The Birth of Rice-A-Roni: The San Francisco-Italian-Armenian Treat
The worlds of a young Canadian immigrant, an Italian pasta-making family, and a 70-year-old survivor of the Armenian Genocide converge in this story of the San Francisco Treat.
A Canadian women (Lois DeDomenico) marries an Italian immigrant (Thomas DeDomenico) whose family started Golden Grain Macaroni in San Francisco. Just after WWII the newlyweds rent a room from an old Armenian woman (Pailadzo Captanian) who teaches the young pregnant 18 year old woman how to cook. Yogurt, baklava, pilaf… After about 4 months the young couple move into their own place. A few years later, Lois’ brother-in-law is eating over at her house— looks down at the pilaf on his plate and pronounces: “This would be good in a box.” Prepared and packaged foods are just beginning to come on strong. They name it Rice A Roni.
During those hours in the kitchen the old Armenian woman cooks and tells the younger women the story of her life — her forced trek from Turkey to Syria, leaving her two young sons with a Greek Family, her husband’s murder, the birth of her baby along the way (his name means child of pain), the story of the genocide. Mrs. Captanian shows Lois a book she wrote in 1919, directly after her experiences—one of the only eye-witness accounts written at the time. Most were published 30-40 years later by survivors. This one was published in 1919 for the Paris Peace Talks in hopes that it would help provide context for the establishment of an Armenian state.
Pailadzo Captanian’s Rice Pilaf
- 7/8 cup long grain white rice
- 1/8 cup fideo capellini crushed into small pieces
- ½ cube butter
- ½ large onion, chopped
- ½ 4.5 oz jar sliced “Green Giant” mushrooms packed in water and drained. (mushrooms can be substituted with any other canned mushrooms.)
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 2 ½ cups boiling water
- 2 ½ chicken bouillon cubes
- ½ tbsp dried parsley flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- (The broth should taste somewhat salty before it is added to rice mixture)Pailadzo Captanian’s rice pilaf is a favorite dish at Captanian family gatherings. She passed her pilaf recipe down to her daughter-in-law Mellie Captanian in the late 1940s. In 1965, Jacqueline Captanian, who was then dating Mellie’s son Barry, asked for the recipe for Barry’s favorite dish: rice pilaf.Jacqueline and Barry Captanian have now been married for 40 years. In that time, Jacqueline says, she perfected the dish to the point that it became her job to make it for all their family gatherings.“We are not sure if Pailadzo included mushrooms or pine nuts in her version of this recipe, but the following is the way I learned it from Mellie in 1965,” Jacqueline Captanian said.Directions:Melt the butter over medium high flame in a medium sauce pan and add rice and fideo cappellini and stir constantly, cooking until it starts to turn golden.Add chopped onion and cook until almost clear.Add mushrooms and pine nuts.Stir constantly over medium high flame, until the mixture is golden brown with dark flecks of fideo capellini.Meanwhile, make broth by heating water to boiling and adding bouillon cubes, parsley flakes, salt and pepper (you can heat this in the microwave or on the stove)Stir to dissolve the bouillon.
Add boiling broth to browned rice mixture, (note: broth /rice mixture should taste slightly salty), return to a bowl, stir once, and cover, then turn down the hat to a low simmer. Do not lift the cover for 35 minutes.
Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork; let rest until ready to serve.
P.S. Cover pan with a cloth to keep warm (If I am traveling with the rice over a period of several hours, I wrap the pan in several beach towels and it will stay nice and warm).
P.P.S To double the recipe: Use 7/8 cube butter; 4 7/8 cups water and 5 chicken bouillon cubes and cook rice for 37 minutes. (You can double all the other ingredients).
If you follow these directions exactly, you should have a perfect pilaf every time. But avoid the urge to peek at the cooking rice. Lifting the cover during cooking will affect the texture and fluffiness of the dish.