To help celebrate Mardi Gras we asked Zella Palmer, director of Dillard University’s Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture and a leading scholar of African American foodways, to recommend a distinctly New Orleans recipe. She selected a recipe for calas (KAH-luhs) — sweet, deep-fried fritters made from leftover rice that were typically sold in the 19th century by female African American street vendors, both before and after emancipation.
This particular recipe was provided by New Orleans historian and social worker Madame Barbara Trevigne. It appears in Palmer’s 2019 compilation, Recipes and Remembrances of Fair Dillard, 1869-2019 (University of Louisiana Press).
To learn more about Dillard’s work as a Partner in the Legacies of American Slavery initiative, visit the Ray Charles Program’s website and YouTube channel.
This image of a calas vendor accompanied an article by George W. Cable in the February 1886 issue of Century Magazine.
- 2 cups of mushy cold rice
- 6 teaspoons of flour
- 3 heaping tablespoons of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg
- Powdered sugar
- 3 eggs
- Peanut oil or vegetable oil
Mix the cold mushy rice and dry ingredients together thoroughly. Add the eggs and when thoroughly mixed, drop by spoonful into hot deep oil in 360 degree temperature. Fry until golden brown and drain on brown paper bag. Sprinkle literally with powdered sugar. Serve hot. Calas should never be eaten cold.
Overcook the rice the day before and keep in refrigerator. Maintain mixture below 70 degrees because the batter will separate when dropped in the hot oil. If you are planning on cooking lots of Calas, be sure to keep the ingredients in the refrigerator. If not, the consistency of the mixture will become watery and separate. It has to remain cold.
Tout chaud calas, Tout chaud calas
Belle calas, Belle calas
Tout Chaud Calas, donnez moi un picayune
Belle Calas, Monsieur et Madame. Pour vous.
Merchants in New Orleans frequently called and sang out their items for sale to attract customers. One popular vendor was the calas lady. The calas lady could be found selling her delicious calas near the St. Louis Catholic Church, or walking along the levee by the Mississippi River. Each merchant sang a catchy tune about their item to attract the housewife. When the call of the vendor was heard, women do-popped (peeping through their shutters) and came out to inspect and purchase the goods. Not only were there food merchants, there was the rag man, the fruit man, and the Cowan man who traveled first by mule-drawn carts, which graduated to trucks. It was the cadence of their songs and the freshness of their food that made a good dinner. Calas was breakfast Mardi Gras morning and after First Communion (Little Communion), with hot chocolate.
The memory of my maternal grandmother Emily Broyard Trevigne making calas, and the smell of her calas, fill my heart with joy. The simplicity of food makes a family gathering a treasure trove of love.