Because I enjoy researching recipes from the 1800s, I’ve long been familiar with quick breads made with cooked rice. For some reason, however, I’d just never gotten around to baking a batch. Though when I was recently flipping through Toni Tipton Martin’s excellent cookbook Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking and saw she had included a recipe for rice muffins, I decided it was time to try this old-fashioned dish.
Now, for those unfamiliar with Toni’s work, she is a scholar and writer whose focus is on African-American foodways and history. I first met her in 2010 when she was part of a group of 50 that Robb Walsh tapped to help form Foodways Texas. A native Californian, at the time she was teaching at the University of Texas and living in Austin.
Before she came to Texas, however, she worked as a reporter under Ruth Reichl at the Los Angeles Times. After that, she lead the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s food section, making her the first African-American top food editor in the entire country. She was a trailblazer.
When she began her career, she noticed an absence of African-American representation in food media. Wanting to uncover these hidden voices, she started hunting for out-of-print cookbooks written by African-Americans. Save for superstars such as Edna Lewis, many of these black cooks, chefs, and home economists had fallen out of memory. Her mission was to bring them back to life.
Her first book, The Jemima Code, was an annotated bibliography of the works she’d uncovered. While compiling it, however, she realized a cookbook needed to follow, as she wanted to share the recipes of these unheralded authors, too. That collection became Jubilee , which recently won the James Beard Award for best American cookbook. It’s not only scholarly, but it’s also a beautiful book, displaying gorgeous photos by Dallas writer and photographer Jerrelle Guy, who’s the creator of the blog and cookbook, Black Girl Baking.
As Toni explains in her introduction to Jubilee, she grew up in an affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles that’s dubbed the Black Beverly Hills. Her neighbors included Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and Berry Gordy. While this was her black experience, as she grew older and saw more of the world around her, she learned that this contradicted the stereotype many had of black Americans, which was that they were poor and uneducated. This was not her reality at all.
When she went to compile her cookbook’s recipes, she included items that many associate with historical African-American cooking such as fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and okra salad. Though she culled recipes from black chefs and cooks working at a more sophisticated level, as well. She wanted this collection to represent all aspects of the African-American food experience and not just the “soul food” style. The book is diverse in its scope.
There are many attractive dishes in the book, but craving something warm and comforting, I started with the rice muffins. Toni’s version was inspired by one that was in a 1959 book called Plantation Recipes. This book was written by a South Carolina woman named Leslie Bowers, whose grandmother had been born into slavery. During those meager times, she noted that leftover rice, which was abundant in this rice-growing region, was often used to stretch loaves of bread.
Rice breads were once common in Texas, too, especially along the Gulf, where rice also grows. There are many approaches to using rice in bread, and for Jubilee’s rice muffins, cornmeal is incorporated, too, giving the muffins a familiar texture.
Indeed, these wonderful muffins have a buttery, crisp coating and are fluffy and a bit chewy on the inside. They are tender and moist and can be enjoyed as they are, but a pat of butter is also recommended. A fine breakfast, these rice muffins also go well with a pot of beans or soup.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Melt the butter on low heat.
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the buttermilk and cornmeal and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Add to the mixing bowl the rice, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and eggs, then stir until well combined. Pour in the melted butter and stir until well combined. The batter will be thick.
- Slide the muffin pan into the oven for a minute to get it hot. Remove the pan, then evenly fill the muffin cups halfway up with the batter.
- Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes until just beginning to brown and an inserted knife comes out clean. Serve warm.
You probably know (or maybe you don’t! ) how hard It is to find flour of any kind (and yeast). Well, it’s also hard to find GOOD rice, ie., Texmati, good basmati, etc. (Kroger‘s bagged broken rices are sometimes available.)
Just thought I’d pass that along.
Thanks again for all your great recipes and stories.
Alex–Thank you for sharing. Where do you live? I’m in Dallas and Central Market has had an abundant stock of flour and rice (including Texmati) for a couple of months. Back in March, everything was a challenge to find but that hasn’t been my experience for some time. I’m sorry that is still a common experience for others! How frustrating.
These items have been in short supply in NC until very recently, and there’re still signs in my supermarkets limiting bags of rice and flour to 1 item per customer–I’ve only found yeast at Aldi, but had plenty in my fridge left over from the holidays and I started sourdough that kept the homemade pizza dough–and sourdough waffles–going during the crisis. A 30 lb bag of imported Basmati which I bought several years ago carried us through. Local stores never ran out of dried beans, although canned goods of all kinds have been limited, as were frozen veggies. I plan to try these muffins for dinner tonight, and serve with beans. Meat was our biggest challenge from March until mid-July, but with plenty of fresh produce throughout the spring, we’ve eaten well, even if it took some improvisation. Your site has been a Godsend for ideas!
Janet–Thank you for the kind words! I’m so honored the site has helped you during this time. And the supply chain is so strange. While dried beans were elusive in Texas, I never had issues with rice. Flour and yeast were difficult in March but have been readily available since.
👍 recipe! I used self rising flour and no other salt or baking powder. I did have time to separate and whip the egg whites (and fold in). Using buttermilk was probably genius because everything else is pretty bland, it certainly gave them a gentle buttery tang. I used about 2 very generous tablespoons of honey instead of sugar, which was also a nice tang. I didn’t bother soaking the cornmeal (why?). Next time I’m going to add a speck of nutmeg.
Paul–So glad you enjoyed them and I love the idea to use honey and a dash of nutmeg! My thought on the soaking of the cornmeal is that it probably harkens back to a time when maybe it wasn’t as finely ground.
I come from a Czech-American family in Nebraska. Heavy meatpacking foods were always the rule. In dropping my meat consumption by a considerable amount, I was looking for something to do with brown rice. I saw this recipe, modified it with a Betty Crocker recipe and I’m thrilled! Thank you for posting this. I love to bake and give most of it away. Note: You don’t eat you’re own kolache, you give most of it away to the neighbors or people at church! Muffins usually make up my supper. This is perfect!
Mark–Love your philosophy about baking and giving it away!