One good reason why Mondays in New Orleans are better than anywhere else
The first seed of what would become a booming bean business was planted in 1850, when Sawyer Hayward arrived in New Orleans from the West Indies. Although he started trading in cotton, Hayward moved on to other items and provided produce and dry goods, including beans, to French Market merchants. Because of the demand for beans, a firm bearing his son’s name — L.H. Hayward & Co. – moved into an old cotton plant at Poydras Street and South Front Street (now Convention Center Boulevard) in 1923, where it began producing the now-iconic Camellia brand of red beans.
The family-run company moved to Elmwood in 1974. In addition to red beans – the staple of many a Monday meal in New Orleans – the company’s Camellia brand also include Great Northern beans, large and baby lima beans, navy pea beans, black-eyed peas and black beans, as well as lentils, pink beans, lady cream peas, pinto beans, field peas and yellow split peas.
- The company’s Camellia brand is named after the favorite flower of Bessie Hayward, the wife of L.H. Hayward Jr., who succeeded his father.
- The Elmwood facility packages up to 100,000 pounds of beans every day. “Since one pound of beans equals six servings, that’s a lot of meals,” said Ken Hayward, the company’s managing partner, in a 2013 interview.
- The company used to offer 20 species of beans, peas and lentils, he said, but three kinds – speckled lima beans, whole yellow peas and whole green peas – have been discontinued because of the lack of demand.
- Around 1940, when supermarkets were catching on, William Gordon Hayward, the son of L.H. Hayward Jr., came up with the idea of packaging beans in customer-friendly 1-pound bags.
- Most red beans consumed in the New Orleans area used to come from New York state, Hayward said, but as small family farms died out, red-bean production moved to Colorado, Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota..
- The notion of red beans and rice on Mondays was born because that day was wash day, and beans could be left to bubble on the stove while the laundry was done.
- But why red kidney beans? “New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Stories,” which Susan Tucker edited, traces the local taste for red kidney beans to similar dishes in Alsace-Lorraine and southwestern France, home to many early immigrants to south Louisiana, and the Italian Piedmont region, which borders France. The addition of rice is a legacy of the African influence on local cuisine.
- A long time ago, when life was much simpler (and less expensive), the New Orleans City Guide (1938) said, this rhyme was prevalent: “Quartee beans, quartee rice, and a little lagniappe to make it nice.” A quartee is worth 2.5 cents. There was no indication what the lagniappe might be.
Camellia red beans fulfill a desire that has become hard-wired in New Orleanians’ DNA. Although red beans and rice has always been a dish well within the budget of the humblest citizens, the yen for it on Mondays takes hold, all along the economic spectrum, and woe be to the eatery that doesn’t offer it. The craving lingers, even among expatriates, including Louis Armstrong, who famously signed his letters “Red beans and ricely yours.”