Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rice culture days return to Middleton Place

As an integral part of its educational programming, Middleton Place will celebrate Low Country Rice Culture Days again on Friday and Saturday, September 18-19, at the Outdoor Educational Center in the Middleton Place Stableyards. All activities associated with this event are included in the price of Gardens and Stableyards admission.

Though many aspects of the rice industry in the South Carolina Low Country will be discussed (i.e. origins, planting, cultivating, cultural impact), the bulk of the program will focus on the processing of Carolina Gold Rice and the tools used to complete this task.

Costumed interpreters will demonstrate and discuss the varied steps used in processing:

Threshing (the removal of the rice from the stalks); Winnowing or Fanning (separating the rice from the chaff and the hulls); Pounding (removing the hull off of the rice); and Polishing (removing the bran from the rice).

Costumed interpreters will also be creating tools used in the rice processing process, including the Flail (used in threshing) and Pestle and Mortar (used in pounding and polishing).

As South Carolina’s first great agricultural staple, Carolina Gold rice dominated the Low Country’s economy for almost two hundred years, influencing almost every aspect of life in the region from the early 18th century to the early 20th century.

Carolina Gold was responsible for the area’s rise to prominence in the colonial era, as it was sought worldwide. However, the commercial rice industry collapsed in the late 19th century, leaving much of the Low Country with few viable economic options for a half-century or more.

The rice was usually harvested from September through November. Enslaved people cut down the stalks just above ground level with hand scythes, called “rice hooks,” leaving them to rest on the stubble to dry. When dried, the stalks were gathered into sheaves and stacked on carts or flat-bottomed boats to take to the processing area.

Threshing, or separating the rice from the stalk, was done manually using hand tools called flails. Next, a large, round winnowing or “fanner” basket, commonly made of sweetgrass, was used to separate the rice from the chaff by “fanning” the mixture into the breeze to blow away the chaff. At this point, with the outer husks still on, the rice could be gathered and sold as “rough rice.”

To produce an edible product the rice was placed in a large mortar and with a pestle was pounded or “beaten” to remove the husks. Known as “brown rice,” this could be sold and eaten, but required further processing for shipment overseas.

Since most rice was grown for export, the oily, highly nutritious bran covering of the brown rice had to be removed before it could be packed into barrels for shipping. Otherwise, the rice would spoil due to the lack of air circulation. This process also used the mortar and pestle to “polish” the bran off the rice, and fanner baskets to separate the rice from the bran.

The white whole grain rice was then packed into barrels made by skilled enslaved coopers on the plantation. The barrels were then loaded on schooners for the trip to the port of Charleston. From there the barrels were loaded on seagoing ships for the journey to English ports such as London, Manchester, and Liverpool. Publicizing this non-profit event can help many locals and visitors learn more about the colonial economy of South Carolina and how Carolina Gold rice influenced Low Country culture.

For more information, please contact Stephen Reed, Director of Communications, at (843) 266-7476 or by email at: