Mighty Sweet Rice: Inland and Garden Rice in the 20th Century

Written by James H. Tuten

Pounding rice in Orangeburg, S.C.

Pounding rice in Orangeburg, S.C.

Rice cultivation has an unbroken tradition in small or garden plots around parts of the African Diaspora from Sierra Leone to the hill rice in Trinidad. In the old Rice Kingdom of the United States, however, where Carolina Gold once dominated, an emphasis on commercial production or plantation agriculture obscured the history of garden rice.

Although commercial rice production ended in the late 1920s or very early 1930s, rice growing for personal use is nearly an unbroken tradition here too. After emancipation, when the Gullah faced a choice on whether to grow rice, relocate, or remain in place and grow other crops, many chose to be involved in rice. They maintained a connection to rice as commercial growers and garden plot growers and they sustained tradition through their foodways. A look at small plot rice growers in South Carolina establishes a connection with that aspect of the African Diaspora not only during the era of the enslavement or plantation production in the half-century or so after emancipation but well into the 20th century. 

At several junctures, especially in the decade that we call Reconstruction in the U.S., from 1865-1876, and again in the 20th century as commercial-scale production concluded on rice plantations, rice growers faced inflection points where they had to decide whether to continue growing rice. These contingent moments further include both a choice about sticking with commercial growing or to grow rice for home consumption. Gullah people were choosing change or continuity with rice. 

Commercial or Plantation Rice Culture

First we will consider the sustained interest that Gullah people had for sticking with commercial rice cultivation. Two reasons for this were that many of them had pride in place and in rice growing skill. Before we get to those reasons I want to stipulate that people like the way a field of rice looks. Agricultural people, farmers, typically admire the visuals of their crops. Growers and even visitors to the Rice Kingdom openly applauded the look of rice. 

The aesthetics of rice fields under cultivation affected visitors and planters alike. Near the end of the antebellum era T. Addison Richards reported in Harpers magazine on his visit to the Lowcountry. “[F]ew are they who know aught of the graceful grain, living, blossoming, and ripening into golden beauty in its native fields,” he declared. He considered rice to be the “most beautiful ... of the great family of grains.” [T. Addison Richards, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1859) 721-738]

Other visitors noted the visual effect of rice and the plantation fields. During Reconstruction Edward King investigated the region as a journalist and waxed eloquent on what he found. “Beautiful were the broad and carefully cultivated acres, stretching miles away on either side of the placid, deep, and noble Combahee; picturesque were the granaries … and novel and inspiring the vistas of the long sedge-bordered canals.” [Edward King, The Great South, 436] Rice fields made a strong impression upon people in part because of the geometric shapes they imposed upon the landscape and the sharp relief that the waterways provided between every cultivated square. Often, too, the terrain and agricultural patterns struck viewers because they were so different from that to which they were accustomed. 

When a crop or commodity is important to a particular society, residents will often have festivals and celebratory events connected to the cultivation cycle. Those who labored through the hot and mercilessly humid summer days enjoyed the brief parties of the harvest season. Maggie Black recounted such events: “Den when dey ge t’rough, dey hab big supper dere fa aw dem wha’ whip rice. Gi’e em aw de rice en hog head dey is e’er wan’. Man, dey’ud hab de nicest kind uv music dere.” [George P. Rawick, ed, South Carolina Narratives, vol 2 The American Slave: A Composite Biography, 1 and 2, 59]

Rice culture required participants to manipulate land and water in ways not demanded by other crops. Judith Carney captured that well by calling rice culture a “knowledge system.” Planters came to believe that only they could manage such a complex undertaking, which added to their pride of being rice planters. Their specialized knowledge enabled them to look down upon those who grew other crops. Moreover, it added to their sense of uniqueness and led them to consider the aesthetic qualities of their land and crops.

The Last Black Rice Laborers

Elizabeth Alston Pringle and the other Waccamaw Neck planters quit planting commercially as a result of a 1910 storm. However, many African Americans continued to reside on the plantations. They no longer worked at growing rice commercially, but they continued to plant small plots of rice for their own food. On Sandy Island, for example, the all-black community grew rice for domestic consumption and as a trade commodity into the late 1940s. [Vennie Deas Moore, Sandy Island: Nothing is the Same, 2-3 ]

For the African Americans who associated with rice culture either through labor alone or by virtue of both employment and abode, the cessation of planting hastened a process of migration into other employments. Over time this migration eroded many of the plantation communities. Even so, some plantation communities lasted until after the Second World War. After 1900, with little employment left in phosphates, most black men that remained in the rural areas turned fully to timber, turpentine, or railroad work, employments previously pursued in conjunction with planting rice, cotton, and efforts to raise most of their own food. Others joined the ranks of the cotton tenants and sharecroppers, in some cases on the highlands of the same plantations where they had grown rice.

Those African Americans who remained on the rice plantations until the industry collapsed lost more than a job. Many of them appear to have stayed on the plantation because of a sense of place or an attachment to rice culture. John Rutledge served as the supervisor of the Cheves Family plantation of Weehaw outside of Georgetown. The Cheves brothers’ focus lay with their other lands, and they allowed the houses and the banks to degrade over time. In January of 1901, traditionally the time of year when rice plantation leases were renewed, Rutledge wrote to Henry Cheves informing him of the disintegration of the plantation and of his own commitment.

"Mr Speights told me that my time is up with him he says that he cannot give me any further orders … so i write to ask you if I must continue to go round the bank to look after them. Also the empty houses the hands is moving off because there is nothing to do. I myself will never leave until I die [John Rutledge to Henry Cheves, January 5, 1901. Cheves Papers, SCHS.]

Rutledge was not a singular case. Historian Charles Joyner made an important point with a quote from Ben Horry, a rice growing man born in slavery: “slavery time people done something!” They had, as Joyner made clear, a sense of ownership of the land because they knew they and their ancestors grew, cultivated and harvested the rice. Morris, also born into slavery but a man who lived well into the 20th century, told the owner of the land where he lived, Bernard Baruch, “My mammy and Daddy worked de rice fields. Dey’s buried here. De furst ting I remember are dose rice banks. De strength of dese arms and dese legs and of dis old back, Mist’ Bernie is in your rice banks.” He went on to make it clear that his connection to the plantation was such that “de ret of dis body want to be with de strength of de arms and de legs and back dat is already buried in your rice banks.” [Joyner, 42-43]

Rutledge and Morris demonstrate the strong sense of connection to the land, the crop of rice and suggests pride in managing the elegant system that produced it. Large plantations were not the only places of rice production in the Lowcountry, though. 

Upland or Interior Rice

The plantation-scale rice culture has had a number of books written about it. But that is not the only area where rice growers raised the grain. In the Pine Barrens just inland from the tidewater, former slaves and their descendants grew rice as a provision crop into the 1930s. This sparsely settled belt was less productive than the Lowcountry, and it was easier for blacks to buy small plots of land or to find tenant arrangements on largely undeveloped pine tracts. In fact, the Black Belt enjoyed a substantial increase in black population after emancipation. 

Perhaps no better example of both upland rice cultivation or the sustained commitment to rice for the kitchen exists in the Lowcountry than in the vicinity of Mars Bluff, South Carolina. In her wonderful book on the subject, African American at Mars Bluff, author Amelia Wallace Vernon interviewed a number of people in the late 1980s who had learned to cultivate upland rice in garden plots. Matthew Williamson, for example, grew rice on land that his father and his grandfather had used to cultivate rice. “The rice was a way of life at that particular time, because they made it.” [Amelia Wallace Vernon,  African American at Mars Bluff , 207]

Vernon undertook an oral history project in the Mars Bluff community 50 miles above the known tidal rice cultivation area, but still near one of South Carolina’s great rice rivers, the Pee Dee. There, up to around 1920 African Americans supplemented the sharecropping of cotton with garden plots of rice ranging from about one-third to an acre in size. They planted in low ground, trusting to rain or occasionally turning to irrigation from wells. She found at least one person who grew rice within the town limits of Florence, a medium size city in the state, all the way up to 1939. [101] Some grew wetland and some dryland rice. All grew it for their own table or to share with friends and family. But in general rice growing declined in the 1920s as a generation died or others moved away as part of the great migration of African Americans out of the South.

