Gourmet Galley: Rice and good eating

If you’re from Louisiana, chances are you love rice. Many of us can’t remember family meals without rice.

I was born and raised in Acadia Parish. Its parish seat, Crowley, was nicknamed “The Rice Capitol of America” and the town’s motto is “Where Life is Rice and Easy.” For many years, Crowley was a major center for rice harvesting and milling.

Today, our state ranks third nationally in rice production with primary production and milling still centered in the southwestern part of the state, with a significant amount of the grain now produced in the northwestern sector.

Our universities have invested heavily in researching and developing better and better varieties that can now stand up against the best imported Asian rice.

Louisiana grows short, medium and long-grain varieties with long-grain being the most popular. Search the grocery shelves and buy anything grown and produced in Louisiana.

These are some of my favorites: Blanca Isabel purple rice, whole-grain brown, popcorn, pecan, jasmine and Jazzmen Aromatic Rice .

The International Rice Festival in Crowley is Louisiana’s oldest agricultural festival. It started in 1937 as the National Rice Festival, but it was renamed the International Rice Festival in 1946 when it resumed after a hiatus during World War II. This year marks the 77th International Rice Festival, which will be held Oct. 17-20. You can find information online at ricefestival.com.

Some of my fondest school memories were going to the rice festival in Crowley. It was a parish holiday for us and we went on school buses.

Besides all the rides, contests and exhibits, there was always “a celebrity” in the grand parade.

I remember seeing the late President John F. Kennedy and the first lady when he was the honoree. In all honesty, what I remember most was my friends and me shopping for earrings at the dime store with the dollar or two we had in our purses.

Your family probably has your own recipes for rice and gravy, red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo and étouffée, but here are two rice side dishes for you to try.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.