What are Rice Middlins?

 

In the geographic and cultural region of coastal South Carolina and Georgia known as the Lowcountry, rice middlins is the term for broken or imperfect rice. Not suitable for trade or export, rice grits, as they were also known, found their way into breads and porridges in this section of the South. The commercial production of rice middlins bread in Charleston, South Carolina, began in 1808, and the first recorded recipe appeared in The Charleston Courier in 1812. According to the instructions, once the middlins were cooked and cooled, the rice was used as is, smashed, or put through a sieve. It was blended with a wild yeast culture, enough wheat flour to make a kneadable dough, and salt. Most publications recommended substituting rice at a 1:3 ratio in a standard wheat flour recipe. The first rise, shaping, final rise, and baking followed standard wheat bread procedure of the time. An evolutionary fork occurred in 1854, when finely ground rice flour replaced some, or all, of the cooked rice. Another segmentation occurred in the 1880s when fast-acting chemical leaveners, forerunners of today’s baking powder and baking soda, began to replace the wild yeast starter. The life of rice middlins bread spanned a century. From a sensory perspective, it began as a chewy white sourdough style loaf and evolved into a sweeter, airier pan loaf, with a tender bite and a quick chew. By the end of its popular run, it would have borne as much sensory resemblance to the original middlins bread as a whole wheat muffin bears to the classic pain au levain.

Author’s Footnote

To grasp the range of rice bread preparations, one must examine an array of recipes in print, cookbooks, and the oral history of American foodways. I am grateful to South Carolina historian, David Shields, author of Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine, for his guidance in my journey.