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We Just Call It Cush

Jerry “Butch” Nichols prepares cush at the Piedmont Fire Department.
Jerry “Butch” Nichols prepares cush at the Piedmont Fire Departmen

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As Jerry “Butch” Nichols of the Piedmont Fire Department says, “cush is a Piedmont thing!” Largely confined to Piedmont and the surrounding area of Williamston and Pelger, the cush tradition goes back well over a hundred years. Cush was served as a standard side dish at fish fries. Today, Nichols believes that only ten families still know how to make cush. For their part, the Piedmont Fire Department cooks a pound of cush every time fish is served at community suppers. Cornmeal is added to onions and green peppers cooked in the grease from the fish. Red pepper and hot sauce give the mixture some zest.

The fire department plays an integral role in maintaining this tradition by cooking communal suppers for the firemen and neighbors as well as for civic events. Traditions like cush work to strengthen the brotherhood of firemen and connect them to a larger history of festive food sharing and community interdependence. Don Roper remembers his father cooking cush for the 300 member fishing club at the Piedmont Plant. Nichols recalls with pride the feeling of stirring the cush as a young boy for his father and uncles’ fishing club. Nichols believes that the passing on of family recipes such as cush and sweet potato hushpuppies is important because it is in the act of cooking the traditional food that the meaningful connections are made.

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bullet icon A tradition from the Upstate (03:59)

bullet icon Fire Chief Jerry “Butch” Nichols prepares cush (03:34)

bullet icon The Fire Department & communal cooking (02:42)

bullet icon Sweet potato hushpuppies (01:31)

Nichols and administrative assistant Sylvia Brown prepare the Huey Family’s recipe for sweet potato hushpuppies.

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