As far as is known, rice first was cultivated in China 7,000 years ago, but the date of its arrival in America is more exact. The year was 1694 and the place Charleston, S. C., where a ship from Madagascar stopped for repairs.
In appreciation for aid, the ship's captain presented a bag of rice to Henry Woodward, Charleston's first settler, as a farewell gift.
Since then, rice has never stopped being grown in this country, and its versatility has increased with the years.
Puddings, pilafs, dressings for poultry, regional specialties such as gumbo and jambalaya, and exotic dishes from the Middle East and the Orient appeared on American tables.
Rice also proved to be a base for cereals and flour - and a handy and symbolic grain with which to shower brides and grooms, a custom with roots in China.
It has come a long way since 1694, and now is available in four types. Regular, milled white rice, uncooked, is ready to use without washing.
Parboiled rice, sometimes described as converted rice, is processed to retain much of its mineral and vitamin content.
Precooked rice needs only a short cooking time, just long enough to absorb moisture. Brown rice, which uses most of the whole, unpolished grain,is popular because of its nutlike flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
Bear in mind that rice gains volume during cooking. One cup of uncooked white rice yields three or more cups of cooked rice.
Italian cooks will tell you that arborio rice from the Piedmont is the only rice to use for risotto and other Italian dishes. Other cooks rave about basmati rice from India, a long-grain rice especially suited to Middle Eastern dishes.
They are both fine, but in the southern part of the United States, especially in rice-producing areas, rice is included in daily menus, sometimes in all three meals.
New Orleans Creole cooking, that fascinating blend of French, Spanish, and Anglo-Saxon cuisine influenced by Indian and African cooks, has made excellent use of rice.
Gumbo, the star of Creole cookery is probably most popular in New Orleans when made with seafood and okra and seasoned with a spicy pepper sauce.
This hearty gumbo, a meal in a bowl, is ladled over a mound of fluffy rice and served with crusty bread. In the more leisurely past, gumbo simmered slowly for several hours. Shrimp Gumbo 2 tablespoons salad oil 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup chopped onion 1/3 cup chopped green pepper 1/3 cup chopped shallots 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 1-pound, 12-ounce can tomatoes 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen cut okra 1 small lemon, sliced 2 bay leaves 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper sauce 2 pounds cleaned, raw shrimp or 2 pounds frozen shrimp, thawed and drained
In large skillet, heat oil and blend in flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until dark brown. Add onion, green pepper, shallots, and garlic. Cook until onion is tender.
Stir in remaining ingredients except shrimp. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmmer 35 to 40 minutes. Add shrimp and cook 10 minutes longer. Serve over rice in soup lates. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
There is hardly a country that dowsn't have a special dish of chicken and rice. The following one comes from Georgia and combines two of the state's favorite foods, chicken and peanuts. Herbed Chicken and Rice 3 pounds chicken, cut in serving pieces Salt and pepper 1/4 teaspoon each savory, rosemary, and tarragon 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 cup melted butter or margarine 1 1/2 cups uncooked rice 1 1/2 cups diced celery 3 cups hot chicken broth 1/4 cup chopped peanuts 1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms
Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Mix savory, rosemary, tarragon, and lemon juice and add to butter. Dip chicken pieces in seasoned butter. Place in baking pan and bake at 400 degrees F. for 35 to 45 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, cook rice and celery in remaining seasoned butter until rice is golden. Add broth. Heat to boiling. Stir once. Cover.
Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and toss lightly with peanuts and mushrooms. Serve with chicken. Makes 6 servings.
There are many varieties of rice pudding. The following recipe is creamy and flavorful. When I make it, I stir a small handful of raisins into the hot-rice mixture. Creamy Rice Pudding 1/2 cup rice 4 cups milk 1/4 cup butter 3 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon cardamom 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine rice and 2 cups of milk in top of double boiler. Cook over hot water until rice is tender. Add butter. Beat eggs. Mix in sugar, vanilla, salt, cardamom, and remaining milk. Add hot-rice mixture. Mix well.
Pour into a greased, 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake in a 350 degree F. oven about 50 minutes, or until silver knife comes out clean. Makes 6 servings. Rice Brown Betty 2 cups applesauce 1/2 cup brown sugar Juice of a lemon 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/3 cup chopped nuts 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine 2 cups cooked rice 1/4 cup graham-cracker crumbs
Combine all ingredients in 8-inch casserole covering with graham-cracker crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees F. about 20 minutes. Top with whipped cream or lemon sauce. Serves 8.