Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review of “The Accidental City” by Dr. Lawrence N. Powell. (ISBN: 978-0-674-05987-0) by Jon G. Laiche

Mine’s a scholarly book that tries to reach a general audience that doesn’t cotton to being staggered with the heavy breath of academic theory.” Dr. Powell in a personal e-mail to me. (5/6/12)

Until I received this note, I was wondering where this “new standard history of New Orleans’ first century” was going. It certainly was not an academic history – at least not what I was used to reading as a history geek, a history teacher, and a scholar in my own right. Dr. Powell’s conversational tone is a welcome change from some of those stuffy and reference laden books that most historians are used to consuming in order to get the “good stuff” buried in there (as Andy Griffith once said to Opy) “amongst the history”. Dare I say that this work could reflect the same style as Herodotus, Gibbon, and Boorstin. In any event it makes for a pleasant read. As far as Dr. Powell’s research is considered, the work is thorough and complete. I was thrown off by the lack of a bibliography, but, perhaps in the “popular” style, the bibliography is contained in the Notes, rather than as a separate section of the end matter. This is hard to follow sometime, but with only minor effort, it all falls into place.

The first four chapters deal with French colonial New Orleans. This period was, in itself, an exercise in adventure. Except for a few notable occasions, Louisiana was virtually ignored by the French crown and administration from 1699 to 1763. This led to a colony run “by the seat of one’s pants”, luckily by a few very talented people, Bienville being the foremost of the lot (and the most influential). The history, therefore, is made up of yarns about adventurers like Bienville, le Page du Pratz, and the Chauvin brothers in the lush jungle/swamp and beaches of the central Gulf Coast. A good deal of print is also expended upon the various options put forth by the locals, the Gulf Coasters, and the metropole back in Paris as to where locate Louisiana’s capital. This “controversy” described the intimately connected yet distinct careers of Bienville and the city. Even today, New Orleans revels in its saucy (food metaphor included), tumultuous, and “disorderly” past (and present). Growing up in the city, this attitude permeated my Creole soul through the very atmosphere of social and physical maturation as a New Orleanian. I will never forget the Mardi Gras of ’79. the police went on strike and the city fathers cancelled (LOL) Mardi Gras. As my wife and I made our way down St. Charles Ave. that morning in costume, the natives listened to the police and city authorities about as well as Bienville and his cronies listened to the precepts handed down from Paris. Since, nobody even thought of going to work that day, the streetcars up and down the avenue became the floats du jour. Beads and trinkets flew from the windows tossed by the riders and the walkers returned the favor, tossing the beads back to keep the cycle flowing. When we got to the Vieux Carré, the National Guardsmen, with dumbfounded looks upon their faces, gazed at a sixteen block square block party. Here was an “Accidental Mardi Gras” for “The Accidental City”. And this pretty much sums up the entire theme of Dr. Powell’s work.

Meanwhile, back in 1720, Paris sent some of its most enlightened engineers, architects, and artisans to create the model of an Enlightened city scape. Unfortunately, most of the other people transported to the city were about as unenlightened as you can get. Thus, never having gained much control over what these outlandish Frenchmen were doing, France finally gave up and gave the place to Spain.

I found the treatment of the Spanish colonial years enlightening my own research into the food culture of colonial and Creole New Orleans. While the French settlers, forced labor, and Indians were busy inventing some of the original Creole cuisine, they were mostly concerned with sheer survival. France did little to support Louisiana and New Orleans during its tenure as the metropole. The first two Creole generations were creating a food culture based largely on native foods and what could be smuggled in (which was quite a lot, actually). Under the Spanish administration, and for a variety of reasons, the second and third Creole generations were often lifted to the level of very prosperous consumers of American and European goods and foodstuffs. Dr. Powell’s book traces the interesting transition of New Orleans into a city of high culture and its attendant consumption. Indeed, smuggling never ceased, the wines of France and Spain were readily available, as were the culinary resources of the Caribbean world. The newly organized and regulated ”French” Market was a boon to consumers seeking exotic and Native foods for the kitchen and table. And perhaps for the first time (although there is evidence of possible earlier use), tomatoes and peppers made their entry into the Creole pantry. While Dr. Powell does not specifically detail this situation (except pp. 97-8), he paints a picture of a prosperous Creole society with leisure and the means to put their Creole cuisine on the map.

