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Rice farming in Effingham

POSTED: March 27, 2014 5:54 p.m.
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The late Walter M. Zoller with his family’s mortar made from a hollowed stump and pestles used to prepare rice for consumption on the Reiser farm.

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Effingham County produced large amounts of rice in the early days, according to the research by local historian Norman Turner. There were two types that were grown in Effingham.

In the lower part of the county and near the Savannah River, one type of rice was grown using dikes and flooding the land.

The upper part of the county grew a different kind of rice called highland or upland rice, which was grown in low swampy areas.

Rice can be traced back to 1738 when Salzburger families had been granted 50-acre long, narrow strips of land upon their settlement of the area. Part of the land was on a hill suitable to farming and the low, swampy part of their land could be used to grow rice.

They built a mill for processing the rice along the Ebenezer Creek powered by water. A rice husker and stamp mill made the job formerly done by hand much faster. (Details can be found in Norman Turner’s booklet “Highland or Upland Rice grown in Effingham County, Georgia” in the library of Historic Effingham Society’s Museum.) One of the accompanying illustrations is a copy of a drawing by Matthew Seutler showing the mills on the Ebenezer Creek that the Salzburgers built.

According to the census of 1910, Georgia grew 148,698 bushels of rice, of which 7,982 were grown with irrigation. The rice was harvested and thrashed in the same manner as other grains but had to be milled to remove the outer husk before it was suitable for food.

The rice was grown in rows and harvested by the handful, using a rice sickle to cut the stalks, which were about three feet high. They stacked it and brought it in with carts or wagons and then bundled it. The bundles, about hand-sized, were tied and dried either on pole racks or hung in a barn for several days. When dry, the rice had to be thrashed or beaten to release the grain from the stalk and then cleaned. A board or wall, sometimes slanted with a trough to catch the grain, was used.

If no mill was available, the rice could be placed in a trough made by hollowing out a log and pounding it with a maul. You would roll the maul around in the hollowed stump.  To further refine it, the late Walter M. Zoller remembered the family used small pieces of corn shucks added to the maul and trough (also known as a mortar and pestle) and the rice was pounded further to polish the rice.

To separate the husks and shucks, the rice was thrown up in the air using a winnowing tray and the chaff would blow away. This was a difficult, time-consuming process to prepare rice.

This rice was not highly polished and was more nutritious, but was not as palatable as white rice is today. Norman’s mother Mary Z. Turner and his Uncle Walter said the rice was not so good. Mary said it could be eaten while it was hot but not good cold. As Walter said, “Nobody starved; we always had something to eat.”

Harry Byrd Zittrouer had an area near the Runs Creek on his family property where rice had previously been grown. The former land owner, a Mr. Mallette, had a mill and grew rice in the creek swamp using dikes.

During the Second World War, his parents attempted to grow rice. They would sometimes take the rice to Mr. Cap Burns’ mill in Springfield rather than the tedious preparation for consumption by hand.

Rice was a popular crop in the early settlements in Effingham County but the practice of growing rice was abandoned around or shortly after the end of World War II.

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society with information from Norman Turner’s article referenced in the story. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: hesheraldexley@aol.com.

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