Belles Calas

When it rained, we sat in Mama’s kitchen and listened to old Tante Zoe. She talked all the time when she was cooking, about what she was making and how she knew how to do it right from the old days. If she was making a big dinner for special guests, she’d say why she was serving this because it was something you’d serve, “To the mayor, not the bishop!” Then she’d sing and talk to herself, look up, smile and coo like the soft old dove she was and make us molasses butter to put on the morning biscuits.

Poppa smoked his pipe in the house, but Zoe said she had better manners than to smell up the furniture cushions and puffed on hers in the swing on the back porch. Zoe ran that house more than he did. Mama was Zoe’s lamb from the manger, to her an icon of love itself, and that was that. He knew that Zoe was listened to outside our house, had the respect of everyone up and down St. Charles. And in those days, that was saying a lot. I don’t think Mama ever knew Zoe the way everyone else did.

Sunday mornings she’d fry rice beignets, the calas. She’d put a little water and a yeast cake in some old rice she had on the back of the stove, cover it and in the morning mix in eggs, flour and sugar into a loose dough and drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. And she’d tell us how they used to sing, the ladies in the Quarter selling their calas, ““Belles calas! Mo gaignin calas, guaranti vous ve bons! Belles calas, belles calas!” and the girls would bring baskets to fill and take them back to the bedrooms where the men were waiting.

Calas (Beignets Riz)

Add two packets of yeast mixed with a cup of warm water and a tablespoon of sugar to two cups well-cooked rice mashed to pulp. Cover and let it work overnight. In the morning, add four beaten eggs, a half cup sugar, a teaspoon pure vanilla and hefty pinches of nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Mix in enough plain flour to make a thick batter and drop by spoonful into very hot oil. Dust with powdered sugar while hot, and serve at once. Calas don’t keep.

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