In this second – Spanish – half of the work, Dr. Powell weaves a subtle change over his history. What had been a fast paced, almost superficial story of the French settlement of Louisiana becomes a more traditional, detailed, and academic history of the Spanish period. Nevertheless, the story-telling remains of the highest caliber. This may be due to the fact that the existing historical sources are richer in detail for the Spanish period as compared to the French. Or simply because, more stuff happened under the Spanish regime. In contrast to the French, the Spanish metropole was much more generous in its support of its Caribbean colonies, of which Louisiana and Florida were the North American components. After the disastrous fires of 1788 and 1794, Spain literally poured millions of silver pesos into the colony to rebuild the capital. The plantation economy and the slave trade underwent phenomenal growth at the end of the 18th Century. Most significantly, in this reviewer’s opinion, the creolization of New Orleans was amplified and brought to fuller actualization during this period. This is perhaps where The Accidental City makes its greatest impact and contribution to the historical literature of New Orleans. Heretofore, creolization was a common assumption as a cultural phenomenon that defined New Orleans’ unique nature, Dr. Powell has documented and presented a cohesive and thorough study of the process of creolization that formed the accidental culture of this Accidental City, and gives New Orleans the flavor, the style, and the character that makes it the “most interesting” and the “most European” of American cities.

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Reflections on Using Wikipedia

A Study

The sum of all knowledge

Does entry into the world of e-Books, Hypermedia, and Digital Publishing warrant a rethink of the use of resources such as Wikipedia and unsigned, undated websites ?

A walk down memory lane for this 60 year old techie/academic recalls that in late 1992, on a trip to Walmart to get a new calculator, as I entered the electronics section, what did I see? – but an Apple Macintosh computer being SOLD AT WALMART !!!!!  Back in those days we had a lot of money, so within a matter of days I had the new MULTIMEDIA Mac up and running. Then, lo and behold, what was this I now discovered? there was something here call INTERNET, something else, a World Wide Web (almost 2 years old at this time), and a floppy disk containing the mystery of Mac TCP!!!!` It’s hard to fathom what has happened in these last 20 years. Over the Hallowe’en weekend of that year, I placed my leather-bound copy of “Brave New World” in front of the monitor screen, mostly for the benefit of my elementary-school aged children, and uttered for the first time those soon-to-be hackneyed phrases; “Everything has changed”, “the world will never be the same again”, and “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” (quote found on the relevant Wikiquote page)

I walked into class that first week in November, erased the board, cancelled my lesson-plan, and wrote one word on the blackboard, “INTERNET”. Now. after 20 years of teaching with technology, training other faculty to do the same, using tech to do my daily academic chores, and building it into my class lessons in History and Religion, so that the students can themselves use tech efficiently and responsibly to learn, I have arrived at a new frontier of IT and scholarship. I am composing this essay in my study, surrounded on all four walls by six bookshelves tumbling over with books. I have no intention of leaving behind my old friends, leather, cardboard, or paper-bound, as I continue my scholarly work. Yet, shoved into the midst of this temple to print, is my latest Apple Macintosh computer, now fully integrated with the blogs, wikis, and tweets of 2012 information technology. As I use these resources to research and publish my work on the history and culture of 1718-50 New Orleans, I intend to fully exploit this hyperlinked universe of knowledge. So, I repeat the question;

Does entry into the world of e-Books, Hypermedia, and Digital Publishing warrant a rethink of the use of resources such as Wikipedia and unsigned, undated websites ?

The answer is YES.

Like it or not, Wikipedia has become a force in research. this essay will maintain what I’ve always told my students about doing research. Wikipedia and the web in general are public space, and like all public space there are considerations of safety and just plain common sense that come into play. In terms of academic work, Wikipedia and other encyclopedias are good places to start. They are best used for “quick and dirty” facts and figures.

But, rather than re-invent the wheel, I will use hypermedia to make my case: Wikipedia itself clearly advises, “Wikipedia is not considered a credible source”. And then recommends . . .

