Changing Planet

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.

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.
  • lsu tiger fan

    What no bay leaves?

  • Teresa

    As long as I can recall, Monday has always been red beans and rice day. Another good reason is on Sundays we usually had our best meal of the week, whether pork or beef roast, baked chicken, etc. So the leftovers of the meat portion did not go to waste and was offered with the beans.

  • […] actually a Monday night tradition in New Orleans, regardless of Mardi Gras, or any other occasion. The story behind this custom is that Monday was typically the day to do the weekly laundry. Before m…. Red beans are typically cooked with ‘The Holy Trinity’ along with a menagerie of Cajun spices […]

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media