Vernon believes her subjects didn’t eat the rice they grew. I find that unlikely. She does see it as an African Diaspora cultural survival. Rice was perceived as only having marginal cash value and was grown on otherwise unused lands, so a sharecropper could grow some and keep it all. There are signs that rice had been grown as a tertiary provision crop in Mars Bluff during slavery. They ate some and sold some. They kept planting it, because “that skill … had set them off as special and had given them a degree of autonomy…”[125-128]

Though rice growers in the Pine Barrens did not always make the grain central to their foodways, rice did carry some of the same symbolic content that it had in the Lowcountry rice kingdom. Vernon’s research suggests that whites, more than blacks, maintained a rice kitchen around Mars Bluff. The African Americans in the area that raised rice, but only occasionally ate it, grew it because it conferred status upon them as farmers. In other words, African Americans, like white rice planters, gained some degree of self-respect and status from the greater technological and agricultural complexity involved in growing rice as opposed to cotton or corn.  [Vernon, African Americans at Mars Bluff, 127-128]

Another method for getting at the production of rice for home use is the Census of Agriculture. For my purposes here I focused on the data for 1934 and 1939. The old rice plantation counties still had many small, non-commercial rice growers during the Great Depression, a decade to a quarter century after commercial-scale cultivation ended. For example, Beaufort County had over 400 farms reporting rice on a total of 380 acres. That indicates small plots of an acre or less in. Similarly, Charleston had 379 farms amounting to 323 acres of rice. The figures for broadly uniform for the old coastal counties. 

Rice Production in Rice Kingdom, 1934

407 farms223379324125174433
380 acres208323422166329872
1294 bbl6681448115441422992566

Source: U.S. Census of Agriculture 1940

What the Agriculture Census also shows is a precipitous decline in the garden plot rice during the Great Depression. Five years later, in 1939, the number of rice farmers, acres and barrels grown had fallen by half or more in each county. 

As important for us to notice, though, is the inland rice production by small farmers. The chart on inland counties reveals that in 1934 Orangeburg County, pretty far inland, grew more rice than two of the counties in the rice kingdom. These were mostly small-scale growers continuing a tradition of inland production in the pine belt that had existed at least since Reconstruction. Research by Coclanis and Marlow shows that the rice growers were nearly evenly divided between black and white rice growers. 

Although the agricultural census quit recording such small non-commercial levels of production in 1940, that is not positive evidence that no one grew rice anymore. A broad and concerted effort to document inland garden crops of rice just might reveal but a short break in rice growing. For example, to my surprise I recently learned that African-American farmer Snowden Buckner routinely planted a quarter acre of rice along the Salkehatchie Highway in Hampton County into the middle 1950s. [Henry Tuten interview, 1-29-17]

Regardless of race, the dominant place of rice eating — the rice kitchen— and rice growing re-shaped society so that after emancipation both members of the African diaspora and white South Carolinians had rice as part of their agricultural and culinary heritage. That is why they kept growing it for another 70 years or more. 

Rice Production Inland Counties, 1934

29 farms691247652334129
38 acres78215684651997
73 bbl1645632101021012237

Source: U.S. Census of Agriculture 1940

Over the years between 1865 and 1940, one-time rice growers repeatedly asked themselves whether their economic interests, the lack of civil rights, and the allure of cities in the South or the North amounted to enough of an invitation to migrate from country to town and out of the region altogether. Migration certainly meant an end to personal rice production. A second choice was whether to keep or to let go of the rice kitchen. For those who moved to New York, Chicago, Detroit, or Los Angeles, some chose to let go of some elements of that rural past and other Americans, white and black, denigrated migrants’ dialects and culinary cultures and encouraged conformity to mass culture. Emory Campbell wrote of the “masking of Gullah culture” both outside the South and even among fellow African Americans when in Savannah. In some cases shame of being rural in a society promoting urban superiority, a desire to embrace modern lifestyles and move away from the past led to abandonment of rice eating" as some of us will tend to divorce ourselves from rice meals,” Campbell observed, “except an occasional Chinese rice dinner.” [Campbell, 287]

It seems that most African American families in the Lowcountry, however, did keep a Rice Kitchen and continue to rely on rice as their staple food up to the present day. While a corn-based diet predominated in much of the cotton South, Ben Horry stated that on the plantation where he labored as a slave they “never have much grits…have fine rice.” [Rawick, Supplement, Series 1, Volume 11, 197.]

Likewise, for Gabriel Washington, born into slavery on a rice plantation, gardening included rice that he ate every evening as late as 1939. [Charles Von Ohsen, “Gabriel Washington: Life History” South Carolina Writer’s Project (c-10 SC, Box 2)] Maggie Black, another interviewee, noted the difference between the brown rice pounded on the plantation and the bleached rice she bought in the 1930s, remembering “it wuz mighty sweet rice, honey, mighty sweet rice.” [Rawick, SC 1&2, 59]

Many black families such as Smart-Grosvenor’s maintained their culinary traditions despite migrating out of the Lowcountry. Vertamae Smart-Gosvenor, born in the Lowcountry, wrote as recently as 1970, “And speaking of rice. I was 16 years old before I knew that everyone didn’t eat rice every day. Us being Geechees, we had rice everyday. When you said what you were eating for dinner, you always assumed that rice was there.” Today the South continues to be a major market for rice and most of the major rice markets are east of the Mississippi River. White families that left the area also kept this link to their heritage. [Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, Second ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992). 6,7-10.] 

Similarly, Emory Campbell, born and raised on Hilton Head and long-time leader of Penn Center recalled of growing up that to be Gullah meant he assumed he would always have “an affinity for rice dishes; rice was a part of every dinner meal (…) sometime eaten with okra, ‘matoes, and prawns.” [Emory Campbell in Phillip Morgan, African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry, 283-4] Alexander Small put his attachment to a rice kitchen in this context: 

Since daddy was a Geechee in the truest sense, no meal could be served without fluffy Carolina long grain rice. (I’d seen him leave the table, refusing to come back, until my mother, who was trying to break the habit, made him some.) [Alexander Smalls and Hettie Jones, Grace the Table: Stories and Recipes From My Southern Revival 3.]

The Great Depression and World War brought many changes — and here I speculate — that the decline in rice cultivation in the 1930s is attributable to multiple causes including seed rice becoming harder to attain, land ownership loss during the depression, the disruption of the war and the economic boom afterward with lots of cheap rice.  I suspect these factors worked together to bring about the decline. Today though, small rice growing has begun a rebound thanks in no small part to the work of David Shields and the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, and chefs such as BJ Dennis who value local and heritage ingredients and from whom many others of us take our cues about food. 

A Compendium of Traditional Grains of the Coastal South

In 2004 the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation formed to renew the agriculture that gave rise to the rice-centered cuisine of the Lowcountry from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida.  The revival of the cereals stood at the center of the work the Foundation undertook — not just the rice, but the biscuit wheat, the whiskey rye, the high-power oats bred for race horses, and meal, sweet, and flint corns. 

We sought the enduring staples — the row crops whose virtues were so profound that they remained in use for generations. In 2004 we did not know what those enduring grains were, aside from Carolina Gold Rice. Research in 19th-century agricultural journals gave us an outline that served as a guide to restoration in 2006-2007. Yet our picture of the full scheme of cereal production did not come into final focus until 2013-14. 

