Tasting an heirloom variety, whether it's a green zebra tomato, Tamworth pork or bourbon red turkey, is always a revelation. Unlike the modern cultivars and crosses that have been hybridized to be shippable, shelf-stable and fast growing, the heritage varieties – plant or animal – deliver incredible flavour.
Charleston Gold Rice is a new – and old – breed of rice that was developed by a group of researchers in association with the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation. Glenn Roberts, a Charleston-based historic restoration consultant and Southern boy, longed to taste the rice, grits and corn dishes of his mother's childhood.
So, in 1998, Mr. Roberts and a team of scientists began the time-consuming process of naturally cross-pollinating fields of rice. Of the estimated 100 crosses they created over more than a decade, they were finally satisfied with a breed they named Charleston Gold.
A cross between Carolina Gold Rice, described by Roberts as "the grandfather of long grain rice in the Americas" and various varieties that carry similar traits to Charleston Long Rice, a breed destroyed during the American Civil War, the Charleston Gold is a revelation of its own. It's an homage to the rice that was once a staple crop of the American South, from the time before the Union and Confederates went to war.
The snow-white grains are harvested by hand – yes, grain by grain – then aged with wild red laurel (a sort of bay leaf indigenous to the American South) for three years in containers exposed to seasonal heating and cooling. Its aroma is reminiscent of basmati and Thai jasmine rice, and its flavour is layered and nuanced, each grain retaining a bit of bite at its core.
It's a rice that can – and indeed, should – be enjoyed on its own, with just a knob of butter, a sprinkling of sea salt, some collard greens, chitterlings and perhaps a rousing rendition of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. This certified organic rice is too special and too dear to bury under a scoop of butter chicken.
It's available exclusively through Anson Mills, currently the only grower of the heritage grain, for $7.95/14 oz. and $79.95/10 lbs. ( www.ansonmills.com).
Special to The Globe and Mail