Pass the Gold

With What Silver Piece Does One Pass the Gold in Charleston? 

Written by Holly Hamilton

Leave it to Charlestonians to have a special sterling implement for all the activities of daily life.  While passing gold may not be something you think you’d do every day, then maybe you don’t know much about colonial life in Charleston.  There is a special spoon for passing Carolina Gold: the Charleston rice spoon.

(photo courtesy of JWKPEC)

The Charleston Rice Spoon

In addition to our pieces for tea, porridge, soup, wine tasting, crumbing, and Charlestonians have sterling pieces just to serve rice.  The Charleston Rice Spoon serves as a nod to our history and is considered a prized possession in families, one that brides still register for.    

You might ask how did Charleston come to have a spoon just to serve rice?  We needed it.  Like most tableware and housewares, the rice spoon has its origins in daily use.  Rice was a staple in the Charleston diet (think pilau, red rice, hoppin’ john, and chicken bog to name a few). 

Being the cash crop of the lowcountry, rice made its way to the table and its namesake spoon was in regular service at  the traditional 2 o’clock dinner.  Most historians attribute the earliest lowcountry rice spoons as adaptations of the long handled English dressing or stuffing spoons.  As colonial Charlestowne grew and boasted its own silversmiths, the spoon came to be known as a Rice Spoon.  One of these early examples of Charleston silversmithing by Huguenot silversmith, Moreau Sarrazin, is on display at the Charleston Museum.

The Carolina Gold Rush

Did you know about the Carolina Gold rush?  In contrast to the California gold rush, this one wasn’t discovered but imported and rather by accident.  Story has it that in 1685 Captain John Thurber ran into one of our not so hospitable storms and sheltered in our harbor.  His ship in repair, he met Henry Woodward.  Woodward put Thurber’s gift of Madagascar gold seed rice to work and soon Carolina was on a path paved with gold.  

Carolina Gold paved the foundation of Charleston culture.  Its likeness carved into bedposts (the Rice Bed), embroidered on clothing, etched into silver works, there were constant reminders other than eating it at nearly every meal.  It was exported globally and hailed as a rice of distinction for its rich nutty flavor and chewy texture.  The cash crop built much of the wealth of the colony but the golden seeds were lost for decades. 

Gold Rediscovered 

Dr. Richard Schulze should be credited for brining gold back to South Carolina.  An avid duck hunter who dreamt of dining on rice fed ducks, his quest to plant the perfect rice bed led his to the USDA’s Rice Research Institute in Texas.  In coordination with Richard Bollock the seed was propagated and led to a 10,000 lb harvest in 1988.  

In the late 1990s, Carolina  Gold rice became commercially available and is now enjoyed by top chefs and regular home chefs alike.

Pass the Gold

So, whether you eat a rice fed duck stuffed with dressing or a heaping bowl of hoppin’ john, you know what spoon to use now.  

Find great old school rice recipe in the oldest continuously printed Junior League cookbook: the Junior League of Charleston, Charleston Receipts.  For even more on the history of Charleston rice, check out Drayton Hall and Middleton Plantation.  Interested in a contemporary take on this centuries old spoon, have a look at our present day silversmith, Kaminer Haislip’s Rice Spoon.