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The Merikins of Trinidad Preserve Upland Bearded Rice

By David S. Shields

John Elliott amid a field of Hill Rice

John Elliott amid a field of Hill Rice

Two hundred years ago a group of southern slaves took up arms against their masters, joining the British Royal Marines in the War of 1812 when promised freedom and land if they enlisted. In 1815 and 1816, the British fulfilled that promise, resettling the black veterans in the hills of southern Trinidad. Each Marine received a grant of 16 acres to improve as he saw fit. They were also granted liberty within the British empire. Deploying themselves across the countryside by Companies, these proud men (and some women) took to calling themselves the Merikins. They took up farming, growing the crops they had cultivated in the American South, particularly those common to the sea islands of Georgia where the Fourth Company had been recruited: rice, maize, benne (low oil landrace sesame), sweet potato, okra, cowpeas, sugar cane, and tanya (Colocasia esculante).

Now — 200 years later—the descendants of these settlers still call themselves Merikins, still grow these staple field and garden crops, indeed, still maintain those seed stocks they brought from the South two centuries ago. The fields around Prince’s Town in southern Trinidad are a remarkable time capsule of Lowcountry culinary plants of two centuries ago, supplemented by African yam, pigeon pea, Toopie Tomboo, and a host of tropical fruits.   

Some of things that the Merikins grow survive in the South as well: the green Home sugarcane, benne, white fleshed sweet potatoes, yellow dent corn, red flint corn, cowpeas, and okra. They also grow things once common on the southern landscape that are now gone. Two were greatly important in the 19th century: the tanya (also called provision plant in Trinidad) and upland bearded rice. 

It is the story of the latter than concerns us here, for upland rices — rice varieties developed for dry cultivation in plantings at elevation instead of water impoundments — were extremely rare in the West in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Indeed, only two were known to be in the western hemisphere at the time of the Merikan settlement of Trinidad: one was a short season white rice that came from Cochin China, or Viet Nam, conveyed to South Carolina, Georgia, and the islands of Jamaica and Dominica in the 1770s.  The other was a red bearded rice brought out of West Africa in 1789 by Captain Nathaniel Cutting and planted in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky in the first decades of the 19th century. Thomas Jefferson was the initial distributor of this seed.  

If we are to credit the 1904 report of Rev. Dr. H. H. Morton (Imperial Department of Agriculture of the West Indies), both varieties of upland rice were being grown in the hills settled by the Merikins at the outset of the 20th century. In a survey of rice cultivation he noted, besides the East Indian water grown sorts, “Two varieties large upland rice: twelve weeks rice, and red bearded. This last has a long awn, somewhat like bearded barley, which is very useful in protecting the grain from the attacks of birds.”

In 2016 only the latter rice — the red bearded upland rice with its spiked awn — remains in cultivation on Merikan hill farms. Ethnobotanist Dr. Francis Morean of Arima, Trinidad, has spent the last several years documenting the remaining farmers of “Hill Rice” in Trinidad. Indeed, Dr. Morean has undertaken the cultivation of the rice himself to learn its distinctive growth patterns and its milling and culinary qualities.  

In December 2016 Dr. Morean invited Queen Quet, head of the Gullah Geechee, ethnobotanist Dr. Anthony Pamaplele Richards (University of the West Indies), historians Dr. Jim Tuten (Juniata College), and myself (University of South Carolina & Chair of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation) to Trinidad for a Hill Rice Symposium. Attendees traveled to the Merikan settlement region in south Trinidad, viewed a field of fully grown Hill Rice in situ, and interviewed John Elliot, a Merikan farmer descended (Dr. Morean believes) from one of the Marines recruited from the Georgia Sea Islands, who demonstrated the steps in processing the rice.  In the exchange of information at the Symposium, Dr. Morean indicated that the Merikins introduced rice cultivation to the island; none predated the fields that the settlers planted in 1816-1817. I communicated the backstory of upland rice cultivation in the western hemisphere and surmised that the Hill Rice growing in Trinidad is a variety of Oryza glaberrima originally deriving from the hill country of West Africa, conveyed to America, and grown in the upcountry South from the 1790s until the early 20th century. It vanished from the fields around the time of World War I, but apparently was conveyed to Trinidad in 1816.


West African Bearded Upland Rice in the American South


The story begins with a confusion. Thomas Jefferson hears that upland rice grows in places along the West Coast of Africa. He concludes, on the basis of a third hand report, that rice from Cochin China had been conveyed to Africa and planted there: 

“I first became informed of the existence of a Rice which would grow in uplands without any more water than the common rains, by reading a book of M. de Poyore, who had been Governor of the Isle of France, who mentions it as growing there, and all along the coast of Africa, successively, and having been introduced from Cochin China. I was at the time (1784-85) in France ... When at Havre, on my return from France, I found there Captain Nathaniel Cutting, who was on the ensuing spring to go on a voyage to the coast of Africa. I engaged him to enquire for this.  He was there just after the harvest, procured and sent me a 30 gallon cask of it.”

Jefferson, conscious that growing rice in watery impoundments was attended with disease, (malaria was rife in the Lowcountry), immediately grasped that upland rice would be a healthier alternative to the swamp rices being grown in the United States. Jefferson experimented in France and New York with dry culture rices from Sumatra with modest success. But in 1789 Captain Nathaniel Cutting procured “heavy” red upland rice from "River Denby, about the Latt. 9.° 30' North" near present Conakry in Guinea.” [https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/rice

Upland landraces of rice remain in cultivation in middle Guinea and Sierra Leone. In recent surveys of genetic resources in West Africa, the upland varieties collected have invariably been belonged to the Oryza glaberrima family indigenous to Africa. [Kayode Abiola Sanni, Daniel D. Tia, David K. Ojo, Ayoni S. Agunbayo, Mouritala Sikirou and N. Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, “Diversity of Rice and Related Wild Species in Africa,” African Rice]. Thirty years ago, upland cultivation of rice remains 60 percent of current rice production in Guinea, but it was less productive that water cultivated Oryza sativa varieties, and is most cultivated by subsistence farmers in the hilly interior of the country. [P. C. Gupta, J. C. O’Toole,  “Upland Rice Distribution,”  Upland Rice: a Global Perspective (International Rice Research Institute, 1986), 7.] Since that assay, the percentage of upland rice has diminished as more productive Asian rice varieties have come to dominate the fields of West Africa. 

So, in all likelihood, Cutting forwarded 30 gallons of O. glaberrima upland rice seed collected in the markets of Conakry. Jefferson grew out some experimentally for three years, but dispatched most southward to persons interested in rice culture: to Ralph Izard of the South Carolina Agricultural Society and to Abraham Baldwin in north Georgia. “I divided it between he Agricultural Society of Charleston, and some private gentlemen in Georgia, recommending it to their care, in the hope which had induced me to obtain it, that if it answered as well as the swamp Rice, it might rid them of that source of their summer disease.  Nothing came of the trials in South Carolina, but being carried into the upper hilly parts of Georgia, it succeeded there perfectly, has spread over the country, and is now commonly cultivated.”  

The indifference toward the rice by planters of South Carolina can best be explained by the fact that it arrived in the wake of the first cultivation of “Gold Seed Rice” (Carolina Gold), during the moment when everyone engaged in planting rice was smitten by that productive and elegant gold-husked grain with remarkable starch quality.

The development of tidal water culture of rice had taken place in South Carolina by 1784. In 1786 Hezekiah Mayham planted the first field of Carolina Gold in Pineville, Berkeley County, South Carolina. By 1790 every planter was desperately seeking Gold Seed. The appearance of another rice — one that could be grown upland — did not excite the big agriculturists who had seen how water culture caused productivity to explode. So Cutting’s germplasm distributed to planters found its was into provision gardens of African slaves, not into the banked fields lining the tidal rivers of the Lowcountry. 

