MY GRANDMOTHER, NORMA JEAN NOBINGER, who I called Granny, was an affectionate woman who showed her love through food. Born and raised in the Birmingham, Alabama, area, she married my Paw-Paw, John Henry, when she was 19 years old. Granny worked as a secretary and later as a lunchroom worker when her children were of school age. She loved cooking for the kids at school, for her friends at church, and for family gatherings at her house. Granny also catered weddings with her sister, Marge. In addition to being a wonderful cook, Granny was crafty and enjoyed making things with her hands. Her crochet work was beautiful, and she made “real” Cabbage Patch Kids dolls for my sisters and me.
One dish she made has lovingly become known in our family as Granny’s Pink Rice. This recipe was passed down from her uncle, Toofie Deep, founder of the Sahara Restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. He was from Lebanon and would serve pink rice with roast beef. Granny learned that pouring tomato paste into the hot oil would make it sizzle and steam, a process that always scared my mother. If Granny didn’t have tomato paste, she’d use ketchup in a pinch. This gave the pink rice a sweetness nobody objected to. My Granny cooked her pink rice in a vintage pressure cooker pot, not because the rice needed to pressure-cook but because it was the biggest pot she had. She often served it with roast beef or roasted chicken with a side of turnip greens. My mom and sisters loved the crunchy bits at the edge of the pot. This recipe never needed anything added to it—no butter, no salt—the flavor was good straight out of the pot.
When I was just 5 years old, Granny passed away at age 62. I remember being in her cozy, wood-paneled kitchen while she cooked. She seemed to have an abundance of food and love to go around. Today, when I make Granny’s Pink Rice, I think about how delicious it was when she made it and how loved I felt in her arms.
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups long-grain rice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups water
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, wash rice 5 or 6 times.
- Stir tomato paste into oil, and let simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and gradually add 3 cups water. Return to heat, and let boil; when boiling rapidly, add rice.
- Let boil well and stir occasionally until it begins to thicken.
- Stir and cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Keep rice covered until done.
You can discover more in “Heirloom Recipes” when you pick up your copy of the March/April 2023 issue or by visiting tasteofthesouthmagazine.com.