in the 2010 narrative cookbook “Gullah Cuisine — By Land and by Sea.” In an interview two years ago with The Post and Courier about the book, Jenkins fondly recalled his childhood on his grandparents’ Wadmalaw farm.
There was no refrigerator and no electricity; instead, a close-knit extended family who worked hard and lived well off the surrounding land and creeks. Cooking was about making do and wasting nothing, Jenkins said, and there always was an abundance to eat.
“I thought it was fun being on the farm. We got to do stuff other kids didn’t, like riding bulls and hunting. But you got to get your work done before you have any pleasure,” he said.
Jenkins said he didn’t recognize himself as a “Gullah person” until years later, and then it became a treasure to him and a great source of pride. “It was fascinating to me. It’s something I would like other generations to see and build off of.”
As an adult, Jenkins lived for many years in New York, where he worked for United Parcel Service. He returned to the Lowcountry in 1972 and joined the Mount Pleasant Fire Department in 1974. He reached the rank of captain before retiring in 1990. The Jenkinses opened their restaurant in 1997.
“He was a very caring, loving, humorous person,” his wife said. “He made you laugh. We had a wonderful life together.”
William Baldwin of McClellanville, who wrote the narrative for “Gullah Cuisine,” said he knew the oral history aspect of the book would work after being around Jenkins for just a few minutes.
“Frank was the storyteller in that marriage, (he) saw the world with a wink and a smile. … He and Charlotte shared life’s burdens, those of both family and work, with a great humor and patience. Frank told me once that Gullah cooking was about rice and kinship. He was talking about love.”
John M. Burbage, president of Evening Post Ventures and publisher of Evening Post Books, which brought out the cookbook, said Jenkins was a fine man and full of life.
“When we published ‘Gullah Cuisine — By Land and By Sea,’ he was quick to point out that we got his family recipes right but his age wrong by one year. ‘I’m younger than that — can’t you tell?’
“Indeed, Frank Jenkins was forever young — and looked it. It’s hard to believe he is gone.”
Jenkins is survived by his wife, Charlotte Ascue Jenkins; children Kesha Jenkins, Francona Katia Jenkins, Cheryl Verwayne (Kendrick), Nathaniel Mitchell and Melvin Jones; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; siblings Beverly Manning and Robert Brown (Darlene); and numerous other relatives.
Funeral services will be 11 a.m. today at Greater Zion AME Church, 4174 Highway 17 North in Awendaw. Burial will be in Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens.