Tuesday, November 26, 2019

SEASONED SOUTHERN STYLE: Mom's Southern Rice Dishes and A Short History

Rice was a staple in our home, more so than potatoes. Riceland Rice, from an Arkansas-based company, was readily found in grocery stores and inexpensive. Unlike present day, foods that were grown and processed in our Delta area were much less expensive than brands shipped from other parts of the country. We received a price break at the grocery stores not only with rice but also with other foodstuffs grown in the area.  At the local Bush Cannery, dented canned goods could be purchased for 5c each of less. Daddy brought home cases of various canned goods for little money.  He also bought huge bags of Riceland Rice (and I'm not sure exactly where he got it) for a few dollars and shared them with my aunts and Grandmother. 

Rice is not native to this country and has an interesting history.  The influx of African slaves coming into the entire South brought this unknown food to the American and French colonies in the late 17th and early 18th century.  In Marvin Woods book The New Low-Country Cooking, he speaks of this and the important part rice played in the early foodways of the Carolinas, where rice was first produced.
“Rice played a vital role in the economic development of the Low Country and continues to be a daily menu item for most folks of the region. Rice has been cultivated in Africa since about 1500 B. C. as revealed in Daniel C. Littlefield’s book Rice and Slaves. English settlers knew nothing about rice, but they knew of the skills of the West Africans. Slaves were brought to the Low Country of the Carolinas by the tens of thousands, and with them came plants from their homeland. They could clear and prepare the rice fields, construct the canals and dikes, as well as manage the intricate flood-and-drain systems. 

By the early 1700s the production of rice was hugely successful. Over 300 tons of the grain were shipped to England during the first years. The rice was quite beautiful in the fields, looking like a sea of molten gold. A rush of travelers, traders, and settlers moved to the Low Country to share the large profits of the rice called “Carolina Gold.” *
One source states that the first record of rice in North America dates from 1685, when the crop was produced on those coastal lowlands and islands of what is now South Carolina. Seventeenth century accounts show that a severe Atlantic storm inflicted damage to a brigantine sailing from the Island of Madagascar to Europe. The ship sailed to the port of Charleston for repairs. There, the vessel’s captain, John Thurber, gave a local citizen, Dr. Henry Woodward, a sample of seed rice. Dr. Woodward distributed the seed among his friends, and witnessed its successful cultivation. This seed from Madagascar became known as "Carolina Gold Rice." Its successful cultivation and high quality were responsible for the launching of a new agricultural staple for the Carolinas.
More important to our Delta area, the rice culture was introduced into Louisiana by Bienville’s French colonists as early as 1718, when Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded the colony that later became New Orleans. With the colonists came those enslaved people from West Africa whose varieties of rice and bean dishes remained a staple among them and their descendants in the French and Spanish New World colonies, as well as in the Americas. Yet, during the early years of these colonies, the grain was cultivated on a limited scale and used primarily for home consumption. Production required very little capital. After the Civil War, the Carolinas produced less commercial rice.  It was then that a small number of parishes in Louisiana began to grow rice for marketing purposes. The parishes bordering the Mississippi River benefited from the westward shift in rice production as planters utilized the desolated cotton and sugar plantations to grow rice.

It wasn't long after that time that rice began to be grown and marketed in Southern Arkansas and East Texas. Early in the 20th century it began to reach into the northern Arkansas Delta area around Jonesboro, Arkansas. Founded in 1921, Riceland Foods is now the world’s largest miller and marketer of rice. Riceland's headquarters is in Stuttgart, Arkansas and the company owns the largest rice mill in the world, which is located in Jonesboro.
We again have the African American culture to thank for a foodstuff that was so vital to our Delta foodways. The number of rice recipes in vintage cookbooks and personal recipe cards that surface in Arkansas can be overwhelming. On Pinterest there are thousands of modern-day dishes. But, in order to stay within the parameters of our family meals, I have chosen a few of Mom’s often served rice dishes to share with you.


Rice and Broccoli Casserole
This recipe is my absolute favorite side dish. It is a wonderful combination of flavors. I often make it the central dish on meatless days. Or, add chopped ham, cooked chicken or turkey for a full meal.

1 cup rice, rinsed. Simmer in saucepan with 2 cups water until all liquid is absorbed.

In separate pan, sauté 1 medium chopped onion with ¾ stick butter. Add to rice, along with 1 pkg frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained; 1 can cream of mushroom soup combined with ½ cup milk; 1 cup grated cheddar cheese; 2 tsp. salt; ¼ tsp. pepper.

Combine all ingredients well and place in a greased casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes. May top the last 5-10 minutes with more grated cheese.

Spanish Rice
There are as many versions of Spanish Rice as there are cookbooks and people. Other names for it is Creole Rice, Red Rice, and Tomato Rice. This was Mom’s recipe, passed down from Grandmother, using her canned tomatoes and home-cured bacon. On “almost meatless days” she topped it with more bacon or a little diced fried ham—home cured, of course.

