Due to the research efforts of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, South Carolina residents will soon get a chance to taste traditional southern grains from the 19th century.
The foundation is working in conjunction with Clemson’s Research and Education Center to preserve every provisional and regional crop from the lowcountry of South Carolina, including several varieties of wheat, rye, fruits and vegetables.
CGRF Chairman David Shields is focusing his research efforts on two historic rye varieties. One is a type of winter rye that goes by many names, including Seashore Rye, Carolina Rye, South Georgia Rye and Florida Black-Seed Rye. This type of rye grew along the Coastal Plain from Wilmington all the way down to the Florida Peninsula in the 19th century. As a tall-grown rye, it was used in winter forage and a variety of dishes, according to Shields, who rediscovered the rye on the property of Greg Johnsman of Geechee Boy Mill in Edisto Island, S.C.
“[Seashore Rye] was used in all of those rye dishes that were favored by southerners, like rye crust apple pie, rye crackers, rye coffee, rye cakes.” Shields said. “There weren’t rye bread people very much, but when it came to beverages, rye whiskey and rye beer were very popular.”
Shields is also searching for a type of upcounty rye that goes by several names, including tall-growing Rye, North Georgia Rye and North Carolina Mountain Rye. This rye is considered the original whiskey rye in Kentucky and Tennessee.
“We’re still on the trail of this one,” Shields said. “We’ve got photographs of it. We know where it was grown. There are reports people are still growing it in parts of Virginia. Like any of these old historic crops.”
Once a new crop is discovered, the CGRF puts it in the hands of Brian Ward of the Clemson Coastal Research and Education Center. Ward then conducts an initial grow out and tests the various liabilities of growing the crop in the field, making sure it is safe to farm and consume. Shields said the goal of the foundation’s latest rye investigation is to give consumers a chance to experience the fine quality of historic grains, which yield a different taste than traditional grains.
“In terms of the intrinsic quality of this wheat, it mills very fine,” Shields said. “It has sort of this wonderful crispy, nutty taste, a little like hazelnuts almost and it gives a really satisfying, wholesome mouth feel.”