  • An encyclopedia is great for getting a general understanding of a subject before you dive into it. But then you do have to dive into your subject; using books and articles and other appropriate sources will provide better research. Research from these sources will be more detailed, more precise, more carefully reasoned, and (in most cases) more broadly peer reviewed than the summary you found in an encyclopedia. These will be the sources you cite in your paper.. There is no need to cite Wikipedia in this case.
  • An encyclopedia is great for checking general knowledge that you have forgotten, like the starting date of the First World War or the boiling point of mercury. Citation is not needed for fact checking general knowledge.
  • Some details, such as the population of Canada, can be found on Wikipedia, but it is best to verify the information using an authoritative source, such as the CIA World Factbook.
  • A very obscure detail, such as the names of the founders of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, might be very hard to find without the aid of an encyclopedia like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is ideal in these situations because it will allow you to find the information, as well as sources which you can research to confirm that information. In any case, you should not cite Wikipedia itself, but the source provided; you should certainly look up the source yourself before citing it. If there is no source cited, consider a different method of obtaining this information

Although, it is a bit dated, in 2006 Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, says he wants to get the message out to college students that they shouldn’t use it for class projects or serious research. Speaking at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania called “The Hyperlinked Society,“, he clearly states, ““For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”

So, as in most things, common sense should be our guide and mentor in such matters. I will continue to use Wikipedia and other unsubstantiated digital sources (for that, in large part, is the nature of the beast) in the preparation of my history of 1718 New Orleans as well as my 1718 Cookbook. But, be sure to consult the bibliographies of both works to check the validation of those same facts, figures, and concepts that are brought forth by these scholarly endeavors.

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Finally, Pork Chops in Orange Sauce

Finally, the recipe for pork chops with orange sauce will appear shortly (after testing) on the website

The above sentence was written on April 18th, but as we all know s—– happens. Now, a month later, I can finally get around to posting the recipe. When my hard drive crashed, I not only lost the recipe but also the pictures that were to accompany it. But, as Harry’s dad on the old “Night Court” TV show was so fond of saying, my computer and myself “feel muuuuch better now!” First the blog post and then (in few days) the illustrated recipe at So, without further ado, here is ………… ta da……….


Begin with Simple Syrup: dissolve 1 cup of sugar into 1 cup of boiling water, stir until it’s clear, remove from heat and cool.

For Orange Syrup:  Juice 2 Oranges. While the Simple Syrup is boiling, add the orange peels and pulp (reserve 2 tsp. of pulp) from the juicing. Boil for a few minutes. Remove the orange peel, you now have Orange Simple Syrup.

For Orange Savory Sauce:  Blend one cup of Orange Syrup with 2/3 cup of OJ and 2 tsp. of pulp. Over low heat, add 1 tbsp. of cornstarch or flour*, ¾ cup of chicken stock, 2 tbsp. of cider vinegar, salt to taste, and 1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper or 1/2 dried cayenne pepper. Heat through, stirring until everything dissolves, and set aside.

Flour (wheat or corn) is more authentic to the 18th Century.

Now cook the pork chops† as you always do, but this time add the Orange Sauce about halfway through the process.

Colonial Cooking Methods:

There are only so many ways to cook food. Boucaneer over smokey wood or charcoal, or an open flame, roast or bake the food in a hearth oven or Dutch oven, boil, braise, stew, or poach in hot water or some other liquid, smother (a variant of braise) in a small amount of liquid and lots of vegetables, like onions, peppers, etc., fry in small amount of fat or deep fry in a lot of fat, steam over boiling water. The main difference between our 18th Century Creole ancestors and our kitchens is the heat source. All of the above methods are just as doable whether you are using electric heat, gas burners, wood stoves, or open hearth. The skills are different though. For instance, after a lifetime of cooking on gas burners, I moved into homes with only electric stoves. It took several ( read many) attempts before I was able to cook bacon without burning it. The skill set had to be modified because of the ability to adjust the heat from direct fire to a slower adjustment of electric heat.

Now, what if you’ve never cooked pork chops? One usual method is to fry, braise, or smother in a frying pan on the range burner. Frying is quick, a regular pork chop takes about 4 minutes on each side, a thin cut or breakfast chop is about 2 minutes on each side. Smothering is lower, since you want the veges, usually onion or mushrooms, to get tender, perhaps even caramelize a bit, and make a bit of gravy. Another alternate is to bake the chops in the oven. If you choose this method, bake the chops in the Orange Sauce for about ½ hour at 350°. This recipe calls for the braising of the chops in the Orange Sauce. Cook the chops on one side, turn them, add the sauce, and let everything cook thoroughly. Figure about 3 minutes on high heat and then turn the heat to its lowest setting and let everything simmer for awhile, about 5 to 10 minutes. Check every few minutes so the dish does not burn.

Serve with Sweet Potato fries and a salad with French colonial dressing.