In the area of Georgia around present day Athens the story was different. There were no tidal rivers, no swampy inland bays. Abraham Baldwin welcomed the prospect of growing rice using just the rain for irrigation, arrayed on hill sides, spaced at foot intervals as a garden plant. Even in 1800 is was clear that this was not a commodity rice, for it was not productive enough to compete with tidal grown Carolina Gold; but as a home resource it was more than welcome, and its cultivation spread into North Alabama, North Mississippi, and as far north as Kentucky. 

As Judith Carney has argued, the provision garden is where slaves supplied themselves with nourishment beyond the ration of corn meal and bacon. [Judith Carney, Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, 156]  Gold Seed rice was not part of the food allotment, and being a variety that flourished when wet, did not suit dryland patch cultivation. 

Nineteenth-century historians of Lowcountry rice culture noted that African slaves had taken to growing several varieties of rice for their consumption: “Guinea rice, bearded rice, a short grained rice somewhat like barley, and a species of highland rice.” [John Drayton, View of South Carolina (1802), p. 125].  My surmise is that Guinea rice is the red weedy rice that still plagues rice fields in South Carolina, the bearded rice is the sort that circulated in the upland South and also among Lowcountry planters who devalued the seed. The upland variety mentioned I believe is the Cochin short season rice introduced in 1770 to the South and the West Indies. 

In regards to the bearded rice, it is probable that Africans recognized the seed, familiar from the markets of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The barley-like configuration of the pannicles, and the spiked awn of single grains were sufficiently distinctive to make it immediately recognizable to any who had seen it before. As John Drayton attests, upland bearded rice grew in Lowcountry huck patches for provision after 1800, as well as the farms of the southern hills as farm family food. 

Descriptions abound from the agricultural press of the antebellum South of the bearded upland rice. Periodically it would become the focus of cultivation experiments by planters. In 1830, for instance, the Southern Agriculturist featured a number of articles treating the variety. “A Georgian” made a report from a plantation in Savannah of dry cultivating a half bushel of seed on a “low place.” Despite drought conditions, it “grew luxuriantly ... and ... realized sixty bushels of excellent rice, quite equal to the common rice for the table, and if ground fine which can very easily be done, it makes a delicious cake for breakfast” (July 1830, 356-57).

A stronger recommendation was made by the “Black River Planter.” He wrote:

I find the bearded rice heavier and more productive than the white or gold seed.  Many have supposed that it would not do well in tide land, but experience furnishes ample proof that the reverse of this is the fact. Others say it is tasteless and insipid.  I have never been able to discover any difference; nor do I believe there is any.  Another objection is, it will not stand the pestle well. This (if fact) may result from a late harvest, when the rice is too ripe, and would injure any rice in the same way. Another objection is, that there is a spot in the grain which has a chalky appearance, and will injure the sale.  The eye of every grain of rice (so termed,) has the same appearance, and the same objection would apply.  [“Observations on the Bearded Rice,” Southern Agriculturist (Nov., 1830), 578.]

Indeed, the Black River Planter (Dr. Francis Parker) found the only liability with the rice lay in its being more laborious to harvest, and consequently resisted by some African slaves. In its favor, this cultivator cited its taller growth, early maturation, resistance to bird depredation, and greater productivity. Only this last point seems fanciful, perhaps a function of the freakish fertility of the soil along the Black River.

Multiple attestations from growers who cultivated it as a dry culture upland rice indicated that its productivity did not approach that of gold seed rice, or even the old Madagascar white rice that had dominated Lowcountry fields from 1690 to 1790. Nevertheless, it spread throughout the South. It was introduced into cultivation in Louisiana in 1842 [Appleton’s Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events 10 (1871), 458.] When described, it was named variously, either as white bearded rice, referencing the light cream color of the husks on the grain, or red bearded rice, referencing the reddish pericarp coating the rice seed body. Commentators epitomized it thusly, “The grain of this kind is rather larger, and is furnished in its unhulled state with a very long awn of beard — grows well on high land.” [“Rice — History and Statistics,” in J. D. B. DeBow’s The Southern States (1856), 396.] 

There were parts of the South where the bearded rice’s ability to grow in marginal soil became a cause for hope.  An 1824 letter to the American Farmer suggests the excitement it caused in Alabama: “A few years since an impression prevailed, even here, that rice could only be cultivated, to advantage, on that that could be flooded at pleasure. But now rice is fast superceding corn in the poor piny wood lands of this country, and will soon become the provision crop on such lands” [“Mobile, January 20, 1824,” American Farmer 6 (1824), 47.] This farmer’s words were prophetic, for bearded rice would remain a fixture on the landscape of the Alabama uplands until the Civil War.  

Why did it not remain until the present day as a provision crop?  The causes are readily adduced: white Honduran rice after the Civil War became so common and cheap that it did not pay to grow one’s own. Removing the red pericarp (chaff) proved difficult, and if one wanted pure white grains on the plate much of the outer surface of the grain had to be milled off. The spikes that inhibited birds from eating the grain proved inconvenient, indeed hurtful, to harvesters. There were more convenient rices to cultivate, including the other upland rice that came into the South— the short season Cochin rice. 

In sum, bearded upland rice was present in the South throughout the 19th century. While it could have been conveyed to the Lowcountry by the slaves themselves early in the 18th century, it comes to widespread notice after a West African shipment to Jefferson is distributed throughout the Lowcountry by the South Carolina Agricultural Society in 1789 and to the upland South by Abraham Baldwin. After 1802 It is registered by multiple observers as a patch grown provision crop maintained by African slaves working the tidal rice plantations of the coastal Southeast —including those areas from which the 4th company of the British Royal Marines were recruited in 1814. Since rice cultivation in Trinidad began in 1816 by the Merikan settlers, including former inhabitants of the sea islands, the most likely scenario for transmission is that upland bearded rice was taken from the Lowcountry to the Merikan settlement area in the south of Trinidad. The rice no longer survives in the South; it has been preserved and cherished by the Merikan community.


Cochin Short Season White Upland Rice


One variety of upland rice noted by Dr. H. H. Morton a century ago in Trinidad is no longer grown: twelve week rice, a short season upland white rice. This was probably the other upland rice known to have been brought into cultivation in the Lowcountry prior to the departure of the Merikins — Cochin short-seasoned upland rice.  

Reports from Asia spoke of rice culture using specially adapted varieties of rice, planted at spaced intervals in fields, in elevated parts of Indonesia, Cochin China, and Thailand. 

Accounts of Asian upland rice had stimulated a demand throughout the British America for seed that might be planted. The first upland seed to arrive in North America came through the efforts of a supercargo and plant collector for the East India Company at Canton China in the 1770s —John Brodly Blake.  

The Cochin Upland Rice was one of five landraces traditionally cultivated in the hills of Vietnam: Tangi, Bo-lo, Lirnam-bang, Lirandi, and Le-muyo. The last is an early short season rice, ripening in four and a half months and was exclusively dry raised on the uplands. Nineteenth-century observers of rice cultivation in Cochin China observed that upland rice cultivation required more labor and care than aquatic growing. 

“The land must be ploughed three or four times, and all the tuft and lumps well broken up by the harrow. During its growth, it must be weeded two or three times to save the crop from being choked. The seed is sown by hand in the month of May and is harvest in November. It is never reaped, in consequence of the grain not adhering to the ear, but is pulled up by the roots.” [Edward Brown, Cochin China and My Experience of It (London: Charleston Westerton, 1861), 211].

