Wed, 18 May 2022
Show notes at Keith Snow.com
If you have ever visited Charleston SC you quickly realize that among the southern charm and historic buildings there is something else that has visitors flocking to the Holy City. Charleston was founded in 1670 as Charles Town, honoring King Charles 11, and is literally a living history book. Once the heart of the slave trade almost half of all slaves arrived at Charleston, or course this stain on the city’s past should never be forgotten.
One of the results of this slave trade was that many slaves from Africa brought their Gullah cuisine and cooking methods with them as well as other traditions such as basket weaving, these recipes, methods, and skills have become a treasure to the Charleston area and all who visit. it
Many ingredients that are considered basic commodity staples like rice and corn are now heralded in the Charleston area and have become the stuff of obsession.
A reading from Fast Company….The Grit Awakening: Why Antebellum-Style Cornmeal Has Risen Again
Tim Mills remembers that as a boy growing up on a North Carolina farm, one of his favorite chores was riding with his grandfather to the local mill to get the corn ground. So when “the still voice of God” told the 71-year-old Methodist farmer to build a grist mill on his small farm in Clarke County, Georgia, Mills says he at least had some idea what The Almighty was talking about.
God had great timing: Mills’ brand of grits, made with 19th-century techniques and a pair of mules, are now a hit in upscale Southern restaurants. Mills’ brand, Red Mule, is one of a slew of successful pre-industrial cornmeal companies that are seeing sales surge across the New South and beyond.
There are a number of trends that help explain the increasing appeal of Antebellum-style grits. First there’s the increasing preferences among consumers for less-processed, locally sourced foods. There’s the well-documented Southern instinct to celebrate old ways of doing things. But above all, the success of Red Mule is probably about their taste, which for most Southerners is older than living memory.
“I grew up eating those bland grits, and they didn’t have any taste, other than the butter, salt, and pepper you’d put on them,” says food historian John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. He’s referring to the familiar white stuff pooling beside fried eggs on breakfast plates. Those grits are processed on high-speed roller mills, which heat to a high temperature, damaging the flavor of the corn and smashing the germ to dust. Edge has watched, happily, as grits have been resurrected into an artisanal food. “What’s happened to the South isn’t some fad but a genuine unearthing of old foods and varieties,” he says. “Grits are a reintegration of a very old food being enjoyed in a very new time.”
Now grits or corn are just one staple that is being celebrated and the focus of many Charleston area menu items, also oats, Carolina Gold Rice and other simple staples are making a huge comeback, and rightfully so. Several years ago I had the pleasure of filming an episode of Harvest Eating TV in an old steel building behind the railroad tracks in downtown Columbia SC with Glenn Roberts founder and principal of one of the most important companies in America, Anson Mills.
And then there’s Anson Mills in Columbia, S.C., which takes the term “heirloom” to a new level. Owner Glenn Roberts produces grits and meal made of corns that were raised as crops in the nineteenth century. But Roberts’ mission isn’t just to sell grits. He’s spent the last 20 years finding, protecting, and cultivating corn and other pre-industrial domesticated plants–called “landraces”–and resurrecting agricultural systems that existed in North America centuries ago. His Carolina Gold Rice, grown in the coastal area of South Carolina, is of the same variety that people were eating at the end of the Revolutionary War. In old journals and diaries Roberts discovered that in the South Carolina of the 1700s, many farmers followed a 17-year-long cycle of rotating specific crops to enhance their flavor, hardiness, and nutritional value without depleting the soil. -Fast Company
I literally could go on and on about how important the work Glenn Roberts does at Anson mills but suffice to say we all owe Glenn a debt of gratitude for his dedication to Antebellum grains and preserving southern foodways.
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