Calas can still be found today in the open-air markets of Africa, where they were originally given their name in the native Bantu tongue of the region. This simple rice fritter arrived in New Orleans in the minds and hearts of the enslaved rice-growing peoples from Africa. During the French colonial period (before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803), the Code Noir decreed that slaves were required to have at least one day off each week. That day was often devoted to street vending. “Calas, calas, belles calas tout chauds” was the call that heralded the arrival of the calas lady. Calas had almost been forgotten when the Slow Food movement began to promote their revival.
Representing the local Slow Food convivia, I served calas on a cold winter day at the Uptown market when we held a benefit to help raise money to cover farmer Jim Core’s medical expenses. Using his horse-drawn plow, Jim had suffered an accident that nearly severed his foot. He had no medical insurance and the future of his three-generation farm looked grim—but all the city’s best chefs and market vendors rallied to raise funds to help Jim and his wife Gladys hang on to their family farming tradition.
In a bowl, combine rice, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg; mix well. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
Heat vegetable oil for deep-frying to 360 degrees. Carefully drop rice mixture by spoonfuls into hot oil and fry until brown. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot.
Recipe compliments of Poppy Tooker
Market Umbrella is an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3), based in New Orleans, whose mission is to cultivate the field of public markets for public good. Market Umbrella has operated the Crescent City Farmers Markets (CCFM) since 1995.
The Crescent City Farmers Market operates weekly year-round in four New Orleans neighborhoods. The CCFM hosts nearly 80 local small farmers, fishers and food producers, and more than 100,000 shoppers annually.