Thursday, December 9, 2010

NEW ORLEANS COOKERY BACK WHEN…

When my daughter Elizabeth comes from California for a visit (the one who got the supply of fig preserves), she reads my shelves for unique cookbooks and usually takes away at least one volume that will increase her knowledge of south Louisiana cuisine. Yesterday, I passed on to her a small volume, published in 1932 and reprinted in 1960, entitled NEW ORLEANS CREOLE RECIPES by Mary Moore Bremer of Waveland, Mississippi. The volume had been passed on to me by my mother who loved cooking New Orleans cuisine.

NEW ORLEANS CREOLE RECIPES contains a preface and foreword that testify to the art of cooking carried on in the Crescent City, a city that is appraised by Count Keyserling in the preface as an outstanding southern metropolis and who states that because of the French influence “Americana acquires a halo of beauty in New Orleans…” Mary Bremer adds that the cooking in the Crescent City is “the grandchild to France, descendant to Spain, cousin to Italy and it is also full-fledged southern…” She pays tribute to the African American cooks who added herbs to delectable dishes of “anything that found its way into the kitchen.”

Some of the unique dishes include green turtle soup, Crawfish Bisque, Gumbo Z’Herbes… even a recipe for Red Rice concocted of onions, salt and cayenne combined with steamed rice and on which paprika is sprinkled. The real piece de resistance, however, was the recipe for Chicken Gumbo, written on the last blank page in my mother’s distinctive half script/half printing handwriting.  It was a recipe from my Grandmother Marquart’s kitchen files. She used a whole pod of hot red pepper in her gumbos, and most of the table fare in Lake Arthur, Louisiana included Cajun seafood dishes, as she was a descendant of the Vincent family which migrated to south Louisiana following the Grand Derangement.

Elizabeth didn’t get my prize volume, THE PICAYUNE CREOLE COOK BOOK, published on the 150th Anniversary of “The Times Picayune” and compiled and edited by Marcelle Bienvenu of St. Martinville, Louisiana. Each recipe was tested by Marcelle and Food Innovisions, Inc., and the sesquicentennial edition of this cookbook includes recipes that were published just as they appeared in 1901. Marcelle wrote the disclaimer that the language in recipes was a bit antiquated but she included notes, leaving in French terms and colloquial expressions in keeping with the style of the book; e.g., “since the oven did not have regulators, you will notice such terms as ‘slow oven,’ and the ‘mouth of the oven’ referred to the area where wood was fed into the stove.”

From an interesting section on “Sirops, Wines, Cordials, and Drinks,” I once used the recipe for a Ratafia made with elderberries from a vine in my backyard, and at the end of a year when we sampled the first glasses of this wonderful liqueur, it was a potent end to a dinner I gave for my godfather. The next time I began to pour him a glass, he politely declined as he said it made “his head swim.”

THE PICAYUNE CREOLE COOKBOOK, SESQUICENTENNIAL EDITION, not only contains delicious New Orleans dishes, it’s touted as a mirror of history that reflects a gracious manner of living in “The City That Care Forgot.”
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