On any given day you can find Sallie Ann Robinson doing what she loves most— cooking and sharing stories.
“I never knew we were poor because we ate the best of food,” Robinson recalls. “My mom, grandparents, and every native that I knew here were great cooks. You were always welcomed to the table.”
The celebrity chef and author has always loved the simple life — a longing that led her back to her roots on Daufuskie Island.
“I grew up here. It still fascinates me to be back home and loving it like no other place exists,” she said.
Daufuskie is home to about 400 people. Only seven extended families currently live there and are direct descendants of enslaved Africans brought as chattel to build plantation owner’s wealth.
After the Civil War, slaves were freed from the Sea Islands and surrounding areas settled on Daufuskie.
Robinson’s family was one of them.
“This island, we used to roam from one end to the other before the development. Before Melrose. Before Haig Point came back. Because back in the day, these places were plantations,” she said.
Isolated from the rest of the world, Daufuskie is only accessible by boat.
A ferry ride took us across the waters to where Robinson says her mother and her mother’s mother were born. In fact, her lineage on this island goes back six generations.
“I grew up not knowing I was Gullah. The word wasn’t in our vocabulary— wasn’t in our community,” Robinson said.
Her ancestors lived off the land— and so does she.
“Today, most people will go into a grocery store and say, ‘I want that chicken’ or that piece of meat. We had everything in our backyard. The woods. The ocean,” she said.
Many remnants of the past remain— reminding her of her heritage— like First Union African Baptist Church which dates back to the late 1800s and the praise house beside it.
Some of the old structures that have been preserved are presently occupied by new businesses.
Evidence of embracing— not erasing— the past.
It’s this life that Robinson has written about in a book she co-authored with Jenny Hersch, “Images Of America, Daufuskie Island.”
It’s her third publication.
The others are cookbooks that weave stories of her youth with recipes that delight the soul.
For Robinson, what once was continues to be a way of life. Her family owns about three acres of land where her grandmother’s house still stands.
And her dream is to restore it.
“We just want to hold on to what our grandparents struggled so hard to keep,” she said.
Until then, Robinson resides not too far away in this historic home. It once belonged to her first teacher, Mrs. Frances Jones.
Across the dirt road sits the schoolhouse where she met literary giant— and one of the biggest influences on her life— Pat Conroy. He was her sixth-grade teacher.
“He was the first male white teacher we had,” Robinson remembers.
And though he was only there for a year, they maintained a lifelong friendship.
“He wanted us to be a part— once we left here— to understand and not want to run away,” she said.
Conroy was so impressed with Robinson, he wrote about her in his 1972 memoir, “The Water is Wide.”
She was “Ethel.”
He also encouraged her to write— and even penned the foreword to her first book— “Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way.”
The book led to a second publication and opened up more doors for Robinson.
When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s conducting tours— sharing stories of the ‘simple life’ that will always keep her close to her Gullah roots.
“You know, a lot of people will say, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ Believe me, my heart has always been here,” she said.
It’s offered four times a week—Tuesdays and Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m