The Tricentennial is upon us !

ANNOUNCEMENT!! Sunday, March 4, 2018:
I am proposing a walk along the Lafitte Greenway from the bayou at City Park (across from Beauregard Circle) as far as our feet can carry us towards the original city.

It was on this date in 1699, that two French Canadien brothers were shown a portage from the Mississippi to a small bayou that led to a lake that led to the estuary that would bring them back to the Gulf Coast, and to the anchorage of their ships at what is now Biloxi. Of course, the still unidentified Bayougoula Native was showing the LeMoyne brothers, Pierre (d’Iberville) and Jean Baptiste (de Beinville) the connection between the great river and Bayou St.John leading to the lake their soon named after their immediate boss, Compte de Pontchartrain. To celebrate this first “finding” of the spot that would 19 years later become New Orleans,

Everyday Life in New Orleans, 300 years ago

Along with the historical matter that usually populates these pages. this tricentennial year will also be spent trying to capture a sense of what life was like for the founding generations. After all, a culinary history is by definition a cultural history. Putting ourselves into New Orleans’ everyday affairs is the goal here. What better way to commemorate our Tricentennial?

In seeking to uncover a cultural everydayness of French colonial Louisiana, we begin by seeking out the routine methods of food consumption. Was breakfast, lunch, & supper the norm in the eighteenth century?

The first reference checked is 200 years after the fact, but The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook proposes in its introduction to speak to the ladies of 1900,
“to do as their grandmothers did, acquaint themselves thoroughly with the art of cooking in all its important and minutest details, and learn how to properly apply them.” . . . “To gather up from the lips of the old Creole negro cooks and the grand old housekeepers who still survive, . . . (before) Creole cookery, with all its delightful combinations and possibilities, will have become a lost art . . .”

The grandmothers here probably refer to the ancestors of colonial, American, and ante-bellum generations as well as to the Civil War/Reconstruction generation who did, in fact, still survive into the early 20th Century. This volume’s cultural information, or what we call today “foodways” (which without doubt reflect the ideals of the New Orleans household during the “Gilded Age”) can at least dimly reflect nineteenth and eighteenth century culinary customs, we do see the meal triumvirate of breakfast, luncheon, and supper is well established during the post-colonial period.

Examining some European background into the same question yields a slightly different picture. In Europe, prior to the settlement of the Americas, while most people ate whenever they could, meals prepared in kitchens tended to be two time a day. There was ‘dinner’, the main meal of the day, taken in the middle of the day (anytime between 11 am and 2 or 3 pm), ‘supper’ which tended to generally be a light meal, was eaten at 5 or 6 pm. More often than not supper was leftovers from the earlier midday dinner. Breakfast, as a meal, did not become institutionalized until the mid-1800’s. Prior to that, it was usually some porridge, or bread, and something to drink. Breakfast was also usually eaten between the morning chores. Another point to consider is that mealtimes are culturally based. That is, eating (or indeed timekeeping itself) in an agricultural society (pre-1900) is a lot different than eating in an post-1900 urban culture. Meals, obviously, also varied according to the relative wealth of the household. The time of sunrise and sunset also varies from season to season. The best we can say is that two meals a day was a general norm, with the main midday meal being the largest calorie intake of the day.

{Background: The Rule of St. Benedict,,
Massialot, etc.)

Having said all of that, what was life like in Tante Suzanne’s kitchen at the Marigny household?

Having found some mushrooms in the garden, Suzanne was wondering about what to cook for tonight’s dinner. She searched around her larder, found some items and decided that a chicken dish was be perfect after the recent spell of bad weather. Not really thinking much about it, Suzanne set about preparing the meal in what would become a hallmark of future interpretations of the Creole cuisine she was helping to create without realizing what a foundation she was laying for future generations – that is originating a world class cuisine simply from what she had on hand around the kitchen.

The first task at hand was to kill, clean, dress, and cut up a chicken from the yard. She left the bloody work to one of the kitchen helpers. She knew first hand how to do it, but one of the benefits of being the Marigny’s chef de cuisine was being able to leave the dirty work to others. While some may consider tonight’s meal to be fancy eating, it was to this Creole family simply a well cooked weeknight’s supper.

She began by slowing frying, rendering perhaps is a better word, the chicken pieces in some bacon fat to get a good base for the dish. Next, she prepared a simple white sauce, en Francais, un bechamel. This classic and simple sauce is prepared with four spoons of butter, four spoons of fine wheat flour, two and a half cups of milk (heated), salt and pepper, and some thyme leaves.

Suzanne would begin by melting the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Then stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but not letting it brown — about 2 minutes. Adding the hot milk, and continuing to stir as the sauce thickens until it comes to a boil. She adds the thyme, then salt and pepper, lowers the heat, and cooks, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Finally she removes it from the heat and sets it aside.

Now after the chicken had rendered out a fair amount of grease, she sliced a dozen or so mushrooms and a handful of chopped parsley, then added this to the hot grease and sauté for a few minutes. Then put the chicken back into the pan, add salt and pepper, and cover each chicken piece with some of the bechamel sauce. Cover the pan, put it on a low fire and cook for about an hour. When the time is passed, remove the chicken pieces from the pan, add the rest of the sauce (perhaps thin it a bit with some stock or water). Mix the sauce well, return the chicken to the pan, cover again and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour. Serve over rice, or just by itself with some hot bread.

This recipe and others will be found in an upcoming chapter of vol. II of The Petticoat Rebellion.

Chapter ??? Everyday Bourgeois Food in New Orleans

What does Suzanne cook on a daily basis for the Marigny family?

Eggs, Bread, Cornmeal (sagamite), rice, beans, sausage, pork, seafood, poultry, ?lambs, sheep?, ham, soups, gumbos, stews, sauces,
Salads, fresh vegetables,
Pies, cakes, calas, puddings, ?sweetmeats?

The above list is a tentative number of reseatch goals, and may or may not make the final cut into the published chapter.

Don’t forget about the portage walk on March 4! Please RSVP if you can make it!!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s