Writer Jack London had a very special recipe for cooking rice
American writer and social activist Jack London was one of the first American authors to be able to turn his writing ability into a substantial personal fortune. He did this in part by going to places and doing things that other writers didn’t want to risk, including repeated forays into remote Alaskan gold fields. He participated in and wrote about the Klondike Gold Rush, and his health suffered from the privations he suffered there. His inability to access shelter, food and medicine was reflected in his fiction, including the short story build a fire. He lost his four upper front teeth to scurvy and a poor diet in Alaska.
Less well known than his ability to “rough it” and write about Alaska, and other frontier outposts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is his very particular palace in terms of concerns the way his rice was prepared. A goldfield staple, as it can be bagged and will stay fresh for months, Jack London was very familiar with rice and had very particular cooking requirements.
San Francisco socialite Sarah M. Williamson, who helped popularize food canning and preservation in the early years of the 20th century, reported in a 1916 newspaper article that she had obtained the personal recipe from Jack London for the preparation of London rice. second wife, Charmian Kittredge London.
Here’s how Sarah Williamson recounts her discovery of Jack London’s rice recipe:
“Rice, cooked in a way American housewives never do and can never learn to do, appeared on Martin’s table at least once a day.” So says Jack London in the hard-hitting, almost autobiographical novel. And this is how Jack London cooks his rice – I have the recipe in favor of Mrs London, above her husband’s signature,” Williamson wrote.
“Properly cooked rice – First, the rice should be thoroughly washed, which will prevent the grains from sticking together when boiled. The proportion of rice should be one to two of cold water. The good Chinese chef will allow this to hold for several hours before putting on the stove.When the pan is finally placed on the stove, the fire should be hot and the rice should continue to boil until the rice has absorbed all the water and that there is no water left on the surface. Then remove to where the stove is not so hot and simmer lightly. Cooking a pot of rice should take fifty minutes to an hour for a measure moderate. Just before serving, stir gently and delicately with a fork, which loosens the mass into a light, flaky appearance. The grains should be light, soft and separate.”
Williamson claimed that rice was so difficult to cook because it came in so many different grains and subspecies. “The problem is not so much with the cook as with the rice itself,” she writes. “There are around 49 varieties and no two are cooked the same way. Some come out better by boiling them, then draining them and starting them again in cold water. Getting the same type of rice every time would mean a reliable recipe. Since there are Chinese rice, Japanese rice, Indian, Georgian, South Carolina and now Californian rice, and a few dozen others, cooking rice is likely to be an unsolved problem.”
She also shared another of London’s favorite recipes for a rice dish, this one with onions and green peppers.
“In a steel frying pan, melt enough lard to fry until a cup of brown-colored rice is sealed. The rice should be cleaned with a towel, not washed. Constant stirring is necessary to prevent the rice from burning. Remove the rice and set to drain. In the lard, put one or two large bell peppers that have been seeded and finely chopped, and the juice of a medium-sized onion (grated). A pinch of salt, pepper to taste.Two teaspoons of chili powder, which has to mix with three cups of well-crushed tomatoes.In a granite saucepan, pour a cup of boiling water.Pour the sauce from the pan into the saucepan. , then pour in the rice. Boil slowly until the rice is cooked, place in the oven and cook. If this dish is well cooked, each grain is separated and dry.
Jack London died in November 1916, just months after Williamson published his rice recipes, still a relatively young man of just 40. Despite his very particular demands for cooking rice according to his palate, there is no doubt that the hardships of the Arctic and the harsh conditions he endured to pursue his writing contributed to the loss of health that led to his untimely death.