How the Slave Bread of South Carolina became the bread of life to the enslaved 

Stephen Nartey October 19, 2022
Fresh made bread. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Europeans relied heavily on enslaved females to do their cooking in South Carolina before and after the Civil War. Many of the cuisines in the United States largely originated from enslaved Africans who were in charge of the kitchen of their owners.

One of the experiments conducted by the enslaved in those kitchens was the baking of bread from rice grains instead of wheat, which was commonplace in the South, according to food etymologist Dann Woellert. The recipe was ripe plantain, ginger, and rice, which were mixed to bake a dense loaf of bread that took the form of sandwich bread.

Many of the enslaved who were brought from Liberia and Senegal were familiar with meals teased out of rice, thereby, producing bread from rice was more of practicing and preserving their native culture.

Oral history has it that when the enslaved were tasked to bake bread for their owners, they slashed down on the white flour and included more rice flour to the menu and ended up inventing what has become known as the slave bread of South Carolina.

They added at least 25 percent of rice flour to the wheat flour to bake the bread. It was initially known as Charleston Rice Bread or Southern American bread.

At some point because of the availability of the ingredients to bake their favorite bread, the enslaved relied on leftover broken rice, ground into a paste and cooked rice. They experimented with the broken rice and came up with a dish called rice grits, which is popular among the southerners.

In the 1800s, the recipe for rice grits took the form of sesame flour, peas and nutty benny cake, characteristic of African meals.

In its preparation, the enslaved women pounded the rice in mortar to generate fine flour which is used in the baking of the bread. However, they ended up with more broken grains than fine flour from the traditional method of processing the rice. The enslaved grew a liking for the dishes made out of broken rice and made it one of their traditional staples in the South.

Another way the enslaved saved the military from South Carolina and Georgia was the use of the rice meals when it was difficult to get wheat in substantial quantities. The rice became a staple of survival for the military and poor in Charleston, and in some instances, used to soothe stomach upsets.

The association to rice dishes was mainly because rice farming was a mainstay in South Carolina and fueled their economy. That is why the region earned the name Carolina gold rice.

When the colonial authority experimented with rice seeds in Madagascar and realized it did well in the swampy soil, they replicated its success in South Carolina. With the influx of slaves in South Carolina and Savannah Georgia, the plantation owners capitalized on their presence, labor and commercialized production of rice.

The understanding of the enslaved of the soil condition and its fertility for rice production gave the slave owners an added advantage of making gains from the rice farms. Plantation owners began paying more monies to sailors to bring in more slaves from rice-growing regions of Africa to work on their farms.

The economy of South Carolina was partly built on their sweat and toil of the enslaved who worked day and night on the rice plantations. These enslaved who worked in South Carolina are the Gullah-Geechee people.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 19, 2022


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates