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THE CAROLINA RICE KITCHEN by Karen Hess

THE CAROLINA RICE KITCHEN

The African Connection

By Karen Hess

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-87249-666-X
Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

 Culinary historian Hess (coauthor, The Taste of America, 1977- -not reviewed) explores the rice cooking of South Carolina, where that food has been and is a ritual staple. Hess traces the worldwide forces and migrations behind the cultivation in South Carolina of ``Carolina Gold,'' the world's most prized rice from the late 1600's to the early 1900's. (Today's packaged rice with the brand name ``Carolina,'' while decent, is not grown in that state and bears no relation to its former crop except for adopting the prestigious name.) The author makes clear that it was slaves brought from rice-cultivating parts of Africa whose knowledge and efforts established and maintained the local Carolina rice industry, which began to die out after emancipation because their masters lacked the necessary rice-growing background- -though, more than other Americans, they did share a rice-eating past. Hess notes that almost half of South Carolina's white settlers were French and that even many of the English came via the West Indies, then explains the connection by tracing pilaf, which originated in Persia, through two routes to Carolina: The Arabs brought it to Africa, where it became (for one salient example) the dish that slaves later passed along as Carolina's Hoppin' John; and Sephardic Jews fleeing to Provence passed it along to their fellow religious outcasts, the Huguenots, who later fled to the New World. Though common cooking practices are poorly documented in history, Hess masterfully employs old texts, recent scholarship, internal culinary evidence, linguistic arguments, and rice recipes from scattered sources to make her case on several intriguing points--and she provides enlightening comments both culinary and historical on the dishes set down in Mrs. Stoney's 1901 Carolina Rice Cook Book. (Four halftones--not seen.)