Ingredients that once defined a region have nearly become extinct, leaving what we now consider classic southern foods a faint shadow of what it once was.
Dr. David Shields, author and distinguished professor at the University of South Carolina, has spent over a decade researching and resurrecting key ingredients that had been lost - varieties of rice, sorghum, sugarcane, peanuts - and returning them to the fields and dinner plates. Shields is chairman of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, whose nonprofit mission is to preserve and raise awareness for historic ricelands, as well as heirloom grains and agriculture. He has been called “the Indiana Jones of old foodways” for his work researching and restoring early American crops of the South.
His work has been featured on the television program The Mind of a Chef, as well as in numerous journals, conferences, and anthologies.
Presenting with Shields is Glenn Roberts, founder and driving force behind Anson Mills, a South Carolina grain company that mills and distributes products grown from heirloom grains. The company gives away 200 tons of free seed annually to small farmers and has Carolina Gold rice fields in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
Roberts and Shields share in the philosophy that “cuisines need to be understood from the production side - from farming - not just cooking or eating.”
Roberts is credited for reintroducing Carolina Gold rice to the marketplace. Originally from Africa and Indonesia it was a staple commercial grain in the coastal lands of Carolina Territory as early as 1685. Prized for its flavor, aroma, texture, and cooking qualities, the rice was an essential component of Charleston cuisine.
By the 1930s, Carolina Gold rice had declined in popularity and production, and by the 1980s there was only one source for the rice. Roberts was inspired to put it into wider production after receiving a batch of rice infested with weevils hours before a dinner party. Today Anson MIlls has Carolina Gold rice fields in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
Roberts efforts searching for and saving heirloom varieties have not gone unnoticed. Anthony Bourdain recently profiled him on his CNN program, Parts Unknown, where Roberts and chef Sean Brock talked about the renaissance of Carolina cuisine.