Rice is cheap and everywhere available in the West nowadays, and it is easy to forget that it was once a slightly mysterious delicacy imported from far-away places. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) of 6 November 1854 reprinted a piece from the English paper, the Mark Lane Express, which described the use of this food, particularly in relation to its value to “the million.” The million were of course the “poorer sort,” “the lower orders,” "the many" - in other words, the cottagers and labourers and other menial workers of the land and their families. I give you the first half of the article (the second part detailed the chemistry and nutritional beliefs related to rice at that time.)
Food for the Million: Rice.
RICE, although the food of a larger number of the inhabitants of the globe than any other kind of corn, is yet scarcely included in the daily bill of fare of the English labourer. This no doubt arises from the fact of its not being the produce of our climate. But such is no reason - seeing that we have become so dependent ujion foreign produce - but the contrary, if its merits recommend it; for it frequently occurs that when a deficient harvest is experienced in one climate, another has an abundant one, so that it manifestly becomes the interest of the inhabitants of the two to reciprocate with one another in the consumption of food, each accustoming itself to use so much of that of the other as circumstances may require. And we may just remind our readers that habit is necessary to reconcile the stomach of communities to this or that species of food.
Rice is deficient of gluten and fat, two of the most important elements of food for a hard-working man - a circumstance greatly against its introduction and use in this country. From infancy we ourselves have been rather partial to it, in puddings of every kind, and by way of experiment, used it one year during nearly four months, dining wholly upon it daily; but it will not do to work upon, for we not only lost weight but strength, and were glad to get hold of a beefsteak or mutton chop again at dinner.
It was cooked for us in various ways, but principally plain, the rice being boiled whole, and eaten with sugar, marmalade, jam, butter, cream, olive oil, or palm oil. When the rice is boiled with milk, and then baked with eggs, it proves a more substantial pudding, but too expensive for the table of the labourer, both as to cooking and nutritive value.
We also used rice-meal porridge to breakfast for nearly fourteen days in succession, cooking and eating it with milk the same as oatmeal porridge, with this exception, that we used a little ground nutmeg, ginger, and sugar, along with salt, for seasoning. But, although eaten with milk, it has not stamina for a working man; otherwise it is a very cheap diet, and easily cooked, not requiring one-third of the time which whole rice does.
Rice is frequently eaten along with curries or fricasees, made either of fish, fowl, game, or butcher-meat, or any compound of them - or, in short, any hash of animal food; and this is probably the best plan in which it is now brought to table. Eaten in this way it supplies the place of potatoes, with which it corresponds in chemical analysis, and makes a sufficiently savoury and substantial diet for a ploughman. On this he can perform his task daily from one year's end to the other without reason to complain. The following is a comparative analysis of dried rice and potatoes, from "The Chemistry of Common Life," in proof of what we have just said of them:
Gluten 7½ 8
Starch, &c. 92½ 92
From this it will be seen that the nutritive value of rice is rather under than above potatoes; but so near equality, that the difference would be immaterial in practice, were other things equal. Other things, however, are not quite equal, being more in favour of the latter, we believe, than the former. The mechanical construction of the two, for instance, is very different; the granules of the one being angular, and the other globular. Those of rice, for instance, are angular, and not half the size of the irregularly globuse-like granules of the potato; and besides, there are other chemical differences than gluten, for rice is rather constipating, while potatoes are the opposite.
The investigation of this subject, however, is yet in a very imperfect state, for both chemistry and physiology have much to do before we possess accurate information as to the constituent elements, cookery, and nutritive qualities of rice. We ourselves have had several years' experience of potato-fed labourers, but none of rice; and the experiments we have made personally for our own information are not sufficient to establish the question as to the superiority of the one over the other. Our opinion, however, has been generally concurred in, and is also corroborated to some extent by physical evidence. An Irishman, for instance, is not so "pot-bellied" as a Hindoo, which proves, as some have argued, the soundness of the conclusion; for the reason why the latter has been obliged to distend his stomach to a greater degree, arises from the fact that his diet – rice - is less nutritive, and he therefore must consume a larger quantity of it, while the former is capable of performing a larger amount of work. This latter conclusion may be qualified to some extent by the difference of climate under which the two labourers have to work; and it may also be said that the Hindoo has a more liberal supply of rice – i.e, is better fed.
Rice is found growing wild around the edges of many lakes in Hindustan. What is thus grown is smaller than any of the cultivated kinds, but superior in quality, fetching a high price, and is principally used by the higher classes, who esteem it a "dainty dish."
