Carolina Gold Rice has long been a premier staple in the Carolina Rice Kitchen – an institution that held sway in the Lowcountry over 200 years.
Rice is the link between the present-day Gullah people in the South Carolina Lowcountry/coastal areas and their enslaved ancestors that came from West Africa.
Those early immigrants showed American planters how to grow and harvest Carolina Gold Rice, using techniques from home. This year, 60 acres of the rice are being grown with plans to restore it to its place of prominence in The Carolina Rice Kitchen.
Sally Ann Robinson, author of ‘Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way’ (University of North Carolina Press) says, “But for most of us, rice culture lives on in our pots, not our fields.”
The Gullah language is a blend of African and English with a high-spirited rhythm that also characterizes their style of cooking. For Gullah descendants, food is a good reason for family interaction and celebration. In North Georgia, the Gullah are known as Geeche.
Those early African cooks incorporated native ingredients (okra, yams, cowpeas, peanuts, benne, hot peppers) and their cooking traditions into the planter’s dishes. A legendary style of Southern cooking was born, reminiscent of Creole cuisine. ‘Goober’ is a Bantu word for peanuts, ‘benne’ an African word for sesame seeds and ‘gumbo’ refers to okra.
Lowcountry cuisine is basically fusion food influenced by Africa, Spain, France, American Indian and the Caribbean. It features quality meats and poultry, wild game birds, fresh fish and seafood, fine wines, fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs. The English influence introduced open hearth cooking methods with roasting spits, Dutch ovens and spiders (cast iron skillet on legs).
There is a tradition of Italian cooking in rural South Carolina kitchens. In the late 17th century, Italian engineers tried to implement the Italian canal method of irrigation to grow rice. The method failed but the Italian culinary influence lingered. The Carolina Sea Island dish ‘Reezy Peezy‘ has a Gullah name that sounds similar to ‘Risi e Bisi’, the Venetian dish made with Arborio rice and fresh peas.
Carolina Gold Rice has a ‘chameleon-like quality’ that will cook nicely into separate grains or into a creamy risotto. Chef Kevin Johnson of Anson Restaurant in Charleston said, ‘Through its unique ability to take on many forms, Carolina Gold allows me to make loose grain fluffy rice or, because of its amazing starch character, I may choose to create a dish using a creamy, more sticky rice style. It is the only rice I know that allows such a wide range of applications.’
Carolina Gold Rice is softer than most long grain rice and cooks to separate grains through gentle steaming or careful slow cooking. In the tradition of Japan’s treasured new-crop rice (shinmai), Carolina Gold is a new crop rice that is highly valued for it sweet, tender grains, superior mouthfeel and pure flavor.
It is favored for making Charleston red rice, shrimp and grits, pilau, Hoppin’ John, Limpin’ Susan (rice and okra), rice pudding, rice fritters, rice bread and rice waffles. Hoppin’ John, an African blend of rice and cowpeas (such as black eyed peas), is traditionally served on New Year’s Day.
Other Lowcountry specialties include She-crab soup, gumbo, Palmetto squab, Carolina crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, cornbread, biscuits, benne wafers, artichoke relish, Huguenot torte, Clemson bleu cheese. Jambalaya, fine maderia, shrimp & grits and even more grits!
South Carolina farmers are striving to preserve traditional methods of agriculture. Caw Caw Creek Pastured Pork raises premium, heirloom pork that is in demand nationwide. Carolina Gold Rice and its sister white ‘plantation’ rice are being grown in the Lowcountry once again. The Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island produces the only tea grown in North America. Manchester Farms in Sumter is the largest producer of farm-raised quail in the US. This is just a taste of what South Carolina has to offer!