Shields’s turf is the southern Lowcountry, from the peanut patches of Wilmington, North Carolina to the sugarcane fields of the Georgia Sea Islands and the citrus groves of Amelia Island, Florida. He takes us on a historical excursion to this region, drawing connections among plants, farms, growers, seed brokers, vendors, cooks, and consumers over time. Shields begins by looking at how professional chefs during the nineteenth century set standards of taste that elevated southern cooking to the level of cuisine. He then turns to the role of food markets in creating demand for ingredients and enabling conversation between producers and preparers. Next, his focus shifts to the field, showing how the key ingredients—rice, sugarcane, sorghum, benne, cottonseed, peanuts, and citrus—emerged and went on to play a significant role in commerce and consumption. Shields concludes with a look at the challenges of reclaiming both farming and cooking traditions.
From Carolina Gold rice to white flint corn, the ingredients of authentic southern cooking are returning to fields and dinner plates, and with Shields as our guide, we can satisfy our hunger both for the most flavorful regional dishes and their history.