Rice Dishes

While rice exports brought fabulous wealth to a handful of planters and merchants, its consumption provided sustenance for all. Exotic fruits from the Caribbean, cookbooks from England, and fresh herbs from local gardens were regularly advertised in newspapers. Wealthy Charleston ladies tried the latest cooking fads from European courts, while their black cooks added dishes from their homelands, such as collards, gumbo, and benne (sesame) candy

Rice dishes are legion in South Carolina, where the grain was the major crop for nearly two hundred years. Based on the stew-pot dishes of West Africa, whence came the rice-plantation slaves, lowcountry rice cookery is the highlight of South Carolina’s Creole cuisine.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, Charleston had become one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities in the New World. While rice exports brought fabulous wealth to a handful of planters and merchants, its consumption provided sustenance for all. Exotic fruits from the Caribbean, cookbooks from England, and fresh herbs from local gardens were regularly advertised in newspapers. Wealthy Charleston ladies tried the latest cooking fads from European courts, while their black cooks added dishes from their homelands, such as collards, gumbo, and benne (sesame) candy. Rice was served in some form at every meal, most often as the accompaniment to the main course. Nowhere else in the country were people growing or cooking the grain (it was not introduced into other states until after the Civil War).

The recipe for cooking rice that Eliza Pinckney recorded on her plantation north of Charleston in 1756 is archetypically Carolinian, following the African method, so that each grain stands by itself. She warned, “Be sure to avoid stirring the rice . . . for one turn with a spoon will spoil all.” The grain appeared in both yeast breads and quick breads such as hoecakes and waffles, in fritters, in soups, pureed to thicken sauces, and in desserts. But the pilau, a one-pot dish filled with meats, vegetables, and/or shellfish, is the defining rice dish of Carolina, a precursor to Louisiana’s jambalaya, and a direct descendant of the pilafs of the Middle East.

Hess, Karen. The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.

Pinckney, Eliza Lucas. Recipe Book of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1756. Charleston, S.C.: J. Furlong, 1936.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Rice Dishes
  • Author
  • Keywords Based on the stew-pot dishes of West Africa, whence came the rice-plantation slaves, lowcountry rice cookery is the highlight of South Carolina’s Creole cuisine, Charleston, Eliza Pinckney, pilau,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date August 19, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 22, 2018
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