The South Carolina and American General Gazette on Dec. 28, 1771 published the “Travels of a Philosophers” containing a notice that Blake had conveyed to John Ellis of Gray’s Inn in London Cochin upland rice and the tallow tree for distribution in Carolina and the West Indies. “We have the pleasure to inform the public, that by the indefatigable industry of a very curious gentleman at Canton, a sufficient quantity for experiment of the upland rice from Cochin China, so long wished for, has been sent by the Thames Indiaman to his friend in Gray’s Inn, who will take proper care that it is distributed to such persons in our southern colonies as will make a fair trial of this most useful grain.”  

John Ellis held the office of royal agent for West Florida, an administrative post in London superintending the colony’s develop. He communicated the rice to several colonial planter botanists: to his brother Henry Ellis in Jamaica, General Robert Melvill in Dominica, and Dr. Alexander Garden of South Carolina. A botanist himself, Ellis had published an instruction Directions For Bringing Over Seeds and Plants, from the East-Indies and other Distant Countries in a State of Vegetation (London: L. Davis, 1770), so whatever he communicated had a fair potential for being viable. Despite this, of the parcel shipped to Alexander Garden, a sole grain tillered and grew at his garden at Otranto in Goose Creek, South Carolina.  

Perhaps a word should be said about recipient Robert Melvill. For the period 1765 to 1771 he served as governor of several islands ceded by the French in the West Indies at the close of the Seven Years War. These included the Grenadines, Dominica, St. Vincent, and Tobago. A botanist, he typically spread seed he received around those places he governed. Trinidad was still under Spanish rule during the period of Melvill’s governorship, so it is unlikely that he introduced Cochin rice to Trinidad. It, like bearded rice, probably came from the Lowcountry with the Merikins.  

John Ellis sent seed to botanist Alexander Garden in South Carolina, the foremost natural historian of the 1750s-1770s. Garden had difficulty growing the plant, and a single rice plant germinated. From this solitary survivor, he extracted seed and distributed it to at least three other planters of his network in South Carolina. He also dispensed the Chinese Tallow tree (now an invasive species), the Camphor tree, and two varieties of Indigo, one sky blue, the other deep blue, to supplement the West Indian sourced dye plants that Eliza Lucas Pinckney had brought to the Lowcountry.  But the short-season upland rice that the Merikins brought to Trinidad may not have derived from these Carolina seeds

Cochin rice came into coastal Georgia via another route. John Ellis conveyed seed to Benjamin Franklin when he was in London. Franklin shipped them to horticulturist John Bartram in Pennsylvania on October 17, 1772. Other rice was sent to Noble Jones, proprietor of Some of Wormsloe Plantation outside of Savannah Georgia during the 1780s. Wormsloe was a certain of experiment and seed dispersal in colonial Georgia. Cochin rice made its way through Jones’ network to growers throughout Lowcountry Georgia before the end of the 18th century. 

Conclusion: The Merikins counted two upland rices in their seed stocks at the outset of the 20th century, a short season white and a “red bearded” upland rice. Here I have suggested that the former was the Cochin short season upland rice that John Bordly Blake sent through British America in the 1770s. The latter was the bearded upland rice of West Africa that was once commonly grown in the American South, but vanished there early in the 20th century. Thomas Jefferson prided himself at the time of his death for his part in making upland rice a resource in North America, and the documents cited here show that it was grown both in the southern Piedmont and in the Lowcountry by African Slaves. Indeed, both varieties were shown to be cultivated in Tidewater Georgia, the homeland of the 4th company Merikins who settled southern Trinidad. In the 21st century, the Merikins are the sole preservators of the most historically significant African diaspora grain in the Western Hemisphere. 

Native Pollinators: Their Value, Diversity, And Conservation

Written by B. Merle Shepard, Ph.D.

Native pollinators are critical to the environment and economy. They contribute to our food security and to the health of our agricultural and natural ecosystems. Nearly 75 percent of all flowering plants exist because of native pollinating species and three out of every four bites of food are brought to you by a pollinating species. Eighty percent of the food species depend on pollination. Worldwide, of the estimated 1,330 crop plants, 1,000 of them rely on pollinators to produce fruits, nuts, vegetables, oilseed, and medicinal crops. Below is a table developed by the National Resources Conservation Services of some of the major crops that are benefited by or depend upon pollination.

Legumes and relatives: Beans, Cowpea, Lima Beans, Lupines, Mung Bean/Green or Golden Gram, Soybean
Vegetables: Artichoke, Asparagus, Beet, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cantaloupes, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Cucumber, Eggplant, Endive, Green Pepper, Leek, Lettuce, Okra, Onion, Parsnip, Pumpkin, Radish, Rutabaga, Squash, Tomato, Turnip, White Gourd
Fruits, berries, and nuts: Almonds, Apple, Apricot, Avocado, Blackberry, Blueberry, Cacao, Cashew, Cherry, Chestnut, Citrus, Coffee, Coconut, Crabapple, Cranberry, Currant, Date, Fig, Gooseberry, Grapes, Guava, Huckleberry, Kiwi, Kolanut, Litchi, Macadamia, Mango, Olive, Papaw, Papaya, Passionfruit, Peach, Pear, Persimmon, Plum, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Strawberry, Tung, Vanilla, Watermelon
Herbs and spices: Allspice, Anise, Black Pepper, Caraway, Cardamom, Chive, Clove, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Lavender, Mustard, Nutmeg, Parsley, Pimento, Tea, White Pepper
Oils, seeds, and grains: Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Canola, Flax, Oil Palm, Safflower, Sesame, Sunflower
Clover and relatives: Alsike Clover, Arrowleaf Clover, Ball Clover, Berseem Clover, Black Medic/Yellow Trefoil, Cider Milkvetch, Crimson Clover, Lespedeza, Peanut, Persian Clover, Red Clover, Rose Clover, Strawberry Clover, Subterranean Clover, Sweet Clover, Trefoil, Vetch, White Clover
Other: Cotton, Kenaf
From: Natural Resources Conservation Management. Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Leaflet No. 34. 2005.

In both natural and agricultural ecosystems, billions of dollars of “ecosystem services” are provided by pollinators. Yet many of both native and cultivated pollinators are in serious decline. This short article will explore diversity of pollinating species, mostly native bees, in the South Carolina Lowcountry, the causes for their decline, and how we might modify the environment to increase their numbers and biodiversity. This, in turn, will increase and improve the pollination services that are essential for sustainable agricultural production and the health of natural ecosystems.

An article in the Carolina Rice Foundation Newsletter for the Fall of 2014, explored the importance of pollinators in heirloom and domestic crops. Although there is a rich diversity of pollinators that includes flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, and birds, native bees are by far the most important and essential. However, we are losing our native bees at an alarming rate. Scientists indicate the following causes for the decline in pollinating species: 1) habitat loss, 2) fragmentation of existing habitat, 3) loss of genetic diversity due to fragmentation, 4) pesticides, and 5) diseases brought in by commercially produced bumblebees.

Attracting bees to an area requires that there are adequate sources of food, shelter, and nesting sites. General recommendations include: 1) use local native plants, 2) choose several colors of flowers, 3) plant flowers in clumps, 4) include flowers of different shapes and 4) have a diversity of plants flowering throughout the season.

One particular group of insecticides, the neonicotinoids (“neonics”), is particularly troubling regarding native (and cultivated) bees. Over 50 “over the counter” products contain neonics. Most of these materials are systemic, which means when they are applied to seeds, the materials are translocated by the plant from the seed coat to roots and then to all parts of the plant, and end up in pollen and nectar. Besides the direct effects of these insecticides on bees, there is evidence to suggest that low levels of neonics make bees more susceptible to diseases such as those caused by Nosema sp. Recent studies in the U.K. have strong scientific evidence that neonics are responsible of the serious decline in native bees in that country. 

