Darlington County celebrates the history and future of rice
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
Labor Day Weekend brings the return of the Southern 500 to the Darlington Raceway, and visitors and locals are invited to explore a relatively unknown facet of our area’s agricultural heritage. On Saturday, Sep. 5, one Darlington County church will host a festival celebrating South Carolina’s favorite starch: rice.
Beginning at 10 a.m., The New Vision Community Development Corporation will kick off the third annual Community Rice Festival, an all-day event featuring water slides and bouncers for the kids, a car and bike show, live entertainment, and more than 50 delicious rice dishes to tempt the palate.
Festival organizer Carolyn Hannah says that many folks, even Darlington County locals, enjoy the versatile crop without understanding our area’s rich heritage of rice cultivation. To that end, the festival sets up a museum chock full of historical information, reminding folks that during the Colonial Period, South Carolina was the largest producer of rice in America.
Our state’s rice saga began around 1685 with a fortuitous storm that drove sea captain John Thurber into Charleston for ship repairs. Legend says that Thurber gave a bag of rice to local resident Henry Woodward, who then tinkered with the crop until it flourished.
Rice soon became the Carolina’s most lucrative crop, with over a hundred major rice plantations in the region fed by rivers and sustained by tidal bays. While a cash crop in other areas, rice was mainly grown in and around Darlington County by slaves who raised it for their own consumption.
Author Amelia Wallace Vernon explored the history of rice cultivation among slaves and their descendants in her book “African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina.” Through scores of interviews and exhaustive research, Wallace Vernon learned that these early subsistence rice growers raised varieties like Blue Rose, which sported a blue streak down the grain that disappeared when cooked, and the popcorn-scented Carolina Gold, with methods they brought over from their African homelands.
Wallace Vernon found that these types of Upland (or dryland) rice grow quite well in Pantego soil, or soil that is sometimes ponded or drains poorly. Though not as persnickety as you might think, rice does require a structured sequence of wet and dry cycles to ensure a strong crop.
“South Carolina is a great environment to grow rice, with the long growing season and hot temperatures and rich soil,” says Campbell Coxe, owner and operator of Carolina Plantation Rice. “The number one thing you have to have is a tremendous water source to flood the fields with.”
Coxe grows the aromatic Della variety on his 20-acre Plumfield Plantation, located in northeastern Darlington County where the Great Pee Dee River provides a steady, flavor-building water source. Carolina Plantation Rice regularly sells out its annual crops of Carolina Gold, Charleston Gold, and Aromatic White rice.
At Plumfield, the growing season lasts about 120 days. Rice fields are plowed and leveled in early spring, and planting is done on a dry seedbed. The water level increases as the rice matures, promoting growth and controlling weeds. By the time the rice plants reach about six inches tall, the field is flooded with a couple of inches of water. Throughout the summer, fields are kept wet and monitored daily.
Water is drained off just prior to harvest, allowing the soil to dry so the crop can be gathered in early fall. Grains are minimally processed – basically just air dried in bins, husked, and polished – at its mill to preserve the rice’s nutty, earthy flavors and aromas.
The shorter, rounder grains of Carolina Gold make it perfect for use in risotto, and Coxe endorses it for particularly flavorful rice puddings. Carolina Plantation also produces brown rice, rice flour, and several other complementary crops – like cowpeas, which combine with rice for an authentic Hoppin’ John.
After the Civil War, with the end of slave labor and the economic trials of Reconstruction, rice production in South Carolina declined sharply and had ceased altogether by the early twentieth century. Coxe began growing rice about 17 years ago, originally as a way to draw waterfowl to his farm for hunting, and gradually expanded production until it became a thriving family business.
The adaptability of rice, which can be used to make everything from entrees to desserts to bread, has ensured its place on dinner tables around the world for centuries, and folks like Campbell Coxe and Carolyn Hannah hope that more people come to appreciate South Carolina’s history – and future – with this crop.
Admission to the Sep. 5 Community Rice Festival is free of charge, and all proceeds from food sales will benefit outreach efforts (like after school care and child feeding programs) of the New Vision Community Development Corp, a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit. The event will begin with a parade starting from New Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church and end on the Campus of New Hopewell Outreach Center, 1416 Bethlehem Road, Hartsville, where all festivities will take place.
Recipes from Carolina Rice Plantation:
Dilled Shrimp and Rice
Recipe submitted by: Patricia A. Droz
1 cup Carolina Rice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar (I use tarragon vinegar)
1/4 cup oil
2 tsp. dried dill weed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup sliced radishes
1/2 lb. medium-sized, cooked shrimp
1/2 lb. blanched pea pods
Cook rice. In jar with tight lid, combine vinegar, oil, dill weed and salt and pepper. Shake well. Pour 2 tbsp. of dressing over hot rice and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until chilled.
In medium bowl, combine rice and remaining ingredients (except pea pods). Add remainder of dressing and stir lightly. Add pea pods.
Squeeze lemon juice over salad before serving.
Note:Peppers can also be chopped and added. I used 1/3 cup of yellow ones, although any can be used.
South Carolina Hoppin John
Submitted by Chef Donald Barickman
Charleston, South Carolina
I don’t think that you can get any closer to the real thing for this Southern New Years good luck tradition. We use rice and the cow peas that are grown in Darlington County, South Carolina.
Serves 10 to 12 [Makes 3 quarts]
2 cups Carolina Plantation dried cowpeas
9 1/2 cups water
2 ounces of Carolina Ham Trimmings, a smoked pork neck bone, or a ham hock
1 1/2 cups Carolina Aromatic Rice
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Pour the peas on a baking sheet with raised sides. Pick over them to check for small pebbles and stems and remove them. Put the peas in a colander and rinse them well with cold water. Place in a stockpot and add 8 cups of the water. Skim off any floating peas. Add the pork, if desired. [I do not put salt in the water at the beginning of this process as it hardens the peas and lengthens the cooking time.]
Cook the peas over medium heat for 1 hour. Add the remaining 1 1/2-cups of water and bring back to a boil. Rinse the rice 2 or 3 times in cold water until the water is clear. Stir the rice into the peas. There must be at least 2 1/4 cups of liquid in the peas for the rice to cook. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Continue to cook for another 10 to 12 minutes over low heat without lifting the lid.
When most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked, fluff the peas and rice, and add the salt and white pepper. Add a little water if necessary. Serve immediately
Pecan Parsley Rice Recipe
1 cup Carolina Plantation Rice
2 cups of water
1 tsp. salt
3/4 chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Put rice, water, and salt in saucepot. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer without lifting lid for 18 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add pecans and parsley and stir. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
Carolina Plantation Aromatic Rice
Submitted by Chef Donald Barickman
Charleston, South Carolina
If using a rice steamer, rinse the rice as you usually would and drain well. Use a one cup of water to one cup of rice ratio for steaming the rice. The following is a one-pot method.
2 cups Carolina Plantation Aromatic Rice (about 1 pound)
3 cups water
Rinse the rice with cold water until the water is clear. Place the rice and the water in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot and cover with a lid. Place the pot over medium-low heat and allow it to come to a boil slowly. Reduce the heat and cook the rice slowly for 12 to 15 minutes. It’s best not to peek and allow the steam to escape. When the rice has finished cooking, steam holes should be present at the surface of the rice and all of the water should have been absorbed by the rice.
Remove the pot from the heat and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately or spread it out on a large pan to cool, fluffing it frequently to release the steam. Cool to room temperature, place in a container, cover, and refrigerate.