To help you understand our mission at Anson Mills, we must first explain something of the Carolina Rice Kitchen. This “Rice Kitchen” is not strictly Carolinian and it isn’t a physical kitchen, either. The term, popularized by food historian Karen Hess in her eponymous book, refers to a cuisine—one that emerged in the early 19th century along the coasts and in the midlands of Carolina and Georgia, which took Carolina Gold rice, rather than wheat or corn, as its staple grain. Carolina Gold, a sweet, non-aromatic rice of superior flavor, texture and cooking quality, created a culture of wealth and influence and brought fortunes to those who grew it. But in time, it nearly passed away.
Carolina Rice Kitchen cuisine arose when three distinct rice cultures came together to build rice canals on the sea islands of Carolina and Georgia: Venetian rice farmers who designed the canals, Africans who brought their rice management methods to the endeavor and Native Americans who worked in the fields. The association of these peoples and their cultures resulted in a vibrant melting-pot exchange that ultimately became a new cuisine.
Cuisine in colonial America was cuisine for the wealthy and at its peak, the Carolina Rice Kitchen possessed ingredients that would thrill any chef today: local estate-grown olive oil (and oil from benne, peanut, chestnut, walnut, pecan, and sunflower); locally produced and imported wines; fresh and lagered ales and alembic spirits; fine herbs and spices; abundant vegetables and legumes; seasonal nuts, berries, mushrooms, seeds and greens; wild game and fish; rice-fed beef, pork, lamb and poultry; creole charcuterie; wheat, corn, rye, oats and barley—and let us not forget, Carolina Gold rice.
The word “cuisine” implies much more than cooking, of course: it represents a complex expression of community that emerges in a distinct locale and is dependent on soil, agriculture, preparation and rites of consumption. Carolina Rice Kitchen cuisine was a local and sustainable cuisine supported by full animal husbandry and a farming system based upon sustainable rice horticulture.