Before and during the Civil War, the Europeans in South Carolina mainly relied on female slaves to perform their cooking tasks. Africans who were held as slaves and in charge of their owners’ kitchens are significantly responsible for the development of many of the cuisines in the United States.
According to culinary etymologist Dann Woellert, one of the experiments carried out by the enslaved in those kitchens involved baking bread using rice grains rather of wheat, which was typical in the South. Ripe plantains, ginger, and rice were combined in the recipe to create a dense loaf of bread that resembled sandwich bread.
Since many of the enslaved people who were brought from Senegal and Liberia were accustomed to eating meals made of rice, making bread from it was more about practicing and preserving their local culture.
According to oral history, when the slaves were assigned to bake bread for their owners, they reduced the amount of white flour and increased the amount of rice flour on the menu, ultimately creating what is now known as South Carolina’s slave bread.
To make the bread, they mixed wheat flour with at least 25% rice flour. Southern American bread or Charleston rice bread were its original names.
At some point because of the availability of the ingredients to bake their favorite bread, the enslaved relied on leftover broken rice, ground into a paste and cooked rice. They experimented with the broken rice and came up with a dish called rice grits, which is popular among the southerners.
In the 1800s, the recipe for rice grits took the form of sesame flour, peas and nutty benny cake, characteristic of African meals.
The ladies who were forced to prepare it ground the rice in a mortar to create the fine flour that is used in bread baking. However, the conventional way of processing the rice resulted in more broken grains than fine flour. Dishes composed of broken rice became popular among the enslaved and became a staple food for them in the South.
When it was impossible to obtain wheat in large amounts, the enslaved used the rice lunches to keep the soldiers out of South Carolina and Georgia. In Charleston, the soldiers and the impoverished grew to rely on rice as a survival food. In some cases, it was even used to treat gastrointestinal ailments.
The connection to rice meals was mostly due to the economic importance of rice farming to South Carolina. This is how the area came to be known as the home of Carolina gold rice.
After experimenting with rice seeds in Madagascar and discovering that they thrived in the swampy environment, the colonial authorities reproduced this success in South Carolina. The plantation owners made money off of the slaves’ presence, labor, and rice production through commercialization as they flooded into Savannah, Georgia, and South Carolina.
The knowledge of the enslaved regarding the soil’s fertility for growing rice offered the slave owners an added advantage in profiting from the rice farms. For the purpose of bringing additional slaves from Africa’s rice-growing regions to labor on their farms, plantation owners started offering sailors more money.
The labor of the slaves who toiled day and night on the rice farms helped build South Carolina’s economy. These Gullah-Geechee people were slaves who toiled in South Carolina.