Preserving the Seashore Black Rye
Jun. 10, 2016
Slow Food’s Ark of Taste registers the most flavorful, historically resonant, and imperiled of the world’s ingredients and dishes. Some items, such as the Atlantic Sturgeon, are so endangered that Slow Food urges non-consumption. Usually, preservation depends on a group willing to buy and eat these foods, perhaps at prices exceeding those on the mass market.
The most important category may be landrace grains, ancient grasses shaped into the oldest surviving cereals by past generations. These grains were processed into the breads, beer, porridges, and pastas fundamental to culinary cultures. A special effort must be made to preserve the old forms of wheat, oats, barley, maize, rice, and rye. Slow Food Southern Region has made the region’s landrace grains a priority, boarding Carolina Gold Rice, Sea Island White Flint Corn, and Purple Straw Wheat, among others. This year, the Southern Ark of Taste Committee is turning its attention to two rye landraces: Seashore Black Rye and Tall-growing Mountain Rye.
In 1900, USDA plant explorers secured Abruzzi rye from Italy and shortly after, introduced the crop to southern farmers who, due to the crop’s productivity, abandoned traditional varieties in favor of the new ones. However, the Appalachia and Piedmont South regions held onto the old whisky and forage variety, for it was nearly as productive as Abruzzi. Known as Mountain Rye, North Georgia Rye, or Southern Tall Growing Rye, it was cropped from the 1840s until the Depression. We are currently tracking reports of its survival in Western Virginia.
Another landrace in the Carolina Lowcountry, Florida, and parts of coastal North Carolina continues to survive. Resistant to salt and heat, this black seeded rye was introduced in 1831 and is quite versatile — a forage crop for livestock, a windbreak, a green manure, or for milling or distilling. It also bore a number of names, including Seashore in South Carolina, South Georgia Rye in Georgia, and Florida Black Seeded Rye in Florida. In 2016, we discovered Greg Johnsman growing the variety in the Carolina Lowcountry. Slow Food Charleston decided to sponsor its nomination to the Ark of Taste and aid its introduction into various culinary applications. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation is supplying the scientific and seed security support.
In the coastal South, where cornbread reigned as the bread of choice, rye bread was decidedly a secondary baked good. Rye went into other preparations like rye coffee (brewed with parched rye grains), rye wafers, rye waffles, rye cakes, rye pie crusts, as well as rye whisky and rye beer. Brewers and chefs are already lining up to use Johnsman’s Seashore Black to revive the old recipes and experiment with a signature local ingredient, brought once again into culinary notice.
— David Shields
Chair of Slow Food Ark of Taste Southbackcomments powered by Disqus