By Luana M. Graves Sellars
Harvest Time By Sonja Griffin Evans
The Carolina’s and Georgia’s low country coastline’s average temperature coupled with the fresh tidal waters marshland and nutrient-rich and soft soil was the perfect environment to grow rice. The environment plus the rice farming expertise that the Gullah’s helped to make the colonist’s rice crops successful. The colonists needed all the help that they could get, as rice farming is an extremely labor-intensive process, which requires 100 to 300 laborers per 100 acres to prepare the soil and harvest the land by hand. This labor intensity not only started the plantation era, but it also fueled the necessity for slave laborers and large plantations to produce it. The Carolina Golden Rice became one of South Carolina’s premium crops, creating more tons of rice than the ships exporting it could carry and the standard for high-quality rice worldwide. Today, the US is one of the world’s largest exporters of rice.
As a result of the mass production of rice and its being readily available, the Gullah/Geechee began to create meals based on rice. With rice being one of the primary staples within the Gullah diet, a variety of one dish meals became common meals. Gullah food is one of the oldest African and American culinary traditions found in the US today. With meals created from the land and sea, the origins of Gullah dishes came out of necessity and making do with what was available based upon the weekly slave rations that were provided to them. The rations included such items as 10 quarts of rice or peas, 1 bushel of sweet potatoes, 2 or 3 mullets or mackerels, 1 pint of molasses, 1 peck of meal, 1 peck of grits and sometimes depending on the slave master, 2 lbs. of pork, bacon or beef.
What’s interesting to note, is that many of the one pot meals that are considered staples in the American diet can trace their beginnings back to Gullah and slave traditions. The next time that you eat red rice (white rice mixed with tomatoes and bacon), chicken and rice, shrimp and grits, fried crab rice or peas and rice, know that the meal has been served for hundreds of years thanks to the Gullah.
Source: Ultimate Gullah Cookbook & American Rice Inc.; USA Rice Federation
For more information about the history of rice in America click here
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