NEW ORLEANS – No beans about it: Red Beans and Rice, that New Orleans Monday night staple, is one of the most iconic dishes served in this country. As the tale goes, Monday was washing day, leaving little time to do any cooking. The washers, who were also the cooks, took the hambone or some leftover pork meat from Sunday’s supper and let it stew in a pot of beans all day to feed their families a tasty Monday night dinner. For hundreds of years, this cultural phenomenon has been nothing but talk, and its significance as an important contribution to southern foodways has never been officially recognized until now – Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana is finally giving the beans their due!
On Monday, March 22, 2021, the governor will issue a statewide declaration and his signed proclamation will go in the history books as Red Beans & Rice Day! For each consecutive year, March 22 may not land on a Monday, but it will remain a day to proclaim the importance of Red Beans & Rice in Louisiana’s culture. Who’s to say you cannot celebrate it twice in one week, the Monday before and its rightful appointed official day. That seems to go with the territory!
Camellia Brand, the oldest bean company in America, began selling dried Red Kidney Beans in New Orleans’ famous French Market in 1923, and to this day, that bean with its deep red hue is still the most popular in the extensive Camellia Brand line.
“Red Beans are to New Orleans what the White Bean is to Boston and the Cowpea is to South Carolina,” reporters on the Federal Writers Project wrote in 1938. The red kidney bean is so symbolic of the region that non-Louisianians may be surprised to learn that the red kidney bean is not actually native to Louisiana. While there’s no historical record as to why the red bean came to be distinguished in the Monday ritual, it is thought that the tradition probably came from exiles from the French Caribbean in the early nineteenth century. The dish made its debut in print at the turn of the century in The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, one of the earliest recipe books published in New Orleans.
New Orleans’ best-known cooks have paid tribute to the renowned bean: “This is a red bean city here,” stated Willie Mae Seaton, the famed fried chicken and bean cook at The Scotch House. Buster Holmes, one of the most respected red bean cooks in New Orleans, remarked that, “New Orleans has always been a red bean town, and as far as I can see, it always will be.” And, of course, Louis Armstrong, New Orleans’ favorite son, famously signed letters and autographs with “Red beans and ricely yours”. He took the dish so seriously that before marrying his wife, the Bronx-born Lucille Wilson, he asked if she could cook red beans and rice. She learned, and they remained happily married until his passing. “As for red beans and rice, well, I don’t have to say anything about that,” Armstrong wrote. “It is my birthmark.”