A recent loss of thousands of honeybees due to aerial spraying of the organophosphate insecticide, Naled, for mosquito control, tells only part of the story.  It is likely that hundreds of species of non-target organisms, particularly pollinating species, were negatively impacted.  This includes many species of native bees and other beneficial organism.  Small, naturally-occurring insect parasitoids, that help to keep pests under control, were no doubt killed along with the cultivated honeybees.  All chemical insecticides should be avoided or care should be taken to use them in a way that is least damaging to bees (and other non-target and beneficial species).

Rusty-patched bumble bee Photo by Johanna James-Heinz

Rusty-patched bumble bee Photo by Johanna James-Heinz

The rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis), was once abundant in our area and along the entire eastern seaboard, but during surveys that we carried out in the South Carolina Lowcountry for the past four years, we have not found this species. It is critically endangered existing only in small isolated populations further north, and is likely headed for extinction.

Two-spotted long-horned bee

Two-spotted long-horned bee

Results of ongoing surveys of native bee populations in Coastal South Carolina revealed that the most abundant groups of native pollinating bee species included: The American bumble bee (Bumbus pensylvanicus), Southern plains bumble bee (Bombus fraternus), common Eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens), the Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica), the Southern carpenter bee (Xylocopa micans) (See the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation Newsletter, Fall 2014) and the two-spotted long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculata). We have photo-documented over 90 different pollinating species, so far.

Managing habitat for native bees is critical for their survival and to gain the benefit of the ecosystem services that they bring to us and to the stability of their own ecosystems.

Here is a list of some native plants for pollinators that have been known to grow in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The list was compiled by April Bisner, a member of the native plant society. This list is certainly not all inclusive. There are many more native perennial and annual plants that provide excellent pollen and nectar sources.

The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) along with the Wildlife Habitat Council and the Xerces Society, has developed a list of pollinator friendly practices. The Xerces Society is an excellent source for information about attracting native pollinators (Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting America’s Bees and Butterflies. 2011). The Native Plant Society (Charleston) can provide readers with a list of native plants that do well in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The Xerces Society published a fact sheet entitled Southeast Plants for Native Bees by Eric Mader and Matthew Shepherd (www.xerces.org).

In the past, farmers relied only on native bee pollinators which provided adequate pollination for their crops. With larger, much less diverse farms and “clean” field borders, farmers rely more on domesticated bees. The Xerces Society has provided simple steps that may be taken to protect and enhance native pollinators that are already present on farms and gardens.  A booklet entitled “Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms can be downloaded from the Xerces Society website.

Does the Original Sweet Corn of North America Survive?

Written by David Shields

Sweet corn arose out of mutations that caused three strains of maize to pack kernels with dextrin, a sugar, rather than starch. On the Peru-Argentina border, Chullpi became the special grain of Kolla people. In Mexico, Maiz Dulce was the ancestor of the various sweet corn varieties there. In the Iroquois homeland in New York sometime about 1750 a strain of their white flint meal corn mutated form a sweet corn they named Papoon. In 1779 it was seized as a spoil of war by Lt. Richard Bagnal of Poor’s Brigade during the American Revolution. 

It was sweet, rather soft, and wrinkled. The original strain had a red cob, though this was bred out of the North American sweets by 1800. Improved and cross-bred varieties began appearing in number during he 1850s. Old Colony and Stowell’s Evergreen dominated the gardens (sweet corn tended to be grown as a garden crop, not a field crop). Stowell’s was the favorite sweet corn for a century, although in 1890 Country Gentleman Shoepeg corn ran a strong second.  Silver Queen, introduced in the 1950s, made the two earlier corns less popular. 

Has Papoon corn disappeared? It is not among the seven Six Nations corns surviving the USDA grains collection. The Current Iroquois White Corn repatriation project is devoted to the white flour corn, not the sweet. 

It seems implausible to me that it has disappeared completely. Both Chullpi and Mais Dulce — more ancient grains — survive in cultivation. Papoon apparently does not. While there are landraces belonging to the northeastern family of sweets recognized in the USDA GRIN, none of them fits with the descriptions found in the early accounts of the corn.

Two brothers who saved the Lowcountry's favorite meal corn — Sea Island White Flint

written by david shields

The Walterboro S.C. Press and Standard has an article about Thomas Brothers and Ted Chewning, who grew the landrace White Flint, a variety grown from NC into Florida. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation has in its seed collection at Clemson's CREC two Florida strains —one deriving from the Creek Nation (Muskogee) preserved in Driscoll County, another used as a forage corn by Cracker Cattle breeders further south. But we didn't have any with a South Carolina pedigree, despite the fact the much of the written record for the corn concerns sea island white flint grown for provision here. 

In 1862 a reporter in the Beaufort district described White Flint Corn as very nutritious and white as snow when cooked, he even went as far as claiming this corn much superior to the common varieties (“Beaufort District: Past, Present, and Future,” The Continental Monthly 1 (1862), p. 383-84.)

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, by the 1860s, White Flint Corn was considered the most delicate for table use and the most valuable in every respect. It was recorded being perfectly ripe at the end of September (Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening 19 (1870), p. 511). Ears came into Europe in the mid-19th century, winning prizes at the Paris Exposition, and entering into cultivation schemes in southern France and Italy. in the U.S. Census Report of 1880 the sea island white flint was described as “the finest, as food for man, of all the known varieties.”

It ceased to be widely grown in the second decade of the 20th century — when many other of the field and provision crops of the Lowcountry began to be supplanted. But the Thomas brothers kept it intact — and here is their story. Thank you, and thank you Ted Chewning. 

Sea Island White Flint corn is on the global Slow Food Ark of Taste, a register of the most delicious, historically resonant, and imperiled foods.

Thomas brothers help create heirloom seed project

THE PRESS AND STANDARD | August 26, 2016 5:00 AM


Two Smoaks area brothers have fed Ted Chewning’s constant craving for heirloom crops.
Chewning, the Colleton County Farmers Market Manager who recently decided to resign that post, wants to spend more time working his farm and playing a role in resurrecting heirloom seeds. He plans to spend more time building up his collection of seeds from the Thomas Brothers Collection.

Read more

Chestnut Pig Barbecue, November 16, 2013

Written By David S. Shields

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2014


The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation (CGRF), while devoted to the restoration of the crop central to the Lowcountry rice kitchen, has taken as its mission the restoration of the co-crops of Carolina Gold, and the other ingredients that made up classic Southern cuisine. The Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville markets before the 20th century were filled with fruits and nuts, beginning with loquats in March and continuing around the calendar to Christmas oranges and January tangerines. The autumn bounty of chestnuts coming from the hill and mountain country was a regular feature of these foodways, until the coming of chestnut blight and phytophthora, twin plagues that wiped out the vast eastern forests of American chestnut and decimated its dwarf cousin, the chinquapin.

The CGRF has been greatly interested in reviving the chestnut foodways that had once been common in our region. This chestnut legacy has been reduced to holiday “chestnuts roasting o’re an open fire” and chestnut stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey. We have recovered recipes for chestnut grits, chestnut skillet bread, chestnut soufflé, and chestnut pudding (with rose water). But as glories of the southern table went, none of these dishes competed with the most cherished dishes — chestnut-fed pork barbecue and chestnut-fed venison.

When word filtered up from Florida that two wild pigs had been seen grazing in a widow grove of Dunstan (a hybrid American-Chinese chestnut popularized as edible landscape in the 1950s), Glenn Roberts, president of the CGRF, sent a request that they be penned in. And so two pigs gorged on fallen nuts until they had grown sufficiently fat to warrant a truck trip southward. Glenn hauled two ornery fat pigs into South Carolina, and on November 14, 2013 they were handed over to 601 Deer and Hog Processing in Fort Motte, S.C., for butchering. One of the pigs would be handed over to Chuck Ross and James Helms for barbecuing. Master charcutier Craig Diehl drove up from Charleston to take charge of the second pig for curing.

