Emily Meggett, a Southern home cook who never measured her ingredients or used recipes but became one of America’s most important Gullah Geechee cooks and last year published a best-selling cookbook on Gullah Geechee cuisine, died on Friday at her home in Edisto Island, S.C. She was 90.
Her daughter Lavern Meggett said she died after a short illness.
Mrs. Meggett had been cooking for nearly 80 years before “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Matriarch of Edisto Island,” was published in April of last year — the first high-profile cookbook centered on the food of the descendants of the enslaved people of the coastal South. She had collaborated with a mostly Black team to create it.
“She left us with a lifetime of work that was overlooked and undervalued for years,” said Kayla Stewart, the book’s co-author. (Ms. Stewart has written for The New York Times.) “She really moved the needle in terms of how we’re talking about Gullah Geechee cuisine and culture.”
Emily Hutchinson Meggett was born on Nov. 19, 1932, and raised on Edisto Island, southwest of Charleston, as were her parents and grandparents. Her lineage traced back to enslaved Africans who worked along the Gullah Geechee corridor, a collection of small coastal communities from North Carolina to North Florida. Mrs. Meggett’s family and other enslaved people held onto some of their traditions and adopted new ones, forging a culture known as Gullah Geechee and a Creole language.
Mrs. Meggett grew up in the Jim Crow South and began her career cooking for white families who kept homes on Edisto, following a tradition with a fraught and complicated history.
“Many Black women,” she wrote in the book, “paved the way for cooks like me to find a career that could support my family and give me the chance to do something I’m good at.”