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Filed under 18th Century, Creole Cooking, Louisiana History, New Orleans Tercentennial, Non-Fiction, Recipes

New hard drive

For the first time in 24 years, my Mac HD crashed Friday and I lost some data. It had 20 days left on its warranty, and so I got a new drive installed. the rest of this week is getting my backups back in place on my pristine drive. I have also begun my summer reading and writing. Historiography and women in colonial Louisiana. Any suggestions to add to my bibliography?

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First mention of “Chili”

Just read in an academic paper that the first known mention of the word “chili” is from Mobile (then Louisiana) in the mid 1700’s. A meat and bean stew. Can anybody document any earlier?

BYW, no mention of peppers! doesn’t mean that they were not used.

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The Petticoat Rebellion grows

Just read Shannon Lee Dawdy’s excellent paper on 18th Century New Orleans food culture. check it out at

The Petticoat Rebellion Cookbook just got a treasure trove of recipes to create, and its historical entries just opened a vast bibliography. Thank you Dr. Dawdy!!!!!

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Post 5.1 The Making of a New Media Historian. Part II

As I turn to the task of actually doing history, several mindsets are competing for my attention.

N.O. Historic Marker

The raison d'être of the 1718 Project

First, the history itself.

As I continue to compile my research and kitchen experiments into the matter for the 1718 Project, I am producing essays on the founding and settling of Louisiana to about 1730 or 1740; I am producing recipes based on the exclusive use of ingredients available in Louisiana during this times; and I am producing “food histories” to match and elucidate those recipes. My main task this week is to re-package these elements into forms that can either be sold or given away through my online operation. This is the guiding topic I have assigned myself for the week.

Next, the peculiar economic and social relationship I find myself in.

THE GUILT: You see I am married to a smart, beautiful, sexy woman and she cooks, too! Trouble is, due to America’s current bizarre economic condition, she is underemployed full time + at a stressful job. Meanwhile, I am a homemaker and a scholar unable to find ANY kind of employment (maybe this for another blog). Now, the odd thing is that this is not the first time in our marriage that we have so arranged our lives. Two other times, this has been our situation, BUT, those two times we arranged it on purpose. She was in the midst of a high-paying career, and I was the poor scholar/teacher/homemaker. This time, however, we have been forced into this situation. We literally live paycheck to paycheck, and if anything – cars, appliances, etc. – breaks, they have to stay broke. While I thoroughly enjoy what I do; research, write, blog, do the whole New Media/Social Network thing, cook, clean, etc., the guilt is overwhelming because I am doing something I want and enjoy, while she is literally killing herself at a “fill-in” job just to pay the rent and make the groceries. I welcome any sympathy and suggestions.

Next, my particular training and the intellectual backdrop to that training.

There can be no doubt that the work I am now doing is the child of my heritage, my education, and my now truncated career. I am a New Orleans native. My family has been in Louisiana since 1758. As I studied history in undergrad school, my cousins (of which there are a prodigious number) and I got interested in our genealogy. So, as I came of age in the late 60’s and the 70’s, my intellectual being was being formed by history, the humanities, and comparative religion while my leisure was spent doing much the same at the family level. My subsequent career as teacher and school techie provided us a second income to my wife’s high-powered executive career, and scholarship remained a passing, unfulfilled interest. As important as this life was to my mental make-up, the intellectual background to my education went far to form my mental architecture. I came to college seeking a career as a historian. Unbeknowst to everyone, in 1969, this career and others like it in the humanities and liberal arts was closing. My professors were all products of the 50’s and 60’s, the Golden Age of the GI Bill, when ANY college degree guaranteed you a career. My immediate predecessors, the seniors/grad students to my frosh year were the last in a long post-war tradition. Beyond this personal economic calamity – of which I was not yet aware – was the intellectual heritage of those soon-to-be and actual historians. They were the disciples of Barzun, of Toynbee, of Bertrand Russell, Trevor-Howard, Bloch, Dumas Malone, Boorstein, and many others of similar intellectual outlooks. It was in this tradition that I was educated as a scholar. The 70’s and then the tech upheavals of the 80’s and 90’s left my outlook in the dust. Perhaps, if I would have remained in that intellectual environment I would have grown accordingly. Family and career considerations forced me into somewhat of a stagnation of my weltanschaung, to which my new economic activities since 2005 have begun to drag me into the 21st century.

All three of these “shows” are running in my brain’s theatre concurrently as I write my history/lesson plan book, my historical cookbook, and this post. Items 2 and 3 form the frame to item 1. Well, now that all of this is “off my chest”. I can on with the task at hand. wish me luck !!!

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