The Creole Pantry, Part II

As always, further information and deeper insights into this topic maybe found at

Ref: 1718neworleans2018 blog entries for May 6, 2013 and June 30, 2012

Of course, other cultures whose representatives immigrated to Louisiana, continued in the 18th Century to add to the Creole Pantry. The primary scope of the Petticoat Rebellion Cookbook is the first 40 years of French Louisiana’s existence, 1699 to roughly 1740. These dates exclude two very important contributors to today’s New Orleans’ cooking, the Acadians and the Spanish (with those darned tomatoes again). This essay covers the Native Louisianans and the French. The Germans, Swiss, and Africans with their vital agricultural and culinary contributions are covered in a subsequent paper. Also to be studied in this context are the elusive and amorphous contributions to the pantry from the international markets of smuggling.

These words were blogged over a year ago. In web time, as well as in my own experience, it seems like 25 years ago. Nevertheless, and despite many distractions, work has continued and further research has provided some new insights into the whole idea of what foodstuffs the Creoles had to cook with in the 18th century.

Shannon Dawdy, an anthropologist from the University of Chicago, does archaeological digs in New Orleans and has expanded our ideas, adding much grist to our Creole mills. In her comprehensive work on French Colonial Louisiana, Building the Devils Empire, she establishes – as fact – smuggling in the colony during the 1700s.  Her essay, “Smuggling Empire”, (pp. 115-134) provides ample documentation (and supported by several other sources) that the Louisiana economy was based largely, if not mostly, on the trade of illicit goods throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean with Spanish, British, Dutch, and other French colonies. Her archaeological digs in New Orleans as well as research documented in her various books and essays all confirm that New Orleans was a significant and major part of a greater Gulf/Caribbean commercial world. Through this network came the vegetables, herbs, and spices carried by the larger international trade of European colonialism. The 18th century can be viewed as the height of the much touted “Columbian Exchange”; through which flowed a delicious mix of spices from India and Asia, vegetable and herb seeds and plantings from the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Africa, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. Now what remains to be established is the nature of the goods traded, specifically food, beverages, spices, and vegetable plants that found their place in  the potagers and kitchens of Creole French New Orleans.

To all of this may be added this note from a newly discovered, translated, and published journal from 1720s Louisiana. Marc-Antoine Caillot came to Louisiana in 1727, as an employee of the Company of the Indies. In his luggage was a trunk, common among virtually all travelers from Europe to its colonial territories, containing…

“Mercantile policies embodied by the Company’s right to complete control over imports and exports rendered any alternative trading systems illegal but actual enforcement of those policies proved difficult. Not all the goods loaded onto the Durance (or other trading ship) could be considered legitimate. Before setting foot in the colony, Louisiana bound passengers (not to mention ships’ officers) ranging from high-level administrators to soldiers destined for the lowest ranks of the outpost workforce took every opportunity to fill their trunks with contraband trade items that might help them sustain or further themselves once they traversed the Atlantic. Demand for metropolitan fashion accessories was high in the colonies…

The Company Man, p. 60 n. 98.

Nevertheless, while it is important to establish, for a fact, that a vibrant smuggling economy sustained Louisiana all through the 18th and the first quarter of the 19th centuries, a culinary history like this must focus on the items exchanged within this economy. Specifically, the edible ones. Once again, Ms. Dawdy’s book leads us forward.

“New Orleans served as the central agricultural market where small farmers sold or bartered rice, greens, figs, sweet potatoes, eggs, and hams in exchange for imports such a sugar, coffee, wine, cloth, and furnishings.  … Plantation slaves came to New Orleans on Sundays to sell the surplus of their provision plots… Records show that they came on other days as well… to peddle produce and street food. … Native Americans frequented town, peddling fresh fish and game, bear oil, corn, herbs, and Persimmon bread, in addition to deerskins.”

“Mercantilism and Alternative Economies” in Building the Devils Empire, pp. 104.

While this food list gives us a good solid ground for what could be found in a typical Creole pantry, the task still remains to specify the “greens”, “provision plots”. “produce and street food” grown in the cities potagers, and the spices that were to be acquired through the “alternative economy”. Throughout the various sources supporting this paper, there are many mentions of such particulars as …

“Indian trade items”, “Household sundries”, “Fine goods”, “foodstuffs considered contraband”, “French imports stocked in city shops, or browse for delicacies in the bustling open air market.” (Dawdy, p.106.)

