Rice is nice!

My week started out without too many problems, other than having to come to Devine on Wednesday rather than on Tuesday, due to the death of a cousin of my Mother’s and since visitation and a rosary were on Tuesday evening, I drove to Devine on the 25th for bunco and have had to stay over due to the death of my cousin, Ernie (Buddy) Kroeger. His visitation was Sunday with the funeral to be Monday morning, so I am still in Devine with intentions of returning home on Tuesday (God willing).
The weather has been perfect for traveling with no rain, just some wind and on Wednesday morning, quite a bit of traffic, mostly coming toward me, and of course the usual road construction. Luckily, each time I was supposed to follow the car, I waited only a very short time. Then, Thursday morning, we received the call about my cousin and plans started changing. The only good thing that has come of all of this is that when I attended Mass in Devine on Sunday morning, I got to see several old friends and acquaintances and at Ernie’s visitation, there were a number of folks that I knew. Some were kinfolk and some weren’t. He was a wonderful person and a wonderful cousin who will be greatly missed.
Rice is one of the healthiest foods available to us; it is also one of the first cereals that is fed to infants, because it is so easily digested. In fact, even back in the ’50s and ’60s when my children were born, it was their first cereal. Rice water (the water the rice was cooked in) is given to children with digestive problems.
Throughout history, rice has been one of the most important food sources for man. At the present time, it is a major food source for about two-thirds of the world’s population. According to archeological evidence, it is believed that rice has been being cultivated for over 5,000 years. One of the earliest documented accounts is from a Chinese emperor from about 2800 B.C. After that, the cultivation of rice traveled across many lands, and even continents, until it found its way to the Western Hemisphere.
The original colonists got involved in the cultivation of rice by accident. In the early 1700s, a ship sailing from Madagascar almost sinking from storms at sea came ashore at Charleston, South Carolina. The captain of the ship made a gift of “Golde Seede Rice” to a local planter. The rest is history for rice cultivation in the United States. This type of rice became the standard of high quality throughout the rest of the world. Years later, by the time America gained its independence, the cultivation of rice had become a major agricultural business. The end of the Civil War brought an end to the era of large plantations with plenty of labor. Because of this, ravages of the weather, and a lot of competition from other crops, the cultivation of rice gradually moved toward the western United States. As soldiers returning from war were awarded plantations along the coasts, they became a new home for rice. The cost of labor was the only thing that kept the industry from expanding.’
During the Machine Age, beginning in 1884, every aspect of life was affected. It took a farmer from Iowa to point out that rice could be grown and harvested on the broad, flat, prairie lands of Texas and Louisiana, which had solid type of soil that would support the heavy equipment needed to work in the field.
The Gold Rush of 1849 brought people to California from areas of the world. They came from all nations, especially China. There were over 40,000 Chinese who arrived in California at that time. Since their major food was rice, it became a necessity for farmers in that part of the country to begin the cultivation of rice. The Sacramento Valley was found to have a heavy clay soil in which almost nothing else would grow. They soon discovered that rice would grow profusely in this type of soil After a few years California became one of the major rice-producing states.
At that time, rice planting was labor intensive. Today seed is planted to exact depths by grain drills. Another method of planting is by seeds being scattered over either dry or irrigated fields by airplane. (Wouldn’t our forbears be surprised by today’s planting methods?) Water is kept to a depth of two to three inches on the rice fields during the growing season and they are fertilized from the air.
When harvest time nears, the water is drained from the fields and the combines move in. The rice is cut, combined and funneled into trucks for removal to the nearest drying sheds. After this, the rice is usually sold to the highest bidder and goes on to the mill. At the mill, it is run through various sorting machines, shellers, and polishing machines. The finished product is the rice you and I buy in our local grocery stores.
What we see as “brown rice” is rice that has not been polished. It still has the bran hull in place and is supposed to be healthier for us than the polished, white rice that we all use.
Rice has been grown in the continental United States for well over 300 years. It is grown in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and, last, but by no means least, in Texas! (When I lived in Victoria and traveled back and forth to Yoakum to visit the grandparents, there were fields that you could tell were originally used for growing rice.) And, now, if you travel from Yoakum to Houston, or toward the coastal area, you are able to see rice fields and processing plants along the way, and many of them are in the Wharton area. There are thirty or more mills in the United States. The long, short and medium grains are all produced in various quantities, and about ninety or more percent of the rice produced in the United States is consumed here also.
Rice is a really versatile food, and we use it in many ways. It is so simple to add one-fourth to one-half cup of rice to a pot of soup or stew to thicken it. If you will par-boil about a half-cup of rice, it stretches a meatloaf very nicely. Of course, we are all familiar with Spanish rice, fried rice at our favorite Oriental restaurant, or just plain steamed rice served with gravy, and let’s not forget truly wonderful, baked sweet rice pudding!
Chicken and Rice Bake
1 can cream of chicken soup*
1 cup picante sauce (mild, medium or hot)
1/2 cup water
1 cup whole kernel corn, drained (buffet sized can, or a well-drained 15-oz sized can, or 1 cup frozen corn)
3/4 cup regular, long-grained white rice, (uncooked)
4 boneless chicken breast halves**
Paprika or chili powder
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Mix soup, salsa, water, corn and rice in a 9X13 baking dish; top with chicken and sprinkle with paprika or chili powder, cover tightly with a lid or foil, (I have used a metal baking pan that had a metal lid, or a glass baking pan covered with foil). Bake about 45 to 55 minutes or until the rice has soaked up all of the liquid and the chicken is cooked through. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese and put back in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts.
*I have used whatever cream soup is in the pantry, either chicken mushroom, or, our favorite is cream of onion.
**I use whole cut-up chicken, or leg/thigh quarters, instead of breasts. Breasts usually weigh about 1/2 or more pounds each, so use 2 to 3 pounds of chicken total.
Now, here’s a really great chicken and rice dish for your slow cooker.
Slow Cooker Chicken and Rice
3 cans (10¾-oz, each) condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cups uncooked instant rice
1 cup water
1 pound, boneless, skinless chicken breasts or breast tenders
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup diced celery
Combine soup, rice and water in a slow cooker (crock pot); add chicken with salt, pepper and paprika and sprinkle diced celery over chicken. Cover, cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.