A Request for Memories or Recipes Related to Beans and Rice

By Heather Ariyeh

Background

Do you have a favorite memory or recipe related to beans and rice?

Throughout the world, people have combined beans and rice to form popular dishes. Together, they form a complete protein, but perhaps even more interestingly beans and rice are foods in a relationship that form a grammar expressing both common histories and local specificities.(1) In particular, beans and rice dishes trace the history of the African Diaspora into the Caribbean, the United States South, and beyond. 

Montage of many beans and rice dishes.

Project

I am working on a cookbook of beans and rice dishes, but one that will go a step beyond recipes and offer personal stories related to these dishes.  These memories may be more broad in nature (relating to culture or place), or very specific and unique to individual households or experiences.  What connections do you have to beans and rice?

Instructions

If you would like to take part, please submit any of the following:

  • Memories of any length, even a few sentences
  • Photos, AND/OR 
  • Recipes or just an interesting twist you’ve added to a classic

Feel free to be creative, but don’t feel pressure to be creative! It’s just an excuse to share a bit with one another. This cookbook is an art project, and part of my thesis work at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. It is not part of a commercial endeavor.  The final format may exist in print or online.  You will be credited unless you prefer not to be. Please submit contributions or questions to: Heather Ariyeh at hariyeh@sva.edu .

Please ensure all submissions relate to beans and rice together in some way (whether mixed together or separate on a plate).  Sides or main dishes are both fine. Any type of rice or bean is fine (including peas, black-eyed peas or cowpeas). 

Click below for common examples.(2)

Below is an example submission.  I hope you will be inspired, but not limited by it.

Chocolate Beans and Rice: A Recipe from Old and New Dreams

I came to the U.S. illegally, with only my brother at the age of 16.  My brother was 15.  We left our mother, father, and six more brothers and sisters behind in Guatemala.  That was twenty years ago, and we haven’t been able to risk going back home since.  

In the U.S., I work in the restaurant business. I always wanted to cook when I was in Guatemala, but never really had the need or the opportunity.  In my family it was sort of an unwritten rule that the men don’t cook, but every day after working with my dad on our farm, I would sit in the kitchen with my mom while she was cooking.  When I came to the U.S. there was no one to cook for me so I had to learn.  I didn’t speak English yet, so I got a job as a server’s assistant in a Mexican restaurant.  I couldn’t afford to eat there, but I noticed that the customers were paying $3.99 just for a plate of beans and rice, so that was one of my first experiments.  The first few tries did not come out right. I stirred the rice too much and it was almost like a dough, but I realized that I could use this technique to make a certain style of Guatemalan tamale, so all was not lost.  Eventually though I figured out my own version of Guatemalan beans and rice – a recipe made partly from what now seems like a dream of my mom cooking back home and partly from the reality of learning on my own.  Since I came to the U.S., I’ve reached three out of four of my goals. I have worked my way up from server’s assistant, to server, and for the last five years I’ve been a manager.  I’m learning a lot about the restaurant business, but someday I want to have my own place and sell my own food made from my own recipes.

I found family in the U.S… Not the kind you are born into; the kind you make out of the circumstances life gives you.  In this family there is a daughter who is ten years old, but I’ve known her since she was two.  When she was little, I made her my black beans and rice.  In Guatemala, we blend our black beans into more of a paste, but where we live in Oklahoma, whole pinto beans are more common.  She had never had Guatemalan food before, so when she saw the beans she yelled, “chocolate beans!” because they looked like chocolate to her.  We didn’t know if she would like them since they weren’t going to taste like chocolate, but to this day she asks me to make “chocolate beans” for her. 


