Can foods become extinct, and what happens to the history (and future) of a cuisine if they do? This week's mini documentary from the Southern Foodways Alliance film program features David Shields, a historian and professor at the University of South Carolina, whose research into the history of Southern cuisine led him to the front of an effort to revitalize forgotten and overlooked Lowcountry produce and crops.
Inspired by the results of his 2003 conference titled "Cuisines of the Lowcountry and the Caribbean," Shields and his team began looking into varieties of wheat, rye, rice, and other growables that used to make up the foundation of Lowcountry cooking, but have since disappeared from production altogether. With the turn of the 20th century, farmers placed a higher premium on disease resistance and shelf life than flavor, phasing out better tasting but less hearty varieties of the crops that were synonymous with the taste of Lowcountry cooking. By studying old cookbooks, agriculture journals, seed catalogues, and other historical resources, Shields and his team aim to reinstate the production of historical Lowcountry ingredients in the present, where they hope they will become modern staples.