A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 12, 2008
Cala (rice fritter)

Calas (seldom written in the singular “cala") are rice fritters that were popular in Creole New Orleans in the 19th century and early 20th century. These rice fritters or rice doughnuts seem simple and pleasant enough and should seemingly be popular throughout the South, wherever rice is served. However, calas are rarely found anywhere. Throughout the French quarter of old New Orleans, Creole women shouted: ‘’Belles calas, toutes chaudes!’’ ( ‘’Calas, nice and hot!’’ )

“Cala” is claimed to have an African origin.


(Dictionary of American Regional English)
cala n, also attrib
[From one or more West African languages, as Nupe kara a fried cake; Yoruba, Igbo Enk akara an oily cake made from beans ground and fried. Cf also Common bantu *kada to fry, roast]
A fritter, usu made of rice, sometimes of ground black-eyed peas: see quot 1945.
1880 Cable Grandissimes 133 LA, Frowenfeld entered after him calas in hand.
1883 Buel Mysteries of Cities 521 New Orleans LA, We were received by an aged negress, whose face was familiar to me as that of the “cala-woman” from whom I had often bought that dainty.
1931 Read La French 118, Cala...A sweetened rice cake, served with the morning cafe au lait, and formerly sold by the Creole negro women in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
1945 Saxon Gumbo Ya-Ya 32 New Orleans LA, A cala is a pastry which originated among Creole Negroes—a thin fritter made with rice and yeast sponge...yeast was concocted the night before, of boiled potatoes, corn meal, flour and cooking soda, left in the night air to ferment, then mixed with the boiled rice and made into a sponge. The next morning flour, eggs, butter and milk were added, a stiff batter mixed, and the calas formed by dropping spoonfuls into a skillet. Ibid 33, Some vendors sold not only calas or rice, but also calas of cow-peas, crying, Calas tout chauds, Madame, Calas au riz calas aux feves!
1958 Hughes-Bontemps Negro Folkl. 417, Cala Vendor’s Cry—One cup of coffee, fifteen cents calas, Make you smile the livelong day. Calas, tout chauds, Madame, Tout chauds! Git ‘em while they’re hot! Hot cakes!
1983 Reinecke Coll New Orleans LA, Cala [’kala]—a hot cake for breakfast, made of grated cooked rice. No longer sold, but still talked of.

(Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles)
cala n. La. [African kala (Bambara), with same meaning.] A rice cake. Also attrib.
1880 CABLE Grandissimes 133 Frowenfeld entered after him, calas in hand.
1882 BUEL 521 TGhe door was opened, and we were received by an aged negress, whose face was familiar to me as that of the “cala-woman,” from whom I had often bought that dainty.
1947 Chi Tribune 1 Nov. 14/8 I’ll have for you a recipe for a famous New Orleans specialty, calas or hot rice fritters.

Live Search Books
The Grandissimes:
A Story of Creole Life
by George Washington Cable
New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons
1880
Pg. 134:
It was a frugal one, but more comfortable than formerly, and included coffee, that subject of just pride in Creole cookery. Joseph deposited his calas with these things and made haste to produce a chair, which his visitor, as usual, declined.

Google Books
Lady Jane
by Cecilia Viets Jamison
New York, NY: The Century Company
1891
Pg. 38:
She had a stand for cakes and pralines up on Bourbon Street, near the French Opera House, and thither she went every morning, with her basket and pans of fresh pralines, sugared pecans, and calas tout chaud, a very tempting array of dainties, which she was sure to dispose of before she returned at night;...

Google Books
New Orleans As It Was:
Episodes of Louisiana Life
by Henry C. Castellanos
New Orleans, LA: L. Graham & Son
1895
Pg. 146:
Here Anglae, stately and gracious, with her turbaned head and ebony features wreathed in smiles, dispensed her steaming coffee to mo ti monn, as she patronizingly called her younger visitors, nor was the calas tout chaud ever omitted.

Live Search Books
Bob Covington
a novel
by Archibald Clavering Gunter
London: George Routledge and Sons, Limited
1897
Pg. 46:
Above them stridently comes from negresses with little cakes fried in grease: “Bels calas? Tout chauds!”

