Red Beans and Rice: A Monday Tradition

Team photographer Robert Giglio's mother made these red beans last Monday. A perfect example of the Louisiana custom. Photo by Robert Giglio

 

To the rest of the country, red beans and rice is a New Orleans tradition. In New Orleans, it is a Monday tradition.

Growing up in Louisiana, I remember seeing Monday specials for red beans and hearing people say they wanted the dish solely because it was Monday.  Red beans on Monday was a generally accepted fact.  It wasn’t until recently that I stopped and thought, “Why Monday?”

The answer came out in the wash.

Before washing machines, women in New Orleans would do laundry by hand — using a crank and wringer, sometimes boiling the clothes.  And on laundry day, they needed to prepare a dinner that didn’t need a lot of TLC. Thus the tradition of making red beans on washday, Monday. My aunt once described the facility of cooking the soft, spicy beans by explaining that they cook themselves when left on a simmer.

I know this practice may sound like a myth.  But, in my 20 some interviews with Ninth Ward residents, the majority has recalled making, eating or smelling red beans on a Monday — without a question prompting them.

Former Ninth Warders Joan Lee, her husband Jefferson Lee and sister Jane Miceli spilled the beans on the custom, whimsically describing the aroma of red beans drifting through the old neighborhood on Mondays.

[audio:http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/files/2012/07/RedBeansClip1.mp3|titles=Red Beans on Monday]

Feeling inspired to whip up this New Orleans staple? I previously posted my family’s recipe here on my cooking and lore blog, The Old Country Blog.

Changing Planet

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Caroline Gerdes recently graduated from Louisiana State University where she studied journalism and history (her major and minor, respectively). As a native of the Greater New Orleans Area, she decided to explore her own backyard with help from a Young Explorers Grant. Caroline is currently conducting an oral history project about the New Orleans Ninth Ward. She seeks to record the community’s full history — its immigrant beginnings, the development of jazz, the depression and prohibition, desegregation and hurricanes. Caroline’s exploration is also a personal quest as her father and paternal grandparents grew up in the Ninth Ward. Her blogs reflect an inside look at New Orleans life and culture, especially the edible aspects.