The different varieties of rice are cooked much after the same manner, but in various ways. It may be boiled, for instance, or stewed, or steamed; and in Java a practice prevails of half boiling half-steaming. It is sometimes boiled loose in an iron pot or pan, or vessel of stone-ware; and when sufficiently done, the water in which it is boiled is strained off, and the rice allowed to steam for a short time over the fire, prior to being dished. Currie, sweetmeats, olive, palm-oil, or sauce of some kind is sometimes poured over it: and in other cases the natives dip the rice in the oil, &c, or eat it along with fish, fowl, or meat of some kind. It is in other cases tied loose in a cloth, and then put into boiling water. The Javanase rice-pudding already referred to is cooked thus:
They take a conical earthen pot, which is open at the large end, and perforated all over ; this they fill about half full with rice, and putting it into a larger earthen pot, of the same shape, fined with boiling water, the rice in the first pot soon swells, and stops the perforations, so as to keep out the water ; by this method the rice is brought to a firm consistence, and forms a pudding, which is generally eaten with butter, oil, sugar, vinegar, and spices.
We quote the foregoing from Dr. Hooper's Medical Dictionary, and the same author adds that " the Indians eat stewed rice with great success, against the bloody flux ; and in most inflammatory diseases, they cure themselves with only a decoction of it."
In this country numerous recipes are given for the cooking of rice. “Domestic Cookery, by a Lady," for instance, gives no fewer than twenty-two of them, besides various other dishes, in which it forms a part. But out of this long list, few are fit for the table of the hard-working man, principally owing to expense, but in some cases to too watery a form. We quote one or two of the most likely to be useful.
Casserole of Rice. - Take some well picked rice, wash it well, and boil it five minutes in water; strain it, and put it into a stew-pan, with a bit of butter, a good slice of ham, and an onion; stew it over a very gentle fire till tender ; have ready a mould lined with very thin thin slices of bacon; mix the yolk of two or three eggs with the rice, and then line the bacon with it, about half an inch thick; put into it a ragout of chicken, rabbit, veal, or anything else. Fill up the mould, and cover it close with rice; bake it in a quick oven an hour, turn it over, and send it to table in a good gravy or curry sauce.
Divesting the above of artistic ceremony and outward appearance, our readers will perceive that more than a labouring man may make a comfortable dinner of the odds and ends of cold meat of any kind, stewed with rice and eggs; for, if properly done in the stew pan, the latter process of moulding and baking will add little to its nutritive value. Rice, bacon, and eggs, in the pan, would make the heart of many a poor man glad, before he got the length of his own cottage door to dinner; and if he could afford rabbit, veal, or fowl-then, dividing the bacon and eggs, and making two or more dinners with the necessary quantity of rice to each, would be a very great improvement. When parties do not like onions, any other of the many articles for seasoning may be added, according to taste.
Rice Pudding With Fruit.- Swell the rice with a very little milk, over the fire; then mix fruit of any kind with it (currants, gooseberries scalded, pared and quartered apples, raisins, or black currants) with one egg in the rice to bind it, boil it well, and serve with sugar.
Baked Rice Pudding.-Swell rice as above, then add some more milk, one egg, sugar, allspice, and lemon peel; bake in a deep dish.
Miss Leslie of Philadelphia, the author of "American Domestic Cookery," gives the following recipe for making a baked rice pudding, without eggs, viz. :
Half a pint of rice, a quart of rich milk, four heaped teaspoonfuls of brown sugar, a heaped teaspoonful of powdered cinnamon. Pick the rice clean; and wash it through two cold waters, draining it afterwards till as dry as possible. Stir it into a deep dish containing a quart of rich milk, add the sugar and ground cinnamon. Set the dish into the oven, and bake the pudding three hours. It may be eaten warm, but is best cold. This is a very good pudding, and economical when eggs are scarce. Some fresh butter stirred in just before it goes to the oven, will improve the mixture.
We are not insensible to the use of an oven, but many poor people are minus such a privilege, and even if they had one, they have not the means of heating it three or four hours daily. Ground rice, boiled from five to ten minutes in rich milk, with sugar and cinnamon, will make just as nourishing a pudding as the above American. If eggs, butter, or fruit are added, so much the better. The latter will require a little more boiling; but any cottager's wife can easily tell when a gooseberry is boiled. Made in the manner we propose, it will require constant stirring, and should be thick and croquant. After being put into a deep pudding dish, if it be placed on hot ashes before the fire for a few minutes before being sent to table, it will make it more firm and palatable. It should never be touched until cooled to blood heat throughout; and many, if not the majority, as Miss Leslie observes, would prefer it cold.