Greensboro continues old tradition of washpot pilau

“It’s a southern thing,” said Jane W. Clark, with the West Gadsden Historical Society, of chicken pilau.

Pronounced “per-low” (although most Gadsden County residents will be familiar with the food and its pronunciation), the chicken-and-rice dish is native to the Asia and Middle Eastern parts of the world, but has long-reaching roots in the Southern United States as well.

On Saturday, January 22, the West Gadsden Historical Society hosted their annual Washpot Chicken Pilau fundraiser.

The pilau chefs stood over cast iron pots, lifting (“not stirring” Clark explains) the pilau.

While Saturday was struck by a burst of cold weather, Clark says the society’s gathered members and West Gadsden locals enjoyed the day.

“Even with frozen feet, we had a great time,” Clark said. “Whenever we get the chance to get together, it’s a win in my opinion.”

The pilau fundraiser has been a historical society event for over eight years, and Clark said the fundraiser was originally held in November – but the members changed to a January date after deciding not to compete with the oncoming holidays, Florida State Fair, and football season in November.

Pictured are January 22’s Pilau Chefs for the West Gadsden Historical Society. Pictured, from left to right: Allen Clark, Lamar Clark, Shirley Clark, and Scott Clark.

For years, the pilau chefs have been Scott Clark “The Pilau King”, Lamar Clark, and Shirley Clark (who has served as the official pilau taste-tester), but the January 22 event introduced a new chef to the mix: Apprentice Pilau Master Allen Clark.

“Allen [Clark] has wanted to cook pilau for years,” said Jane Clark.

Despite the cold and overcast weather, Clark says the fundraiser sold around 200 plates (two iron pots full) of pilau and sides.

“It was a steady crowd,” said Clark. “The people who came, they all had a really good time.”

In addition to a grab-and-go option, the historical society opened up the Greensboro Train Depot and meeting room, and Clark said they had people stopping in to visit with neighbors, share local history, and enjoy a hot meal.

While there was some leftover pilau, Clark said it didn’t go to waste – historical society members took some home, and the rest was dispersed to members of the community who were homebound.

Pilau, after all, is about community.

“It’s definitely a southern tradition,” said Clark. “Gadsden County isn’t unique in liking pilau – but I think what does make us unique is that we have so many good pilau chefs from Gadsden County.”

While everybody cooks pilau a little differently, Clark says there is a few similarities that connects every (good) pot of pilau: a well-season iron washpot, a good base of heated broth, lifting – not stirring – the rice, and an appreciation for a dish that shouldn’t be rush-cooked.

Of course, the recipes themselves are a close-guarded family secret that most Gadsden County natives know better than to ever ask for.

Ashley Hunter –


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