The dynamic duos of rice and beans and peas and rice have their roots in the Akan, Aja, Yoruba and Igbo kitchens in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and Gabon. When Africans arrived in the Americas, they continued cultivating these crops, so rice and beans dishes can be found throughout the African diaspora: red beans and rice; Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice); black beans and rice; and pigeon peas and rice. The popularity of these dishes as staples and special occasion foods continued after the abolition of slavery.
In the seventeenth century, West Africans from Cape Verde to the Gold Coast cultivated large amounts of rice. They grew so much rice, in fact, that they became known as the people of the Rice Coast. White rice planters in the South sought out West Africans for purchase as slaves because of their knowledge of rice cultivation. These West Africans brought their methods of cooking long-grain rice with them to the colonial South. The African cook made her greatest culinary mark on areas like Savannah, where blacks outnumbered Europeans. Mulatto rice is evidence of diasporic links between Africa and several regions of the Americas. Zora Neale Hurston begins and concludes her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God with rice and bean dishes. While Janie tells her friend Phoebe about how her grandmother escaped from slavery in Savannah and migrated first to Atlanta and then to West Florida, Janie is enjoying a plate of mulatto rice. “Mah mulatto rice ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease, but Ah reckon it’ll kill hungry,” says Phoebe. “Ah’ll tell you in a minute,” Janie says, lifting the cover off the plate. “Gal, it’s too good. You switches a mean fanny round in a kitchen.”
Mulatto Rice Recipe
6 strips bacon
½ cup onions, minced
2 cups water
1 cup tomatoes, diced
1 cup rice
Fry bacon in a pan then remove the bacon and brown a minced onion in the bacon grease. Next, add diced tomatoes. After it is hot, add a pint of rice to the mixture, and cook slowly until the rice is done.
Source: Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food: Recipes, Remedies and Simple Pleasures