Google Books
Cooking in Old Creole Days: La Cuisine Creole a L’usage Des Petits Menages
by Celestine Eustis
R. H. Russell
1901
Pg. 69:
A SMALL CREOLE DINNER
TO THE DELEGATES OF
THE NEW ORLEANS PRESS CLUB, INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE PRESS CLUB,
In the Atheneum, corner of Clio and St. Charles Streets,
SATURDAY, 19TH FEBRUARY, 1898,
In the City of New Orleans, Louisiana,
(...)
In Louisiana they find good calas, (cake eaten with coffee).

Google Books
The Picayune’s Guide to New Orleans
revised and enlarged
Fifth Edition
New Orleans, LA: The Picayune
1903
Pg. 33:
The old Creole negresses are there, with quaint bandana and tignon, offering for sale “pralines” and “pain patates” and “calas,” the latter a species of soft doughnut made of rice and flour.
Pg. 71:
“BELLE CALAS! TOUT CHAUDS!”

3 November 1907, New York (NY) Times, “The Famous Creole ‘Calas,’” pg. X8:
AN epicure who has traveled far, and who has eaten the food of many lands, met with a new culinary experience in New York last week. He was visiting a friend, a former resident of New Orleans, when he was delighted to be served with a new variety of fried cake.

In the good old days when “Tante Zoe” presided as mistress of the kitchen; in the days before the war, when New Orleans was the one spot in America where one could always enjoy the best of cooking, there were several old colored women who used to pass through the French quarter of the city every day selling a most wonderfully concocted cake that seemed to harmonize perfectly with the morning cup of coffee. These were the ancient “Calas,” for which one might search in vain through new Orleans today, unless he should be so fortunate as to be invited to partake of them at the home of some old creole family in which the secret of their preparation has been preserved for several generations.

And here is the recipe:

Cook half a coffeecupful of well-washed and carefully drained rice in three pints of boiling water. When it has become very soft, let it cool; then, mash it to a paste and mix it with half a cake of yeast. Set this to rise at night. The next morning, beat three eggs to a light froth, mix them thoroughly with the rice, and add half a coffeecupful of sugar, with about three tablespoonfuls of flour, and mix these ingredients into a thick batter by stirring and beating with a wooden spoon. When the proper result has been attained, let the batter rise for fifteen minutes more; add a little nutmeg to season, blend it perfectly, and fry in cakes like fritters, until each is a delicate brown.

To do this, of course, deep fat must be used, for no cake must touch the bottom of the frying pan. As each has acquired the proper tint, however, remove it cautiously from the sizzling fat and place it carefully on a hot piece of brown paper, that it may drain. Just before serving sprinkle the calas liberally with powdered sugar, but be sure to send them to the table while still very hot.

To fully enjoy the calas they should be accompanied to the breakfast table by a pot of the genuine French cafe au lait. To serve it in this fashion, make the coffee after your favorite recipe, then mix with it a little less than an equal quantity of boiling milk. A small pitcher of cold cream may accompany the coffee to the table, if desired, etc.

6 April 1912, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Jane Eddington’s Daily Articles on Cookery,” pg. 11: 
CALAS.
New Orleans, La.—“O, do you know calas?” asks my charming creole hostess. Some one then adds that they puff up like porpoises. I have to confess that I know them only by name, having seen this in stories with the New Orleans setting. The question is asked in so enthusiastic a tone that I really do not like to get down to the practical details, and there are other reasons why I come away without a recipe for these.

One is that I have already received favors in that way, and another is that the subject of conversation soon turns from things to eat to things to see, and I can not bring myself to force it back to calas. Therefore I turn to the Creole Cook Book, the only one of the several at hand, which says anything about calas.

“‘Belle cala! Tout chaud!’ Under this cry was sold by the ancient creole negro women in the French quarter of New Orleans a delicious rice cake, which was eaten with the morning cup of cafe au lait. The cala woman was a daily figure on the streets till within the last two or three years (this was several years ago). She went her rounds in quaint bandanna tignon, guinea blue dress and white apron, and carried on her head a covered bowl in which were the dainty and hot calas.

“Her cry, ‘Belle cala! Tout chaud!’ would penetrate the morning air, and he olden creole cooks would rush to the doors to get the first fresh, hot calas to carry to their masters and mistresses with the early morning cup of coffee. The cala women have almost all passed away.

