For Calif. Family, It's Not Thanksgiving Without Rice

For celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins, Thanksgiving isn't complete without her grandmother's rice. Des Jardins was raised in a family of rice farmers in California's Central Valley. And, every day as a child, she ate this short grain white rice they grew.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What does a two-time James Beard award-winning chef make every Thanksgiving? Well, if you're San Francisco's Traci Des Jardins, it's rice. Lisa Morehouse has our story.

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LISA MOREHOUSE, BYLINE: I asked Traci Des Jardins to demonstrate one favorite dish for this story. But when I get to her house, she's making half her Thanksgiving menu.

TRACI DES JARDINS: One dish. It's Thanksgiving. You can't do one dish for Thanksgiving. For God's sake, you're lucky I didn't do like 10.

MOREHOUSE: I'm not complaining.

(LAUGHTER)

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MOREHOUSE: Alongside the refined stuffing and Brussels sprouts is a dish with only four ingredients that's never missing from Des Jardins' Thanksgiving: her grandma's consomme rice.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICE BROWNING)

MOREHOUSE: Des Jardins was raised in a family of rice farmers in California's Central Valley. And, every day as a child, she ate this short grain white rice they grew.

JARDINS: I'm browning it in whole butter, so it's getting nice and toasty. It has kind of a nutty aromatic smell right now. Rice cooking in my family is a point of pride.

MOREHOUSE: Des Jardins learned to cook from all four grandparents, who lived nearby.

JARDINS: My Mexican grandpa used to make menudo, which he was relegated to do in the garage.

MOREHOUSE: The smell of tripe cooking in the house was too much for Des Jardins's grandmother, who made fresh tortillas every day. On the other side of the family, Des Jardins' Scandinavian grandmother baked breads and sweets. Her grandfather, originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana, organized trips to collect crawdads in the Central Valley's canal systems.

JARDINS: We'd go out and harvest huge trash cans full of crawdads and do a big crawdad boil.

MOREHOUSE: Cooking was just part of the fabric of her family. So, Thanksgiving was a big deal.

JARDINS: Traditionally, my family made a four- or five-day affair out of Thanksgiving.

MOREHOUSE: The men went hunting Thanksgiving morning and the family cooked whole animals outdoors, leaving the indoor kitchen for everyone to prepare his or her specialty.

These days, Des Jardins still puts turkey on the grill as friends and family gather in rural Sonoma County north of San Francisco. Side dishes from her childhood reappear, elevated. But consomme rice doesn't change at all.

To the rice toasting in butter, she adds water and Campbell's beef consomme.

JARDINS: Put the liquid in, bring it up to a boil and then turn it all the way down and cover it and let it cook for 20 minutes and don't take the lid off while it's cooking. As if you really need one more starch for your Thanksgiving dinner.

MOREHOUSE: But, she says, this is the one dish her family couldn't do without.

For NPR News, I'm Lisa Morehouse in San Francisco.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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