France treated Louisiana as an importer of flour, alcohol, and a few more luxurious foodstuffs, but supply lines were too tenuous and shipments always too small or spoiled for colonists to rely on… (Usner. p. 198)

{Author’s Note} Could the “luxurious foodstuffs” mentioned possibly be the spices, herbs, and other luxury ingredients from France?

M. Caillot tells of stewing some birds with bell peppers upon his arrival in Louisiana.
A Company Man (p.72)

The documents we have examined so far, mostly government records and memoirs, are incredibly useful for setting the context of a culinary history. As has been shown, they become inadequate resources for identification of the actual food and recipes that are being prepared. References to actual food, especially vegetables, herbs, and spices, are sporadic and very general in nature. The 17th and 18th centuries saw very little in the way of cookbooks or recipes that were written down. Thankfully, though, a few were prepared in  those years and do give us insight into these foodstuffs. For instance, François Massialot, a chef in the royal household of France in the late 17th century, did write a cookbook that was published in 1699 and revised throughout the 1700s. Simply leafing through his work, one can extract the following vegetables herbs and spices by just reading through the recipes. To this we can add the food items here (in bold), that were provided by the Germans who settled up river from New Orleans on the German Coast in 1721.

truffles, mushrooms, morelles, garlic, onion, St. George’s mushroom, cucumbers, shallots, artichokes (hearts), asparagus, hearts of lettuce, beets, leeks, peppers (green & hot), carrots, celery: The gardens {of the German Coast} LIKELY (my emphasis) included leaf lettuce, onions, radishes, cabbage, beans … , corn, peppers, celery, endive and a variety of root vegetables.  . . . they quickly adapted to rice and sweet potato crops in Louisiana. Mustard greens, collards, turnip tops, beet tops, spinach, and purslane were also provided from here.

Lemon, oranges, orange flower water, limes, From their farms in the Rhineland, “chestnuts, peaches, apricots, figs, … flourished.”

Parsley, bay leaf, sorrel, chervil, thyme, fines herbs,?flowers?, Mint and herbs grew in the kitchen gardens. Other important herbs MAY HAVE INCLUDED garlic, horseradish, thyme, sweet marjoram, coriander, caraway, fennel, and rosemary.”

quartre épices*, capers, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, mustard, filè†, allspice

*quartre épices= pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger.
18th Century Cuisine: a blog

† provided by Louisiana’s Native Americans

bouillon,  anchovies, vinegar, oil (olive?),  butter,  fat rendered into lard, parmesan, wine red or white, macaroons, flour (wheat?), almonds, pistachios, pecans (native),  ( the German coast also provided) cream, cheese, and eggs; as the century progressed, this area was also providing pies made from cherries, apples, plums, peaches, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, elderberry, custard, cheese, crookneck squash, and mincemeat;

The above listings can now give us a much clearer picture of the ingredients and items that may have found their way into Frére Gerard’s pantry. Virtually all of these items were available to French cooks in the old country. This is not to say that some were not rarer than others. Even so, I feel it is not unreasonable to hold that, between (the less than legal) international trade routes, the Columbian exchange, the Caribbean-Mexico-North Gulf coastal trade routes, as well as the gardens and farms of old New Orleans; many if not all of these ingredients were available to the cooks of French Colonial New Orleans. As the 20s and 30s of that century progressed, the German farms upriver from New Orleans began to provide the city with a regular stream of fresh produce.

Therefore, by the end of his first decade in New Orleans, we can see that Frére Gerard potentially had a pantry and a garden as well supplied as any in the old world. The only item in question that remains, is the tomato. While this staple of modern Creole cuisine was certainly grown in Mexico and probably in the Caribbean during the 18th century it was unpopular among the French who thought it was poison.  Tomatoes non-withstanding, we can rejoin our (mythical) Frère Gerard as he continues to clean and stock his ever-growing kitchen, he putters in his potagér, and continues to meet with and share ideas with all his African neighbors, his German suppliers at the levee market, and his Indian friends roaming the streets of the early Vieux Carré. Together, these original New Orleans foodies continued to blend the food resources from the rich alluvial Mississippi lands, the great trading network of the Gulf of Mexico, and the abundant game and seafood from South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast into the foundation of what legitimately may be called {one of} America’s most famous food culture.

‡ for further reading, see my published bibliography (regularly updated) which may be found at, the bibliography link.


One thought on “The Creole Pantry, Part II

  1. Very interesting reading. I look forward to obtaining a copy of your book. Please keep me updated as to its release. I’m curious how similar the German influence in New Orleans was to that of Pennsylvania.

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