References

  1. Wilk, Richard and Barbosa, Livia, Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places (London/New York: Berg Publishers, 2013), 304 pages.
  2.  Wikipedia. 2020. “Rice and Beans.” Last modified December 5, 2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_and_beans

Memories of Akara and Acaraje

By Ozoz Sokoh

Kitchen Butterfly & Feast Afrique

Taste Memories

To this day, wherever I am, Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, I have a specific Saturday morning taste memory of bread, ogi and Akara lodged in my head, and heart I daresay. I spent many Saturday mornings as a teenager soaking black-eyed beans till the skins softened, then rubbing them between my palms to strip the creamy halves of their cloaks before turning that into a thick enough puree, seasoned with red onions and scotch bonnet peppers, one with enough integrity to hold it together as it ‘fritters’ in hot oil

 

Two hands mixing together black-eyed beans over a steel bowl with liquid in it.
Acara

Comfort Food

Saturday mornings make me think of home more than any other day of the week. And I’ve been away from home a lot. So what do you do when you’re far away and discover the street food delicacy that’s Nigerian Akara is also Brazilian Acarajé? You feel all the emotions – from kinship to homesickness and saudade – and little of the comfort you desire. Instead, you find yourself deep in reflection as you eat an Akara sandwich, thinking about comfort food and what it means. I love the concept as an anchor of the soul but when I think of my Akara – born free, a dish I make to comfort myself – and put that next to Brazilian Acarajé, borne of the transatlantic slave trade, I wonder if comfort fully captures the range. 

Hand holding small colourful sandwich. There are several bowls with appetizing and colouful vegetables underneath.
Acaraje

Memory as Resistance

Across the world from Brazil to New Orleans, Georgia to the Caribbean, there are edible markers of West African culinary heritage, trails of deliciousness that span multiple ingredients and centuries, from farm or plantation – rice, coffee, pecans, vanilla – to table – calas, gumbo, sweetmeats, bean fritters, myriad cassava dishes and more. Enslaved women, men, and children remembered and transplanted knowledge-systems of wetland farming from the Grain Coast to the American South, birthing Carolina Gold. They folded knowledge into fritters and bakes, sweetened the bitter truth of humanity, and seasoned pots of soups and stews with wisdom. There’s something so powerful about leaving your mark, in spite of, despite it all. And there are wars fought and won over bubbling pots and roaring fires – battlefields of the heart and mind. Yes, there are many treasures gifted by enslaved West Africans, but no war leaves its victims unscathed.

Black spoon with small fritter in it.
Calas

Memory as Freedom

It takes might to transform some type of bitter to sweet, and enslaved West African women did it on the streets. They set up stands and stalls, seats by the side of the road paying homage to their homelands, feeding the masses and purchasing freedom. Today, centuries later, Acarajé remains sacred on the streets of Bahia. Its recipes – initially preserved, treasured and sustained by word of mouth – now live in words and taste buds across the world, proof that food and eating create the strongest memory banks which we draw from, time and time and time again. 

And so it is that when yet another Saturday comes by, you might find me, Akara sandwich in hand, fritters deep fried till golden and layered into Canadian Agege bread or challah buns (and on the best days, pieces torn by hand, uncorrupted by the silver of a knife). Is it Agege bread if it isn’t made under the sweltering hot Lagos sun? My taste bank is never confused. My memories draw on snatches of Saturday after Saturday, each contributing to the kaleidoscopic patchwork that’s yet another Saturday: the same yet different, tasting home, old and new. 

Hand holding sandwich made of white bread and fritters.
Akara sandwich

About

Ozoz Sokoh is a food explorer and geologist. A ‘Traveller by plate’, she believes that ‘Food is more than eating’. Central to her work is the celebration and preservation of Nigerian/West African cuisine, challenging myths and assumptions about its culinary legacy over 400+ years old and its impact on the world from the American South, through the Caribbean to Europe and Latin America. 

Her 12-year old blog, Kitchen Butterfly, is her creative space. In 2013, she articulated her  philosophy and practice in The New Nigerian Kitchen, focused on celebration and documentation: like the first-ever seasonal produce guide for Nigeria – only one of a handful on the continent. She recently launched Feast Afrique, a platform celebrating West African culinary heritage. One major aspect is a digital library of 240+ books, more than half of which document West African and Diasporic culinary heritage which she’s created as part of this. 

