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What: These sesame-seed cookies have a long and well-traveled history: Benne, or sesame, seeds reached Charleston’s shores some 300 years ago by way of West African slaves, who planted them here for good luck and used the seeds and oil for cooking. It is unclear where and when the recipe for these wafers was created—we did spy “benni cakes” on the streets of Sierra Leone, though they were quite different—but it’s said that their popularity spread fast, and they quickly became the good-luck parting-gift of choice for guests at plantation parties. Nowadays they’re synonymous with the Lowcountry, a popular souvenir item for visitors, but more than that, they’re truly delicious. Made of toasted sesame seeds and all the good things in life—butter, sugar, flour, egg, baking powder—crispy benne wafers are a light and nutty, highly addictive local treat.
Where: We found Summerville-based Southern Sisters Bakery manning a table at the Saturday Marion Square farmers market (Meeting St. at Calhoun St., map). Its “sweet chip of the South” has the distinction of being all-natural: no corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, chemical fillers, etc.
When: Saturdays, April-Nov., 8am-2pm
Order: Get a bag or a box of benne wafers ($4 for 3 oz bag; $9 for 8 oz box; pictured out of the bag)—and then buy a few more. Trust us: These are excellent, delicately crisp and sweetly nutty. They’re perfect with coffee or tea, with ice cream, or straight out of the bag.
Alternatively: Many groceries will sell benne wafers, but it is worth seeking out the all-natural, handmade ones. Also inside the Charleston City Market, the Food for the Southern Soul stand sells them; at various stores around town, you might find benne wafers from Mount Pleasant-based Olde Colony Bakery (519 Wando Lane, map), which calls itself the “home of the original Charleston benne wafers”—it distributes widely (and does a brisk mail-order business too, should you want them shipped).
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