Monthly Archives: October 2018

Exactly when? Redux

Just a couple of quick items today.

We all know that the founding date of New Orleans is amorphous at best (see the July 26 blog entry). So here’s a reminder. As we phase into the holiday season to end the “Tricentennial Year” be aware that for me and this commemorative blog, the tricentennial will not end until 2022. For it was in 1722 that New Orleans was finally proclaimed the capital of the Louisiana colony, and the government officially moved here – ending the initial planning, building, getting-blown-away-by-a-hurricane, and rebuilding again as the metropolis-to-be of the Old South and a major stepping off point for Manifest Destiny.

Next, I would like to announce that to fill the gaps in my upcoming intellectual life, a new blog has been opened. Check out aclassicalblog.wordpress.com – a memoire and journal of a life spent among “The Classics”. Not only considering classical music, and classic books (of which there is no end), I relish classic rock&roll, classical French & Creole cooking (and eating). I am a major fan of Turner Classic Movies. It seemed like a good use of my time until the book gets published, and then life will take another – hopefully good – turn towards the Summer* Country.

Hope you can join me in new adventures.

* Summer here refers to to the summers of Northern Europe and North America above the 40th parallel. here in the deep south, this use of the term Summer means football, Mardi Gras, and crawfish seasons (October to May).

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Tomatoes & Gumbo

This week I offer for your edification two culinary tidbits.

Throughout this whole research/writing project beginning back in 2010, one guiding principle in presenting this culinary history of eighteenth century Louisiana has been to establish through research only those foodstuffs and ingredients that were available and being used in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast during the 1700’s. As it turns out, pretty much ALL the same stuff we use to cook with today – when we cook authentic Creole dishes – could have been found in the region. All the meats, all of the grains (especially rice and maize), all of the herbs and spices, all of the garden vegetables EXCEPT for the tomato. Yes, the good old tomato. But, you ask, isn’t the tomato native to the Americas? Didn’t the Spanish explorers bring the tomato back home to Europe? Wasn’t the tomato being planted and used in Spain, Italy, and Africa along with the ever-present peppers by the 1700’s? The answer is yes, but. In the realms of his Most Catholic Majesty north of the Alps as well as among those heathen heretic Protestant princes in Germany and England, the “love apple” had a bad reputation. After all what good could possibly come from consuming this aphrodisiac that was probably poisonous as well? Anyway, the long and the short of it is that at least before 1740, there is no evidence that the tomato was grown or consumed. After 1740, Spanish culinary influence had begun to creep along the trade route, in the 1750’s and ‘60’s, the Cajuns began to arrive and adopt the tomato into their gardens, and by the end of the century, the tomato was alive and flourishing in this truly Creole environment.*

* This info can be substantiated by:

Smith, Andrew F. The Tomato in America. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994. (Paperback Ed., 2001)

Now, moving on beyond the tomato question, this past weekend we had a houseguest from the Northwest. Showing off like any true gregarious Creole, I decided to ply this unfortunate with nothing but traditional New Orleans fare. We had lots of French bread, red beans & rice, homemade Nectar snowballs, pots of Community coffee (both chicory and New Orleans blend), and bowls of gumbo unlike any I had ever made before. Shrimp, crabmeat, andouille, and alligator. This was some of the best gumbo that I have ever made. and I do not “say so myself”. My life partner and most severe critic actually stated, “This is what seafood gumbo is supposed to taste like!” I was totally blown away. So I decided to share this recipe with my dear readers. And YES, I used NO tomatoes 😉 Enjoy:

Seafood Gumbo

First you make a roux (duh!!). Begin by chopping or pureeing the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and the pope (cloves of garlic) in quantities to suit the amount of gumbo you plan to make. For a “normal” pot of homemade gumbo for the family of 3 to 5, we recommend one medium onion, a large bell pepper, 3 or 4 four stalks of celery, and 5 to 10 cloves of garlic, set aside the chopped vegetables in a bowl. Fry off the water from one 15 oz. can of cut okra or use fresh okra to taste. Now in the gumbo pot heat up ¾ cup of oil (canola, vegetable, etc.) and slowly add ¾ cup of flour – mixing or whisking constantly. After all the flour has been added, continue to stir the roux until the desired color is reached. Gumbo usually is dark brown, the color of hot cocoa, and the color will be picked up from the roux.

After the desired color is reached, immediately remove from heat and stir in the chopped vegetables and okra. This will stop the cooking process of the roux – which is what you want to happen.