Her work has been featured on CNN African Voices and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. She makes her home in Ontario, Canada and wakes up to sun-streaked mornings on the couch, good book in hand with a pot of tea. She is a #FutureNewYorker.  

Food Identity Standards and Recipes as Legislation

By Clare Gordon Bettencourt 

In 1933, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) organized an exhibit that came to be known as the Chamber of Horrors. The horrors on display were examples of packaging intended to deceive consumers. The FDA organized the exhibit to call attention to the pervasiveness of dishonest dealings in the food marketplace, a marketplace that the FDA was ostensibly in charge of regulating. Despite the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s muckraking sensation The Jungle (and decades of organizing by grassroots campaigners), the FDA argued that the law offered inadequate regulatory power. 

Five years later, after another watershed public health crisis captured public attention, regulators repealed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and replaced it with the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. As a part of this overhaul, lawmakers looked to recipes as a new way to regulate food purity. 

In the process of evaluating why the Pure Food and Drug Act had failed, some believed that the 1906 law had been too negative by focusing on regulating adulteration rather than defining purity. The Consumers’ Guide newsletter of July 1938 explained:  “it named certain practices as taboo, but did not list the affirmative requirements of honesty and safety in the merchandising of food and drug products.”[1] One way the framers of the new law sought to balance the carrot with the stick was through a new form of legislative “recipes” called the food identity standard provision. 

The provision states: 

‘Whenever in the judgement of the Secretary such action will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers he shall promulgate regulations fixing and establishing for any food under its common or usual name so far as practicable, a reasonable definition and standard of identity, a reasonable standard of quality and/or reasonable standards or fill of container.’[2]

In short, this provision grants the FDA commissioner the power to create a grade of quality, standardize packaging fill, or establish a recipe (of sorts) for a commonly recognized food. With this new power, the FDA began writing standards detailing the permitted ingredients and production methods. In the first years, the FDA wrote standards for canned fruits and vegetables, jam, and a variety of egg and milk foods. 

The earliest food standards followed a format similar to a recipe a home cook might have used at the time. A good example of this is the canned pea standard enacted in 1940:

Pea standard published in the US Code of Federal Regulations, 1940

Though the standard contains some technical language like the scientific names for the acceptable pea varieties, and the option to include ingredients like dextrose and artificial coloring that home cooks may not have had in their pantries, for the most part the ingredients and method of this standard would have likely made sense to a home cook in 1940; it aligned with common home-canning practices.

 

“Don’t let pretty labels on cans mislead you, but learn the difference between grades and the relative economy of buying larger instead of small cans. The Pure Food Law requires packers to state exact quantity and quality of canned products, so take advantage of this information and buy only after thorough inspection of labels.” US Office for Emergency Management, 1942 Image Courtesy the Library of Congress.

The recipe format is significant because it suggests a radical and somewhat romantic belief that national food regulations could be based on home cookery. The standardization process also suggests that one single standard could be established that would align with the expectations of consumers across backgrounds, regions, and socioeconomic categories. Despite the innovation of detailing exactly what made a food “pure”, the recipe format operated under the assumption that industrial food production and home food production were analogous. While this approach was possible for foods like canned peas, new processed foods that did not exist outside of industrial preparations (like pasteurized prepared cheese food product), particularly in the postwar period, would go on to test how standards were written, and whether a recipe format continued to be applicable. Since the implementation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the FDA has created more than 300 standards of identity. While the recipe format has changed since 1938, the process demonstrates the centrality of recipes to state-level notions of purity, identity, and integrity. 