I arrived at 601 Processing on the afternoon of November 15 and found the son of the proprietor and Craig deep in a consultation on the quickest way to cut certain venison joints. These weeks in November constitute the crush time of 601. In the 20 minutes I was present, two and a half deer were disemboweled, skinned, and broken down. The bloody skeletons lay stacked in a corner crying out for a chef’s stock pot, but because of the game sale laws, no go. I did, however, learn that a substantial portion of the deer harvest is donated to Harvest Hope. That charity does not waste its materials.

The hog had been skinned when we arrived. (Alas, no cracklin’s for the guests.) Craig was tremendously enthused about the fat quality of the pig. It was admirable, and the meat itself robustly red-pink. Craig sliced through it quickly, his knife work singularly precise and quick. I told him to do his curing of the meat in ways that seem appropriate to the quality he found. We parted, and the proprietor commented that quite a number of chestnuts grew on a nearby ridge and that he has seen wild hogs in the vicinity. He then informed me that he is one of only four processors given a state permit to process wild pigs.

On Saturday morning of the barbecue I made three of the four barbecue sauces — the standard Lowcountry mustard, the classic Hemingway, S.C., vinegar and pepper, muscadine vinegar sorghum tomato and pepper, and there was blueberry as well. I wound up using Joseph Trapp’s sorghum rather than the Lindler. I brought several jars of Bradford watermelon pickle. I also made a cucumber, tomato, dill, and onion salad dressed with benne oil and good madeira vinegar. I arrived at Oldfields Plantation in Hopkins, S.C., the site of the barbecue at noon. Mike Davis of Terra Restaurant was already present with the chestnut skillet bread. 

The pig had been smoking for a good while and the compound was fragrant with the smell of smouldering chestnut husks. Much of the next two hours was consumed in setting up water stations, scrubbing down the tables, laying out the food displays. Chuck had begun the process of cutting the meat off the lustrously browned hog. He was the soul of self-control, refusing to taste until I, James, and Heidi Cooley, the head of the film crew, had partaken. Glenn Roberts, the provider of the pig, alas, was out in the field, unable to be present. So I had to report long distance that there was a distinct quality to the meat, an earthly basic flavor, a fine, almost floral fatty sweetness, and a long finish in the mouth. It was moist, tender, and the caramelized portions startling in their nuttiness.

There was, of course, hash with Carolina Gold Rice.

The first guests to arrive — some of host Ted Hopkins’s friends — were fascinated with the stories connected with the food, and ready with their cups when I broke out my sake bottle. (Sake is better than beer or bourbon as a complement to barbecue). Nathalie Dupree, her husband Jack Bass, and their passenger, Hanna Raskin arrived precisely at 2:00 and Nathalie went directly to the cutting station, going for some gnawing bones. For a half an hour the guests arrived, milled about, ogled the food (the panniers from the Palmetto Pig were covered, but the salads, cured loin I brought, and pickles were available for nibbling). Most guests gravitated to Michael Peterson’s chestnut basket where he peeled and hand fed a cluster of eager eaters. After Ted Hopkins arrived at 2:25, we were ready to begin. By this time there were approximately 50 persons present, including numbers from the press.

After a blessing, the panniers were uncovered, the lines quickly formed. The rhapsody on chestnuts and chestnut-fed pigs had people’s gastric juices percolating. Chad Carter appeared suddenly bearing a number of Bradford Watermelon pickle varieties and gummi-treats.

James Helms made sure a portion of the meat and sauce were secured for pig provider Glenn Roberts upon his return. There was not much left at the end of the feast. We had gauged the invitations to food ratio well. It took a little over an hour to clean up. A splendid sunny day turned to dark slowly with a spectacular sunset over a wonderful countryside.

Southerners had tasted that day the first chestnut fed barbecued pig available in the South in a century.

A Book on the History of Rice Processing Technology Gets Published

written by David Shields

originally published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2014


It is with great pride and delight that the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation announces publication of Richard Porcher & William Judd’s The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice, a history of the technology of rice processing. This landmark presentation of the many structures and machines developed from the 18th through the 19th century for the growth, harvesting, hulling, and milling of Carolina Rice supplies a comprehensive view of the immense expenditure of capital the exercise of mechanical ingenuity entailed in making Carolina Gold a world crop.

Professor emeritus of biology at the Citadel and board member of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, Porcher examined the material remains of virtually all of the significant plantations in the region. Judd, his collaborator, is a draughtsman who has performed miracles of interpretation, taking ruins and jumbled knots of rust and translating them to schematic drawings of a variety of machines. These illustrations are impressive in their clarity and detail. They contribute greatly to one of Porcher’s theses — that the old canard that the South lacked mechanical genius and industrial development was patently false. The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice traces the historical development of a vertically integrated scheme of processing the equal of any sugar refinery in Barbados or Jamaica.

The organization of The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice derives from the order of labors requisite siting, formation, irrigation, planting, weeding, harvesting, and soil renovation of a plantation, then the process of the harvest — the cutting, drying, threshing, screening, milling, and polishing of the rice. The authors recount both the processes involved and the material means by which they were accomplished. 

As Porcher demonstrates, only he has explored the several sorts of evidence needed to do this work: he alone of the several students of rice culture has visited the important historical sites, including the difficult-to-reach marsh islands in the Santee River, to record the remnants of the fields and the ruins of milling infrastructure there. Numbers of objects he photographed and measured 30 years ago have disappeared from the landscape. In parallel with these material evidences, Porcher delved into Southern archives for written commentary on the methods, examined U.S. Patent Office records for drawings of machines, and sifted through the extensive corpus of agricultural literature published in the many farming periodicals of the 19th century for his reconstructions. Having explored the literary evidence extensively myself, I can attest to the depth of the research involved here. All of the most informed contemporary commentators are given preference in citations, while the testimonies of a great number of experienced planters and inventors flesh out the narrative.

Rice culture as a subject has inspired several masterworks of historical interpretation. Porcher & Judd’s The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice joins that distinguished list of essential volumes. The monograph was published by the University of South Carolina Press and released in summer of 2014.

Part 3 — Orton Plantation Rice Production: Heirloom Rice Foodways, Farming, and Cultural Notes

Written By Glenn Roberts, David S. Shields, & B. Merle Shepard

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2012


Heirloom Rice Foodways, Farming, and Cultural Notes

Carolina Gold rice market farming created a unique set of foods that eventually evolved into a complete cuisine. Sweet potatoes, brassicas, oats, barley, buckwheat, benne, emmer, bread rye, wheats, maize, cowpeas, broad beans, etc. were involved at the height of 19th century science supported market farming in an elegant sequence of mixed crop rotation prior to industrialization. We have completely lost these combinations and rotations in modern times. These rice crop rotation crops formed the cuisine associated with our market farming and eventually attained stature in Europe and on our tables. 

There is renewed interest in our rice cuisine, known today as the Carolina Rice Kitchen, and all of the plants and systems that once vaulted it onto the global stage. Dr. Shields is about to publish a definitive work on the plants and foods of our 19th century market farming. There has been explosive media interest in Carolina (including North and South) rice cuisine in the last 18 months since Dr. Shepard, Dr. Khush, and Dr. McClung released their new rice “Charleston Gold.”

We are witnessing our youth becoming aware of their own food legacies and we see them returning by the tens of thousands to their local tables nationally. This phenomenon is moving ahead with alacrity and is constant in homes, farmers markets, food kiosks, and restaurants. Everyone in the “older” generation in our major urban centers where these food systems are beginning to take hold economically, is adapting or being left behind. In the South, particularly the Virginia to Southern Georgia region, there is renewed global interest in our local food heritage beyond urban gardening and hobby cropping for the first time since the mid-nineteenth century. There are growing clusters of nascent heritage food farmers encircling our larger cities. 