FOR THE ROUX:

the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and the pope (cloves of garlic)

one medium onion

a large bell pepper

3 or 4 four stalks of celery

5 to 10 cloves of garlic

15 oz. can cut okra

salt & pepper

FOR THE GUMBO:

2 or 3 bay leaves

1 lb. Andouille, sliced into discs

1 lb. pkg. of gumbo crabs

12 oz. to 1 lb. Crab meat

{ 1 pt. oysters w/ water}

1 lb. Alligator meat

1 lb. 31-40 shrimp

1 tbsp. Crab Boil seasoning

Water

1 cup of rice, steamed or boiled, makes about 3 cups cooked rice.

Put the roux and vegetables back onto the fire, and begin slicing the andouille. When the roux sizzles, add a 2 qt.pot of water and the bay leaves ( you don’t have to be exact here, you will be adding water several times). After the sausage has been sliced , add to the gumbo mix as it heats up. Bring to a boil and cook the mixture for 15 minutes. Next add the gumbo crabs and the crab meat, add some more water and boil again for 15 or 20 minutes. Cube the alligator meat and fry it off for about 15 minutes. Add the the alligator and oysters to the gumbo. Add the Crab Boil seasoning, and boil the gumbo for another 15 to 20 minutes. Correct the seasoning now by adding more water to the boil. Finally bring the gumbo to a boil again and add the shrimp. Seafood in general, and especially shrimp, cook fast, when the gumbo boils again, cook the shrimp for about 5 minutes. Remove the gumbo off the fire and let it all settle down. Serve over a large-spoon of rice with hot French Bread.

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L’ Histoire

French Louisiana was established and settled by nearly 13,000 immigrants, colonists, and slaves in the early 1700’s. Many of these people did not survive the Atlantic crossing nor the first few months of life on the Gulf Coast. But of those who did survive some “left behind written accounts of their lived experience” of life in the French Atlantic world. (Greenwald, p. 5)

“Shannon Dawdy refers to these Louisiana “memoires, letters, and travel accounts” as a “useful kit of knowledge called histoire.” A combination of both story and history, histoires were often a mixed bag of natural and administrative history, astronomy, fashion and culinary critique, and good old-fashioned storytelling spun by the writer . . . “ (Ibid.)”

It must be kept in mind, also, that these 13,000 lived and learned and thought within the context of that era we call The Enlightenment. It was the Era of the Amateur – not in the sense of poorly done, but expressing the idea of intense fondness, curiosity, and respect for any number or variety of practices or intellectual inquiry (for those who could afford to do so). Excepting the official records of the colonial administrators, ALL of the original sources for eighteenth century colonial history are such histoires.

Speaking as a 25+ year veteran of teaching and reading history, I can unequivocally state that the American reading (and/or viewing) public (and probably the whole of the English speaking world) would rather read or hear or view a histoire than read or hear or view a history book.

As the last quarter of our Tricentennial Year dawns, I find myself reflecting on – WHY did those 13,000 risk everything to come to this swampy delta midway along a steamy Gulf Coast? What were they thinking?*

The traditional answer, of course, is the quest for a better life, for freedom from the oppression of an aristocratic economic political system. Now, after 300 (and more) years, have we, their descendants achieved that goal?

The short answer (for this descendant of French Creole settlers) is YES. The American economic political system has created, sustained, and provided an existence that could only have been dreamed of by many of our forbearers, and indeed by many of our contemporary citizens. As screwed up as much of the “system” is, the founders and even more-so, the parade of our ancestors worked toward, schemed, plotted, and created an interlocking method of doing things so that we – after three to four centuries can wake up on a given morning and have the abilities, tools, and methodologies to write a blog and publish it to the world about whether or not we could do such things !!!

NB: I am still not exactly where I wanna be. I have $400 in the bank, live in a small cottage in rural Louisiana with a huge mortgage, too much grass to mow, and am aging slowly and sometimes painfully into the endgame of this life.

BUT, AFTER MARRYING THE BEST GIRL IN NEW ORLEANS, BUILDING FOUR HOMES, RAISING A FAMILY, MAKING A LOT OF MONEY AND LOSING A LOT A MONEY, TEACHING HUNDREDS OF KIDS, AND EVEN WRITING A BOOK . . .

I CAN STILL READ ABOUT HISTORY AND WRITE ABOUT HISTORY (or should I say histoires).

Happy October, Gulf Coast! May Zephyrus send you many cold fronts !!!!!

*Keep in mind that virtually all the Africans who came here did not have any choice, nor did ⅓ to ½ of the Europeans.

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