Ark of Taste
Seashore Black Rye
Secale cereale v. black seed
Under a many names, this hardy variety had been part of planting schemes since 1831 when the Charleston City Gazette first advertised Carolina Seed Rye for sale in its pages. It surged into agricultural notice in the mid-1910s when the boll weevil made its march through the cotton lands. The Augusta Chronicle writes on September 17, 1917, “These people will find out that this rye as a cover crop, will be worth far more to them than its cost for holding soil together, and worth more than its cost as a soil manuring matter as turned under in the spring.”
With a rich, nutty flavor when milled, the Seashore Black Rye is less bitter than white rye varieties. Historically, the plant has had a plethora of employments: as a cover crop, a forage crop for livestock, windbreak, and for flour milling. In the southern coastal regions, rye went into a number of characteristic preparations, such as: rye coffee, wafers, cakes, bread, bread pudding, whiskey, and beer.
Unfortunately, this rye was not as productive as the Abruzzi variety, which was introduced by the USDA to southern farmers in 1906. If productivity alone determined what farmers planted, the Seashore Rye would have disappeared in three years. But other factors contributed to its longevity as a small market variety —resistance to insect pressure, drought tolerance, and disease haridiness. The Seashore landrace was a very vigorous plant—so vigorous that it has never gone out of use in the harshest southern growing zone, along the Coasts of Florida, where it goes by the name “Florida black rye.” An improved version of Florida Black was issued by the University of Florida named FL401 and has largely supplanted cultivation of the landrace Black Rye through much of Florida — as of 2016, it grew in perhaps as few as five farms in the South.