The latest Southern entry onto the world stage sourcing quality ingredients from this movement is Husk Restaurant in Charleston and Husk’s Chef Sean Brock. Brock is equally a farmer and a chef and has been featured in major media here, in Europe and in Asia more than any other American chef over the last year. Brock’s food philosophy, garnered from his time with Dr. Shields, marries local food history and Brock’s modern locale. Brock is reviving lost foods at a rapid clip. Husk restaurant is living the Carolina Rice Kitchen and they are booked solid 30 days in advance right now. Brock is unabashedly drawing Carolina Rice and its companion foods back into the Southern pantry while the world watches.

Orton should be a major presence in this grand movement toward sense of place and local identity. Simply, there is deep cultural meaning in repatriating North Carolina rice for the people of North Carolina. Our rices were always Carolina rices. They were the legacy of the Lowcountry without cultural borders.

Comment on Landrace Genetics and Farming

Most modern breeders are focusing upon nano and GMO seed improvement and many of our young geneticists are no longer working in the public realm. It would be folly to deny that we must address carrying capacity and the rising challenge to feed a growing global population. This is a given within our pursuits.

But we are aware of adaptive weaknesses in these modern systems. The CGRF set out at our inception to explore our mission scientifically and apply the results to modern rice agriculture systems. We know that landrace cereals regress in small populations and can exhibit more vigor and new traits in large populations. We are also aware that large cereal populations increase frequency of beneficial mutation and sporting in unintuitive ways. We know that there is little chance for this genetic expression in a seed bank replication plot, especially when the stated purpose of the plot is true type replication.

Our position on landrace farming is that we should all keep focused upon the mission to feed the world while leaving scientific and practical breathing room to support and study landrace plant systems that have been adapting to pest pressure and climate change in larger populations for centuries and many times millennia. 

The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation is following this mission to the letter. Dr. Shepard, Dr. Khush, and Dr. McClung cooperated, pro bono, to develop Charleston Gold Rice, an effort stretching nearly a decade and a half. Last year, 100 acres of commercial Charleston Gold Rice came to harvest. This year, over 300 acres of Charleston Gold rice will go in and interest is growing. We expect over 500 acres for 2013.

Landrace plant systems are based upon survival through vigor and flavor. Dr. Shepard, et al, have certainly imbued Charleston Gold Rice with the best flavor traits of Carolina Gold Rice while improving its vigor and field performance four fold.

One last comment. Drayton recorded over 100 varieties of landrace rices grown in the Carolinas by 1800. All of our efforts should be focused upon obtaining local landrace rice food security by diversifying beyond the two rices we have in production now.

Interpretation — Heirloom Rice Agriculture and Culture

The cultural interpretation of rice husbandry at Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place, and Brookgreen Gardens is impressive and enjoys international presence and respect. But none have working fields. Middleton Place stands alone in interpretation of Antebellum rice husbandry with a small plot of Carolina Gold rice below the butterfly ponds. The Middleton Place staff employs only authentic manual tillage with period implements, heel and toe manual planting, and manual harvest, threshing, pounding and winnowing... all with authentic implements. Middleton also engages authentic rice art and crafts, elite and common rice music and architecture within its interpretive programs. All of these historic plantation interpretive programs present and reflect upon the historic social justice issues and interpretive aspects of slavery as well.

But there are no scaled up interpretation fields of heirloom Carolina Gold Rice in America and no interpretation program focuses upon the importance of separate seed protocols in landrace rice husbandry. There is a growing awareness that the massive contributions and tribulations of slavery will not be embraced with respect to Antebellum rice production until a true vista of a working Antebellum rice field in scale can be part of our national experience. Orton Plantation, of all the Antebellum rice plantations, possesses this vista if her rice fields return to their original purpose, Carolina Gold Rice seed research and production. Orton’s facility and potential presence of scale are unmatched with respect to our surviving collection of Antebellum rice field landmarks.

Landrace Rice Seed — Demonstration of Need

The rapid increase of local food gardening and farming continues unabated across America. This movement is driving the establishment of mid-scale local and regional food hubs and is accelerating demand for local niche rices here in the South and elsewhere in America. In South Carolina and Georgia, these food hubs have lacked mid-scale cereal post-harvest handling and processing capabilities and there is no infra- structure for rice seed processing. In North Carolina, a similar deficit has impeded local cereal production. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation helped develop a mid-scale heirloom rice seed cleaning, processing, and storage facility located in central South Carolina beginning in 2010.This facility is now operational.

We’re not aware that there is a local fully equipped facility for heirloom rice seed or production processing in North Carolina or Georgia at this time. There is a color sorter in the 2013 budget of the central South Carolina seed facility which will bring it fully online for quality seed (a dedicated color sorter is essential for rice seed quality and weedy rice prevention management, especially in landrace rice seed systems).

Regarding landrace rice seed production: There is no certified foundation rice seed production facility in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia at this time, even though we have access to sufficient breeder seed stock to support at least one now. We envision the need for mid-scale certified foundation rice seed and rice production, processing and storage facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia by 2015 based upon current growth rates and the unpredictability of rice seed supply in the United States.

Orton Plantation is strategically and geographically situated to maximize rice seed and production security (if it is in production) against catastrophic loss due to storms in South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. This was Orton Plantation’s strategic role during the first half of the 19th century as well. Without Orton, we cannot achieve rice seed and production continuity in our region in the future.

Landrace Rice Seed Market — Demonstration of Need

The growth of acreage planted to Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold production rice is about 10 percent per year over the last four years as the market for heirloom niche rices accelerates nationally. Landrace (heirloom) Carolina Gold Rice seed and Charleston Gold Rice seed, produced in head row, breeder, and certified foundation protocols has been produced only in one facility in the USA, the Texas Rice Improvement Association in Beaumont, Texas.

As of January this year, head row and breeder Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold Rice seed stock will be grown out at Dale Bumpers Institute in Stuttgart, Ark., only. TRIA will continue to produce certified foundation seed from DPI breeder. The CGRF asked TRIA to produce 300 cwt each of 2011 Certified Foundation Carolina Gold Rice seed and Charleston Gold Rice seed to serve niche landrace rice growers in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. The CGRF produces an additional 300 cwt VNS rice seed per year to assist in seed availability and act as reserve against catastrophic loss.

The niche rice market is growing rapidly and this season, record acreage of Carolina Gold Rice and Charleston Gold Rice will be planted in the aforementioned Southern states. These acreages are split evenly between conventional and organic rice production management. TRIA will reach their maximum security allocation for Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold certified foundation seed production in 2014. We estimate this at 500/cwt for each rice. The CGRF has capability of producing another 500 cwt VNS as a backup. Although we may have additional VNS capability for these rices, we will need additional sources for certified foundation heirloom rice seed thereafter.

This overview does not account for our new variety research programs for Carolina Long Rice, a black Tribute rice and the Italian cultivar associated with first rices at Caw Caw wilderness south of Charlestowne by Italian growers in the late 1600s, tall straw Italian heirloom rices including Vialone Nano.

Having only one certified foundation seed production facility for the growing number of Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold rice farmers in the South is an increasing security risk. A hurricane in Beaumont could easily wipe out a year’s seed production. Weather completely wiped out our seed crops at TRIA once in the last decade and took down half of our seed crop two years ago.

The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation is funding the establishment of 50 acres of seed protocol fields off the Savannah River fed by well system and protected from coastal storm systems to a fair degree.

We need Orton rice seed production for strategic security against catastrophic loss as a landrace seed facility at the very least. We also project demand for local rice in North Carolina will grow vertically, once available. We advocate for the restoration of Orton Plantation’s full array of fields for rice seed production and, especially, Orton’s larger fields because they can be deployed for scale-up field trials to be able to assess genetic stability in landrace rice seed.