Our Local Food is Carolina Rice Bread

written by glenn roberts

originally published in the Rice paper newsletter, fall 2009

Interest in local bread traditions is exploding across America. In July this year, The Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, Maine, sold out with record attendees, both professional and hobbyist, clambering to learn about wood hearth artisan breads and elite landrace wheat flours and unique heritage breadmaking techniques. There were similar events in other regions of New England, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. And there is a new local bread initiative in North Carolina, The North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project, spearheaded by Jennifer Lapidus and the Carolina Farm Steward- ship Association. This group focuses on local bread production and artisan breads of the Carolinas.

The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation can now provide a new level of support for the repatriation of the Carolina Rice Kitchen, the cuisine of our local foods, by advocating for the return of Carolina Rice Bread, in all its glorious iterations, as our local daily bread. No other local food better represents the iconic uniqueness of the Southern Table. We would not be plowing new ground in our efforts. Two years ago, Poppy Tooker, famed chef and local foods advocate of New Orleans, brought international attention to New Orleans French Bread to support its survival in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her efforts were quite successful and far reaching.

We should learn from Chef Tooker’s success even though our challenge appears at first to be more daunting. Carolina Rice Bread isn’t threatened, it is extinct for reasons no one understands except for the possibility that Carolina grown bread wheat is extinct as well. The availability of high quality local bread wheat will increase dramatically within the next year in both North and South Carolina. The North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project will guarantee this with a network of professional wheat farmers and a European quality bread wheat mill located in Asheville.

Our mission should be to advocate for pairing the return of local bread wheat and its heritage with our mission to support the revival of robust Carolina Rice production. Our goal should be to focus upon one of the thousands of Carolina Rice Bread recipes from our antebellum era and select that recipe according to its appeal to Southern bakers and artisan bakers throughout America. I propose a call for historically accurate Carolina Rice Bread recipes based upon local bread wheat and Carolina Rice Flour with a submission deadline of March, 2010.