The Heirloom, Pre-Civil War Grains at the Heart of Southern Cooking

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

The Perennial Plate, a series about sustainable eating, meets two of South Carolina's growers and chefs who are leading the return to 19th-century seeds and methods. Glenn Roberts began growing his own grain in 1998, after observing that many classic southern recipes can't be cooked with contemporary varieties of grains. Now his company, Anson Mills, supplies chefs across the country, from Sean Brock at Husk and McCrady's Restaurant in Charleston to Thomas Keller in California. The Perennial Plate is produced by Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, and more episodes from the series can be found on the Atlantic Video channel here.

Roberts, who has a background as a historic restoration consultant, was motivated to launch Anson Mills to protect a whole regional cuisine from going extinct:  

Glenn's plan was ambitious, some might say mad: he intended to grow, harvest and mill near-extinct varieties of heirloom corn, rice, and wheat organically, and re-create ingredients that were in the Southern larder before the Civil War. Grits, cornmeal, Carolina Gold rice, graham and biscuit flour, milled fresh for the table daily, had helped create a celebrated regional cuisine--America's first cuisine, the Carolina Rice Kitchen.

The cuisine was gone, the ingredients that inspired it no longer available. You might ask why anyone cared.

Glenn cared for a lot of reasons. He cared because the dishes his mother described during her girlhood in Aiken, South Carolina could no longer be prepared. He cared because each time he was asked to create a period dinner for an historic project the ingredients weren't around. He cared because local growers lacked the experience to grow old varieties. He cared because he knew this food had been exceptional.

The story continues on the Anson Mills website

For more information about The Perennial Plate, visit http://www.theperennialplate.com/

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/the-heirloom-pre-civil-war-grains-at-the-heart-of-southern-cooking/254643/