- [Lucas] While countries in Asia and Africahad been cultivating the grain for thousands of years,the story of rice in the United Statesis a relatively short one.
Rice became essential to the southern dietand Lowcountry cuisine, which fused an amalgamof different cultures, includingWest African, Caribbean, and French.
The Carolina Gold Rice thrivedin the marshy lowlands of the Carolinasand quickly became a valuable cash cropfor residents and plantation owners.
But that wasn't always the case.
It nearly became extinct in the last century.
We're lucky enough to be here today with Glenn Roberts,the founder of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina.
Glenn is an heirloom grain expert and preservationistwho founded his company with the purposeof getting back in touch with the traditionsof the southern kitchen,fueled by the memories of the rice that he atethree meals per day, every day, as a child.
- What do we got here?- Some rice.
Well, this is what we bring in every weekand pull from the mill, and we put it in the freezers.
- How much rice goes in here?- A half-ton, between 800-1100 poundsdepending on what's going on.
This is all being milled next week.
You can keep a new crop in the freezer for aboutsix to eight months, which gets us rice seasonto rice season if you start in Texas, harvest early,harvesting late up here, which is how we do it.
But the rice will be good stored frozen ten years.
You can't mill this stuff the way we mill itif it's not frozen 'cause it just ruins it.
Every cooler in here, and there's 40-something,has something good in it.
Look at this.
- Oh wow.
- Right? Who said corn's supposed to be yellow?This is John Hall corn,it's a midlands corn from the 19th century.
It was lost here completely.
A guy named Dr.
David Bradshaw found it in Ohioand brought it back.
It was in an Amish community over there.
And you can harvest it under snowwhich is why the Amish kept it.
- Oh wow.
- Kids could go out and pull it in the middle of winter.
- Is what is processed here primarily Carolina Gold rice?- It's the least-yielding rice we have,and the toughest one to manage.
We sell more of that and mill more of thatthan anything else, is Carolina Gold rice.
And it is the main market rice of the Antebellum South,but it is not particular to southern rice culturebecause we had more than a hundred distinct varietiesof rice in the ground for provision and culinary pursuitas of 1803.
So many of these things became extinct afterthe Civil War in the South.
So we had that break, which you don't see in New Englandor out West.
- [Lucas] Yeah.
- [Glenn] They picked up here and took everythingto the Pacific Northwest after the Civil War.
And so if you wanna see what happened to southern cultureafter the Civil War, all the same seed went out there.
- How did that happen?How did, one year everyone's eating a certain kindof thing, twenty years down the linenobody's eating it anymore.
Was it just the horrors of Civil War, Reconstruction,what was it that made that just disappear?- Reconstruction is the polite term,Jim Crow is the real term because it wasa concerted effort to wipe out an entiresection of culinary and social heritage in the South.
And it was methodical and it was efficientand it worked to the point where we didn'teven have rice here on the Sea Islands.
When I first came, no one was growing rice here, no one.
That was 25, 30 years ago.
- So what replaced it?So these were systematically eliminated from diet,from the land, what replaced it?- Tall cereals.
- Corn and wheat?- I mean, corn, wheat.
Corn was 17 feet tall, 15 feet tall'cause they needed the silage.
- Wheat was six feet tall cause they needed the straw.
- The plants were selected over centuriesand millennia for that straw.
Straw harvest in Appalachia would draw more peopleoff the frontier to help you harvest than the grain harvest.
- 'Cause straw was the difference betweendying of cold and exposure and not.
That was your insulation and bedding.
- [Lucas] Dr.
Michael Purugganan is a professorof biology and Dean of Scienceat New York University.
He specializes in the genetic identificationof grains, specifically rice.
Through genome sequencing, he's able to traceorigins of rice strains whose geographicaland biological backgrounds were once a mystery.
- Historically, Carolina Gold has been what's calleda premium rice that's used in the market.
It's a type of rice which we call Tropical Japonica,so it's something that grows well in fairly hot,humid environments.
It's closest to rice that's found in Indonesiaand the Philippines.
Climate-wise, the Carolinas are a really good areafor growing rice.
Rice originally evolved or was domesticated inthe Yangtze Valley in China,probably about 9,000 years ago.
That gave rice - what we call Japonica rice -and that subsequently spread to Asia,to East Asia especially.
About maybe 4,500 years ago,Japonica rice seems to have made it to India.
That Japonica rice, which was already domesticated,hybridized with whatever the Indianswere doing at that time.
And that hybrid then went on to become the Indica ricethat was the other major group of rice.
A theory which I think is accepted,that the transatlantic slave trade brought in informationfrom West Africa in terms of the abilityof West African slaves to grow rice.
So, in West Africa they actuallyhad a culture that grew rice.
Those slaves that were brought over from Africawere brought over not only for their manpowerbut actually their knowledge of how to grow rice.
- And of these rices, how many are gone forever?- How many are gone or that should come back?At least 20 core important culinary rices.
And we have, like I said about nine here,and barely in production with some of them,but things like Tribute rice from Chinawas grown here and shipped backto China, believe it or not.
- Oh wow.
- And that was in the 19th century.
We had Camargue rice grown here and shipped backto the Camargue.
Great flavor, great nutrition becamelow secondary targets and that changes everything.
- So tell me then about where we are nowand how you're reclaiming that.
How are you trying to get that back?- [Glenn] The very first thing you dois do not farm for yield.
You farm for flavor and nutrition.
And if you do that, you're gonna lookat biodensity per acre instead of pounds per acre.
But even before that, you have to not monetize it.
We were very lucky, we had a lotof people help us out early,they didn't monetize their effort to usor we wouldn't have made it, and we promised them,both Native American and scientists,that we wouldn't monetize or appropriate their work.
So we've been giving free seed away for 18 years.
- Wow, but how do you do that?How do you make that work?- Well I used to use a Robin Hood philosophy,we robbed from chefs and give to poor farmers.
All were willing and understood that.
But no one else did, so it was an uphill battle.
These days, our stuff looks pretty reasonablecompared to equivalents because everybodyis moving into this tier.
- [Lucas] Why is your rice better?How does it taste different than a mass-producedor something that's grown purely for yield?- We plant, sometimes, 10 different thingsthat's understoried in a field,like daikon, deep root that's also a neem suppressor,and flax and then we'll run buckwheat as a shortcrop under that too.
And we won't harvest the low crops,we'll just take the tall ones.
That's called polyculture,that's how these things were originally grown.
That's a different food than if you just growone thing in a field and harvest it.
- And you're able to taste that?- Oh yeah, yeah.
the plants look different.
Watch hands and stuff in here.
Okay so in here is rice.
So, it goes through the huller, comes out here.
This has to be hand-picked and then takenand put over there.
This is where we put humans in the chainwhere no one else does.
We do about 160 pounds a batch.
A batch takes as the shortest run we have,a batch takes about 10 minutes,and we start at seven and go straight through tosix o'clock three days a week in here.
Sometimes we work on Thursdays tooand ship then.
- About how many restaurants do you provide for?- We have more than 5,000 worldwide.
- Carolina Gold is one of the mainfounder lines of the US breeding varieties.
Many of the breeding varietiesthat are used in American agriculturehave some portion of the Carolina Goldrice genome in it.
What we have is a giant jigsaw puzzle,where we've got this information now in small piecesand we try to put it together.
So our DNA are made up of essentially four letters,ATCG, these are the nucleotides that make up the molecules.
So sequencing really is trying to read whatthat information is because in that pieceof DNA, that genome is actually imprintedthe evolution of that species.
- [Lucas] Dr.
David Shields is the chairmanof the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation,an organization committed to preservingthe food traditions of the region.
He, along with preservationists and historianslike Glenn Roberts helped to bringCarolina Gold back from the brink of extinction.
In the 1980s it's believed that a single person,that's one person, was cultivating the rice.
50 years ago would I have been ableto buy a bag of Carolina Gold rice?- No.
Carolina Gold, which was the dominant ricefrom the end of the American Revolutionto World War I becomes too expensive to produce.
In the United States market, cheap Honduran white riceundercuts its market tremendously.
All biological entities, whether you're a paramecium,a garden slug, or a bird, identify what's ediblein their environment by chemical signatures,and good taste, therefore, is the signature of whatis edible and nutritious and it's these oldestrices that embody that flavor.
And Carolina Gold was one of them.
So, the rice has to operate as an ideal palatefor harmonizing flavors.
- But in that case why wouldn't I wantthis bland Honduran rice that's just gonnabe a blank slate?- The old, land-raised grains are more nutritious.
Why? Because they have these extensive root systemswhich interact with microbes,which are essential for processing nutriments,with fungi and with minerals.
So you have to grow these old plantsin an old way.
- But it's worth it?- Yeah the flavor is there, the nutritional knowledgeof entire cultures is embedded in them,and if you grow them in good tilth soilyou get maximum benefit from them.
- Bon appétit.
- [Glenn] This dish, in the field, was a stew potand it turned into something called the Hot and Hot Club,formed by rice planters that got together to seehow much bad rice or weedy rice was in their ricesby a chalice of rice.
And you count the red grains in it.
And this dish actually, and chicken bog,end up becoming the titular political gathering dishes'cause they're meant to feed crowds.
The earliest memories I have are my momtrying to teach me how to cook riceand not living up to her specificationsfor what a cook of rice can do.
I've battled my entire life to get to that,I'm not a natural chef.
- I mean, is that what it comes down to in the end?Just wanting some good food?- Yeah.
- Wanting some good rice?- Well if you're farming it,when you go out into the field,I think David's mentioned this,that things change, and ifyou're growing it, everything changes immediately.
- Rice is the major food crop of the world.
The story of crop diversity is a story bothof the crop and the humans that broughtit around the world.
We're still not sure where Carolina Gold ricecomes from.
And now, those of the community who are interestedin traditional rice varieties are trying tofind examples of these lost rices,and trying to see if we can regrow themand reintroduce them back to American cultureand to world culture as well.