“But the custom of making calas still remains. In many an ancient home the good housewife tells her daughters just how “Tante Zizi” made the calas in her day, and so are preserved these traditional recipes.

“From one of the last of the olden cala women, one who has walked the streets of the French quarter for fifty years and more, the Picayune has gotten the following established creole recipe:

“One-half cup of rice, three cups of boiling water, three eggs, one-half cup of sugar, one-half cake of compressed yeast, one-half teaspoon of grated nutmeg, powdered white sugar, boiling lard. Put three cups of water in a saucepan and let it boil hard. Wash half a cup of rice thoroughly, drain, and put into the boiling water. let it boil until soft and mushy. Take it out and set it to cool. When cold, mash well and mix with the yeast, which you will have dissolved in a half cup of hot water. Set the rice to rise over night.

“In the morning beat three eggs thoroughly and add to the rice, mixing and beating well. Add a half a cup of sugar and three tablespoons of flour to make the rice adhere. Mix well and beat thoroughly, bringing it to a thick batter. Set to rise for fifteen minutes longer. Then add about a half teaspoon of grated nutmeg and mix well.

“Have ready a frying pan in which there is a sufficient quantity of the lard boiling for the rice cakes to swim in it. Test by dropping in a small piece of bread. If it becomes a golden brown, the lard is ready, but if it burns or browns instantly the lard is too hot. The golden brown color is the true test.

“Tale a large, deep spoon and drop a spoonful at a time of the preparation into the boiling lard, remembering always that the cake must not touch the bottom of the pan. let it fry to a nice brown.

“The old cala women used to take the calas piping hot, wrap them in a clean towel, basket or bowl, and rush through the streets with the welcome cry, ‘Belle cala! Tout chaud!’ ringing on the morning air. but in families the cook simply takes the calas out of the frying pan and drains off the lard by laying in a colander or on heated pieces of brown paper. They are then placed in a hot dish, and sprinkled over with powdered white sugar, and eaten hot.

“The above quantity will make six cakes.

“Calas may be made of rice flour. In olden days the cala women used to pound the rice themselves in a mortar until they had reduced it to a fine powder of flour. Then it was mixed, and set to rise over night. If the rice flour is used, one tablespoon of wheat flour is sufficient to bind.

“Often in large creole families, where rice is left over from the day before, the quantity is increased by adding a cup of well-sifted self-raising flour. But these cakes, though very nice and palatable, are not the true calas, which are made entirely of rice, with only a little flour to bind.”

Google Books
The Picayune Creole Cook Book
Sixth Edition
New Orleans, LA: The Times-Picayune Publishing Company
1901, 1906, 1910, 1916 and 1922
Pg. 165:
Calas.
“Belle Cala! Tout Chaud!”
(The text is same as 1912 citation above—ed.)

Google Books
Creole Sketches
by Lafcadio Hearn
edited by Charles Woodward Hutson
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company
1924
Pg. 200:
These are new cries, with perhaps three exceptions;—with the old cries added to the list—the “calas” and the “plaisir” and other Creole calls, we might “spread out” over another column.

Google Books
Louisiana: A Guide to the State
by the Federal Writers’ Program of the Works Projects Administration of the State of Louisiana
New York, NY: Hastings House
1971
Pg. 666:
CALAS. A sweetened rice cake, served with the morning cafe au lait, and formerly sold in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Google Books
The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection
by Karen Hess
University of South Carolina Press
1998
Pg. 132:
As can be seen, calasakkra are applied to all manners of fritters, akkra being a term with the same meaning from West Africa, specifically the Yorubas, according to Jessica Harris. (Actually, I believe the term, as akkra, to derive from Arabic. In A Baghdad Cookery-Book [1226] I find a receipt entitled “Aqras Mukarrara,” manifestly the same word, particularly in light of the fact that the receipt concerns little round cakes of fermented dough stuffed with marzipan [the translation says “dressed"], fried in sesame oil, and finally strewn with scented sugar. What are they but doughnuts? I point out that they also were originally round lumps of dough. I have discussed Arab culinary influences in Africa in Chapter 3, “Pilau.” I am told that aqras designates a rounded cake, which is also the essential meaning of beignet [from buyne, Old French for rounded lump]. But from Africa comes a receipt entitled “Akla,” fritters of ground black-eye peas, given by Dinah Ameley Ayensu in The Art of West African Cooking (1972). I point out that akla is a simple alteration of akkra, one involving confusion between the consonants l and r, a common one, particularly when words cross linguistic borders. I note also that cala is a metathetic form of akla, an even more common alteration involving transposition, and I propose this derivation for cala. To show that my proposal rests on solid ground, I note that black-eye pea fritters are known in Curacao as calas, rather than the more usual akkras. In the recipet entitled “Callers” (above) we find yet another type of alteration, that of substituting a word of similar sound for an unknown one, as I discussed in Chapter 5, “Hoppin’ John.” as is so often the case, there is a bit of seeming reasonableness in the substitution, here involving the fact that the calas were indeed “called” on the streets of the French Quarter. I suggest that callers was an Anglo form; the Christian Woman’s Exchange was not French. (Note also the use of the term fritter.) I have not seen the word callers so used elsewhere, much less an explanation. 