 

[1] Agricultural Adjustment Administration, “Consumers’ Guide”, Volume V Number 6, July 1938

[2] 34 Stat. 768 (1938) http://constitution.org/uslaw/sal/052_statutes_at_large.pdf

Bulk Medicine and Waged Labor in Eighteenth-Century London

By Zachary Dorner

In the eighteenth century, druggists, chemists, and apothecaries began producing medicines in larger quantities for sale in a variety of markets, resulting in a more coherent manufacturing sector in Britain. Making medicines at such scale typically involved labor-intensive chemical processes occurring in laboratories that resembled other early industrial spaces as sites of work. We can catch a glimpse of these spaces in images like the frontispiece of the chemist Francis Spilsbury’s Friendly Physician (1773) where two figures toil with mortars, stills, and other instruments in the background, separated from the well-organized shop in the image’s foreground. A variety of business records from period pharmacies, including wage books, inventories, and recipes, enable us to uncover a little more about those indistinct figures bent over their work.

Figure 1: Interior of a pharmacy. From Spilsbury, The Friendly Physician (1773). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

The increasing concentration of labor and capital in London’s medical marketplace encouraged men and women to set up laboratories, big and small, around the city, as seen in contemporary fire insurance policies. These laboratories were no longer artisanal workshops, though also not yet the steam-powered production lines of the nineteenth century. Alchemical techniques formerly applied to the transmutation of metals found use in the production of medicines in these spaces, such as the chemical laboratory depicted in William Lewis’s Philosophical Commerce of Arts (1763). They could contain machinery for grinding, pounding, and sifting drugs (the raw materials for compound medicines), as well as high-pressure boilers and furnaces for distillation and drying. Open fires were common beneath hundred-gallon stills, evaporating pans, condensers, copper boilers, and stoves. If temperatures went unmanaged, ingredients could burn, ruining a preparation; even worse, stills could boil over or even explode. Manufacturing medicines with this equipment required significant inputs of energy, increasingly supplied by waged labor forces during the eighteenth century.

Figure 2: A view of William Lewis’s chemical laboratory. From Lewis, Commercium Philosophico-Technicum (1763). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

Some traces of their daily routines can be found in recipe books from Corbyn & Company, one of the highest volume producers and distributors of medicine in London at the time. A recipe for flower of benzoin (benzoic acid, a topical antiseptic also used for a variety of internal matters) from the 1760s, for example, evokes the work of pharmacy. To start the process, several hundredweight of gum benzoin, a fragrant resin from the benjamin tree of Sumatra and Java, had to be purchased at auction and carted to the partnership’s laboratory at Cold Bath Fields where it would be pressed and milled, requiring several days, multiple men, and lots of charcoal. These manipulations were followed by 50 days purifying the resin through distillation (called rectifying). All in all, Thomas Corbyn estimated that the production of benzoin took 63 days and cost about 2 shillings per day for the work, which also included cleaning the distillation equipment, wear and tear of the machinery, and extra expenses (such as 8 weeks of beer for the workers costing 18 pence per week). These costs, nevertheless, remained relatively minor compared to the sometimes quite significant costs of raw materials, thus incentivizing production at scale.

Figure 3: Flower of benzoin costing from Thomas Corbyn’s miscellaneous papers, c. 1760, MS.5448/2, Wellcome Collection.

Corbyn & Co. shipped much of the medicine they produced, such as the hard-pressed flower of benzoin, to the overseas markets provided by imperial institutions, such as the Royal Navy, East India Company, transatlantic slave trade, and Caribbean plantations. With increasing demand at home and aboard, political support, and capitalization, London’s pharmacies kept growing in the early nineteenth century, with some of them providing the seeds of several of today’s major pharma firms.

Figure 4: Glass medicine bottles for export used in the eighteenth century. Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.

It can be surprisingly easy to miss the labor in London’s laboratories that underwrote the expanding production of medicines in eighteenth-century London. A chemist’s or druggist’s work area has received far less attention in histories of capitalism or industry than the cotton mill, for example. Recipes and other business records from London’s pharmacies, however, offer an opportunity to begin reconstructing the rhythms of work in these spaces and reintegrate them into studies of economy, labor, and health.

Figure 5: Plan of the laboratory at Apothecaries’ Hall, 1823. From The Origin, Progress and Present State… (1823). Image credit: Wellcome Collection, London.