Mississippi residents have developed a wide variety of ways to prepare rice. Methods range from simply boiling the grain cereal in water to complex composed dishes involving a variety of vegetables, meats, seafood, and seasonings. One common side dish, rice and gravy, is often listed on restaurant “meat-and-three” menus as a vegetable. The gravy is typically brown and derived from roast beef drippings. The practice of combining rice and beans, with or without meat, is also pervasive in the South. In Mississippi, red, black, and white beans are all blended with rice. Cajun-influenced red beans and rice can be found in all regions of the state, as can black beans and rice, a culinary contribution of Spanish-speaking cultures. The red rice of South Carolina and Creole rice of Louisiana are close cousins of what came to be known as Spanish rice, a popular suppertime meal in Mississippi after World War II. It is flavored with tomatoes, green pepper, and onions. “Boxcar” lima beans and butter beans frequently accompany rice in the Magnolia State. Hoppin’ John, a type of bean pilaf, is made by cooking black-eyed peas, often in pork-seasoned broth, and mixing them with rice. In many parts of the South, Mississippi included, Hoppin’ John is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck.
In recent years gumbos have become commonplace on Mississippi restaurant menus, and not just on the Coast. These stews are usually served atop a bowl of boiled rice. Mississippians have also readily adopted “dirty rice,” another legacy of the South Louisiana Cajun culture. Some cooks, uncomfortable with the name, prefer to call it “rice dressing,” but whatever the label, it, too, is a composed rice dish augmented by chopped chicken giblets.
Elementary schools in mid-twentieth century Mississippi regularly served plain boiled rice that children were expected to eat as a side dish with a sprinkling of sugar on top. Rice pudding, moistened with milk and sweetened with sugar, remains a popular dessert.
Mississippi is home to Chinese-style rice cookery as a legacy of the post–Civil War immigrants who were brought to the Delta in experiments to replace freed slaves on the plantations. A number of Chinese immigrants went into the grocery business. The first Chinese grocery in Mississippi likely opened in the 1870s. Chinese restaurants serving fried and steamed rice are found today in virtually every Mississippi community. Food historian John Egerton believed the first one was Greenville’s How Joy, which opened in 1968.
The Delta is also home to a significant Lebanese and Syrian population whose ancestors came to the region in the late nineteenth century. Many of these immigrants got their start in business by selling dry goods door-to-door. A typical style of Lebanese rice cookery practiced in Delta kitchens involves browning broken pieces of vermicelli in butter and then boiling them with rice in water or broth.
- Jackson Clarion-Ledger (10 September 2003)
- John Egerton, Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History (1987)
- Mississippi History Now website, http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us
- Doreen Muzzi, Delta Farm Press (1 December 2000)
- Hal White, interview by Fred Sauceman (27 August 2003)
- Statista website, www.statista.com