New York (NY) Times
Calas
By LOLIS ERIC ELIE
Published: October 17, 2004

Although every visitor to New Orleans knows about the beignet, that square of fried dough and powdered sugar served in French Quarter cafes, the cala is the neglected prince of New Orleans confections. Little known in the city—even less outside—calas (pronounced ka-LA) are round balls of a batter made from flour, sugar, eggs, yeast and leftover rice; the balls are fried until they’re piping hot, creating a crisp, browned crust. The rice in the batter breaks down, giving the cooked calas an alluringly spongy, creamy texture, and the yeast makes them seem to be perfumed with rum.

I was born and raised in New Orleans, but I didn’t make the acquaintance of calas until I was 13 and working as a gofer at Creole Feast, a food festival that celebrated the 1978 cookbook of the same name. The calas were boiled in a caldron of oil, and as one side cooked, becoming lighter, the calas magically turned themselves over. They were served in threes, dusted with powdered sugar.

Like most everything in New Orleans, calas claim both African and European heritage. One food historian I know traces the recipe back to the Vai people of Sierra Leone and Liberia; another found a nearly identical recipe for beignets de riz in a French cookbook from 1653. For more than a century, they were sold by vendors who plied New Orleans streets calling out, ‘’Belles calas, toutes chaudes!’’ ( ‘’Calas, nice and hot!’’ ) After World War II, consumption declined, and calas came to be associated almost exclusively with African-American Catholics, who traditionally eat them for breakfast on Carnival Day and on the Sunday of a child’s first communion.
(...)
Calas
adapted from Martin A. Spindel
[makes 15 to 20]
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
2 cups cooked and cooled medium-grain white rice
3 large eggs, beaten
1 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 quart peanut oil
Confectioners’ sugar.

1. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup warm water and set aside. In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine the rice and eggs. Add 1 cup of the flour, the brown sugar, salt and nutmeg; mix well. Mix in up to 1 cup additional flour to make a batter that is thick but liquid enough to be dropped easily from a spoon. Add the yeast mixture and mix thoroughly. Cover with a clean dish towel and let stand overnight at room temperature.
2. Place the oil in a 3-quart casserole or Dutch oven. Heat to 350 degrees. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the oil and fry until nicely browned. Drain on a double thickness of paper towels. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve while hot.

NOLA Cuisine
September 25, 2006
Calas Recipe
At the turn of the last century, the “Calas Woman” was still a fixture in the French Quarter marketplace in the early morning, crying Belle Cala! Tout Chaud! and carrying a covered basket or bowl on her head filled with the Rice fritters to sell to the Creole cooks who would serve them with coffee or Cafe au Lait. The name is said to be derived from an African word for rice.

The Calas women are long gone, and for the most part, so are Calas (KAH-luhs). These lovely rice fritters have taken a back seat to Beignets over the years, but they’re second to none in flavor and texture in my kitchen. The slight tang of the souring step in this recipe, the nutmeg, and light as a cloud texture, will make you wish you had made more of these, so you may want to double this recipe.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Saturday, January 12, 2008 • Permalink


Thanks for rhe recipe and the history behind it.  I discovered it while reading, “High on the Hog.” by Jessica A. Hrris

Posted by tThelma Walker-Wallace  on  08/28  at  03:23 PM

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