Fry 2-3 strips of bacon. Remove and drain on paper towel. Chop into pieces and set aside. With 1 T of the bacon grease, brown 1 cup long grain uncooked rice, with 1 large chopped green pepper, 1 large chopped celery stalk, 1 chopped medium onions. Add 1 tsp. crushed cumin seeds (optional), ½ tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground pepper, 1/8 to 1/4 tsp garlic powder. Then add 1 pint (or can) chopped tomatoes undrained, 2 cups chicken stock and 1 T. tomato paste, and 1 tsp vinegar (optional). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and cook until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed. Let stand covered for a few minutes. Fluff rice. Top with bacon pieces.

Stewed Okra, Tomatoes, Onion over Rice
I know many people do not like okra at all. I am not one of them. But, I am a little picky about the prep because if you don’t know what you are doing, it can turn into a gluey mess. Few people know that okra is high on the list of healthy foods. It is high in calcium and contains some potassium and a modest amount of vitamins A and C. It also contains as much protein as soybeans. I make this recipe for Stewed Okra over Rice often on meatless days.

You’ll read in many recipes to sauté okra in a little oil before stewing. However, Mom never did. She LAYERED in a shallow pan (skillet) first okra (whole or cut), tomatoes coarsely cut in chunks, and a sliced onion on top. Salt and pepper. Add just enough water to simmer slowly. Cover. Once vegetables are tender, uncover and reduce any liquid. Mom’s Stewed Okra was always sweet tasting prepared in this manner. She claimed the tomatoes and onions added in this manner reduced the okra’s mucilaginous juice. Serve it over rice that has been cooked in chicken stock and 1-2 tablespoons of butter for a further reduction of the thick juice.

Pecan Rice-- Daddy’s Sweet Rice with Bacon Supper
If you check online for Pecan Rice recipes, more than likely you’ll find that the ingredients include onions, peppers and herbs. We never ate it that way. When Mom was away for a meal, Daddy had to cook for us. The only two choices were rice or pancakes. We tried to steer him clear of pancakes, for he would push all the air out of them. We loved his rice, warm and coated with real butter and a little sugar. For a special treat, he added toasted pecans. Home-cured bacon was fried to go with his pecan rice, too. The salty bacon with the sweet rice was a taste combination I thought out of this world. Of course, Mom taught him how to make the Pecan Rice, which is very simple but tasty. She often served it as a side dish. The following are approximate ingredient amounts to get you started. Add or subtract according to your taste.

1 cup Pecans, 2-3 tablespoons unsalted Butter, 2 cups cooked Rice, Sugar (White or Brown), pinch of Salt. . .Toast pecans in a single layer in a 250 degree oven until a golden brown. Remove and coarsely chop. Meanwhile, cook rice according to instructions. When rice is done but still warm, heat butter in a separate pan and add chopped pecans. Let butter coat them well. Add to rice, along with sugar and salt to taste. Serve warm.

Dirty Rice with Sausage or Hamburger (no Liver)
This is a version of Louisiana Dirty Rice. Mom didn’t care for the sharp taste of cooked and mashed chicken livers. I, on the other hand, enjoy the Creole version, complete with livers, which I will share later. Either way, she liked to serve it with beans and ham, and/or turnip greens. And, of course, cornbread goes well with all.

Brown ½ - 1 lb Pork Sausage or Hamburger in a large skillet. Pour off fat. Add to meat  ½-1 medium dice onion, 1 diced stalk of celery, 1 diced green bell pepper, and 1 minced garlic clove. Cook until vegetables are soft. Mix in ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, ¼ tsp chili powder, 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper. Add 2 cups chicken broth and 1 cup long-grain rice. Cover and simmer 18-20 minutes or until rice is tender and most of the broth has been absorbed.

Chicken (or Pork Chops) and Rice
This one came from Grandmother Magers to Mom and then to me.
Salt and brown chicken parts in a bacon grease if needed. Set aside. Pour off grease, leaving brown in skillet. Add 1 can mushroom soup, 2 cans water, 1 tablespoons flour, 1 package onion soup mix and combine in skillet. Spread 1 cup rinsed rice on the bottom of a 9 X 13 pan. Lay chicken on the rice. Add soup mixture. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for at least an hour, or until chicken is done and the rice has soaked up the liquid.  Grated cheese on top the last 10 minutes, if desired.

Mock Filet Mignon with Mushroom Sauce
1 ½ lbs ground beef
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp pepper
8 slices bacon

Combine meat and rice ingredients. Divide into 8 parts and form into patties. Wrap bacon slices around the patties. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve with Mushroom Sauce.

Mushroom Sauce: 1 can cream of mushroom soup with ¼ to 1/3 cup of milk. Simmer.

Fried Rice Patties
Left-over rice combined with egg, salt and pepper; sometime a little sugar, too. Form into patties and fry in bacon grease. If you have any bacon or ham left-overs, chop and add to patties before frying.

Rice Pudding
This is the old-fashioned, smooth and creamy style. The delicious flavor is due to the slow cooking. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Wash ¼ cup rice** and add remaining ingredients. Pour into a greased Pyrex-type dish. Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours, stirring several times. It should never boil. Can be served hot or cold. 

**It’s not a typo. You’ll only need ¼ cup of rice.

Creole Rice and Pork Chops
Red Beans and Rice
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo and Rice

* The New Low-Country Cooking by Marvin Woods, HarperColling Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, New York 10022, 2000
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