Ark of Taste
Carolina Gold Rice
Carolina Gold Rice, a long grain rice, was the basis of the colonial and antebellum economy of Carolina and Georgia. Considered the grandfather of long grain rice in the Americas, Carolina Gold (which emanated from Africa and Indonesia) became a commercial staple grain in the coastal lands of Charles Towne in the Carolina Territory in 1685.
Possessing superior flavor, aroma, texture and cooking qualities (and a beautiful golden hue in the fields), Carolina Gold rice brought fortunes to those who produced it and created an influential culture and cuisine in the city of Charleston. By the late 18th century, the wealth associated with its export success and the culture of diverse ethnicity required to produce Carolina Gold Rice defined the Carolina Rice Kitchen, North America’s first complete and distinct regional creole cuisine.
Carolina Gold rice was first produced in dyked wetlands in South Carolina and eventually planted throughout the South. It was exported worldwide by 1800 with over 100,000 acres producing Carolina Gold Rice by 1820. Though the culture and cuisine disappeared with the Civil War, Carolina Gold continued to set quality standards for long grain rice well into the 20th century. In fact, the terms Carolina Rice and long grain became interchangeable worldwide, underscoring the impact of Charleston’s contribution to Colonial Carolina Gold Rice production.
After the Depression Carolina Gold rice lost its prominence to new varieties and became virtually extinct. But in the mid 1980s, Dr. Richard Schulz, an eye surgeon and plantation owner from Savannah, collected stores of Carolina Gold from a USDA seed bank and repatriated the rice to its former home along coastal wetlands around Charleston. By 1986 he produced enough rice to sell. Currently there are 149 acres producing 140,000 pounds of pure heirloom Carolina Gold Rice in South Carolina.
Anson Mills began growing Carolina Gold rice sustainably in 1998, and today has organic Carolina Gold rice fields in Georgia, North and South Carolina and Texas. Anson Mills farms 30 sustainable acres of Carolina Gold Rice at Prospect Hill field on the Edisto River, just South of Charleston, SC. This field is one of the oldest tidal trunk and dyke rice fields in the Americas. Carolina Plantation Rice farms 50 acres of Carolina Gold Rice at historic Whitehouse Plantation at Wacamaw Neck, SC. All of these rice fields are environmentally threatened wetland areas and Carolina Gold rice farming supports their wetland habitat survival. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, under grants from Anson Mills, has provided Carolina Gold Rice seed for sustainable recovery of traditional rice fields at Kensington Plantation, Middleburg House Plantation and Delta Plantation. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation conducts sustainable historic rice field recovery and organic Carolina Gold Rice horticultural research at Clemson University Coastal Research & Education Center, Charleston, SC.
In Colonial Carolina and Georgia, African slave women were tasked daily to hand pound Carolina Gold Rice: to hull it to brown rice, then winnow it, then pound it again, winnow it again and screen it for brokens (middlins), then hand pick it to produce grain for grain white rice. The resultant rice was considered the finest quality, exclusively for the tables of the elite. But many slave rice dishes called for Carolina Gold Rice that was simply hulled to brown rice.
Charlestonians were so besotted with Carolina Gold Rice they came to savor its single flaw over its many virtues: the grains fractured like mad in the field and the mill as well. The particular protein and starch profile of Carolina Gold yielded rice of such delicacy that the best Colonial hand pounders (slaves who hulled and polished rice grains) managed to come up with only about 70% whole grains. These were saved for export. The remaining brokens, knows as middlins, grew in preference across the local population because middlins, round and rolling on the tongue, accepted flavors with more enthusiasm than whole grains. Many remain loyal to broken rice and the dishes associated with it. Today, middlins are called rice grits.
Carolina Gold Rice is a truly unique rice in its uncommon starch character and its versatility of flavor and application in the many foods of the Carolina Rice Kitchen. Although it is a classic long grain rice, it can emulate medium grain or short grain rice in Carolina Rice Kitchen cookery due to its very diverse genetics. Carolina Gold Rice was cross bred with medium grain rice shortly after 1800 to produce what was then called Northern or Fat Carolina Gold rice. Today, the pure heirloom Carolina Gold Rice stored in the USDA seed bank at Aberdeen, ID and at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is this same Northern Carolina Gold Rice.
Brown Carolina Gold Rice is very perishable with exceptional nutrition of whole germ grain and stunning subtle green tea, nutty almond and floral aromas and flavors. Carolina Gold brown rice tastes almost like barley with a nutty taste and a little bit of a sweet finish. It has a beautiful chewy texture.
First photo courtesy of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation
Second photo courtesy of Anson Mills