THEY HAD TO EAT ?
Histories and tales of French Colonial New Orleans raise a constant chant of misery, poverty, neglect, abandonment, and pathos. Taken at face value, a modern reader is left to question whether or not the city or the colony ever really existed. Of course, the answer is YES, the colony and city were physically and officially present in SE Louisiana from 1699 through 1768. Over the course of those 70-odd years, the population (European & African) steadily increased, city streets were laid out and built upon, plantations, farms, and villages were established, grew, and sometimes even prospered, institutions of church and state were initiated, supported, and maintained. Trade relationships and routes (legal and illicit) emerged into reality. Calumets (Peace pipes) were smoked with the natives; and inter-cultural conflicts flamed into war. Natives and settlers lived, worked, prayed, and played throughout the period. New individuals were born, baptized, and buried in the due course of time. All of this and more were constant occurrences in and around French occupied SE Louisiana for 70 years during the 18th Century and their influences were so profound that they are still felt 300 years later within several hundred miles of the Vieux Carrè.
So why all the gloom and doom? Make no mistake, all of the above did indeed happen, but it was by no means easy. La Belle France, when it officially thought about its colonies at all, thought little about Louisiana. French merchants couldn’t or wouldn’t help, because there was nothing in Louisiana for them to trade for. Ships would arrive with supplies for the colony expecting to pick up a return cargo of tobacco, but would leave with bricks and lumber instead. Any wonder they would come so sporadically? Between the swamps, the heat, the mosquitoes, the hurricanes, and the occasional hostile tribe, agriculture, horticulture, and forestry (the real and immediate triumvirate of wealth to be found in the lower Mississippi valley) were hit and miss in the early years. Later, in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s of the 18th Century, food supplies, imports and exports had somewhat stabilized. And this brings us to the hypothesis upon which our culinary history is built.
In spite of the well documented French colonial misery, poverty, neglect, abandonment, and pathos, the people of Lower Louisiana did build a habitat and a culture. To this day, food is a dominant factor in that culture. Is Louisiana food culture a product of post Civil War New Orleans? Or can its roots be traced back into colonial days? Our hypothesis is that it can, because, after all, building a habitat and a culture can be hungry work, and
THEY HAD TO EAT
So, WHAT DID THEY EAT, and how did they prepare it?
Shrimp Remoulade, anyone?