Category Archives: NEW ORLEANS TRI-CENTENNIAL 1718 TO 2018

Eating Like a Voyageur

The following recipe is quoted from:

Mitchell, Patricia B. French Cooking in Early America. Chatham, VA: MitchellsPublications.com, 1991. Twelfth Printing, 2008. P. 3

Who, in turn found it in “Sourdough and Hardtack,” American Heritage Cookbook, New York, 1961. p. 49. By Evan Jones.

“Authentic Voyageur Stew:

“The tin kettle in which they cook their food, a traveler wrote, would hold 8 or 10 gallons. It was hung over the fire, nearly full of water, then 9 quarts of peas-one quart per man, the daily allowance-were put in; and when they were well bursted two or 3 pounds of pork, cut into strips, for seasoning, were added, and all allowed to boil or simmer until daylight, when the cook added four biscuits, broken up, to the mess, and invited all hands to breakfast. The swelling of the peas and biscuit had now filled the kettle to the brim, so thick that a stick would stand upright in it… The men now squatted in a circle, and each one plying his wooden spoon or ladle from the kettle to mouth, with almost electric speed, soon filled every cavity.”

Ms. Mitchell continues the theme for Voyageur Stew with her own recipe for a “Rendezvous”* version which adds onion, garlic, and bay leaves – along with salt and pepper – to the above.

Along with the stew, there are “voyageur” recipes and methods for Jerky (pemmican), boudins, and a discussion of egg and flour galettes.

* The Rendezvous, of course, was the annual meet-up of trappers and traders at the end of the season to indulge in all possible vices while trading and off loading their catches of the season. It was basically about the same – in attitude – as our New Orleans Mardi Gras without the parades.

BTW, anyone interested in the French-American culinary tradition ought to have Mitchell’s  little book. (ISBN: 978-0-925117-35-9)

And then there are the academics:

Podruchny, Carolyn. Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Scattered throughout this (very academic) overview of French Canadien voyageur life are numerous references to the culinary culture of these intrepid pioneers of North America west of the Mississippi.

If you are new to cooking or to any form of culinary commentary, one of the first things about food and food culture becomes ‘painfully’ obvious very soon. Any discussion or activity involving food is limited to four groups: proteins (meats), grains (wheat, rye, barley, etc.), vegetables and fruits, and beverages (drink). Humanity in all its myriad forms and expressions has done the most spectacular job in taking these four things and combining them into literally thousands of food traditions and millions of dishes. That group of (usually) men we remember as “voyageurs” were no different. Dr. Podrungny explains that there are several French phrases that came into common use by and about these explorers and traders. Two that easily apply to our topic here are Les mangeurs de lard, “The Pork Eaters”and Tripe de roche.

Les mangeurs de lard, was the (usually derisive) name given to the “low men on the totem pole”. Basically these were the canoe men, who paddled and navigated the huge cargo canoes which plied back and forth along the western rivers between the “North” lands and Lake Superior. Tripe de roche, was rock moss, boiled in water to make a boullion (often prevented starvation).

Beyond that, nourishment was found among the voyageurs in the usual ways. Protein was supplied by the outcome of hunting and fishing activities, by the nuts found in the forests, and the preserved meats such as pemmican or dried buffalo, and similar products like smoked or dried fish. Gathering was another important activity, often done by Native women. Some of there produce included wild onions, plums, various wild berries and fruit, and grapes.

It was such food resources and culinary traditions which were used by Sieur de Bourgmont, the Commandant of the Missouri Valley in the early decades of the 18th century.

Finally a word about the paucity of posts in the past month or so. It is too early to make an announcement, but let’s just say by the end of the week, Part 2 of The Petticoat Rebellion will be complete and then, hopefully, possibly, – interesting things may begin to happen.

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Voyages of a Voyageur

I betcha didn’t know that as New Orleans was being built, another Fort Orleans was coming into existence in a part of Louisiana most of us realize was there, but is not discussed very much in our histories. A French Canadien/Gulf Coast voyageur by the name of Etienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont was busy in the Missouri valley being essentially the first European to explore and map the “longest river in North America”. His story follows shortly, but first I would like to share a recurring “foodiepiphany” that occurred this afternoon (Mon. 5/21).

One of the guiding themes of The Petticoat Rebellion and of these blogs is that the origins of Creole Cuisine in French Louisiana was the result of, among many factors, making due with what one had. Since I am descended from a long line of French Creoles dating back to the 1750’s as well as the primary cook in my household, it is only right that I practice what I preach.  On this day I was planning to bake some catfish. By chance this morning I acquired a couple of bell peppers, once of which broke neatly in half on the way home. A menu begin to evolve in my mind and by 1:30, the fish remained in the freezer and pound of ground meat was removed instead. What follows is in the long tradition of Creole cooking, true to my heritage. Simple, straightforward, and fabulously delicious, here is tonite’s dinner!

Stuffed Bell Peppers w/ fake Dirty Rice
Peas & Carrots
Fresh Baked mini-Baguettes
Iced Tea

{By the way, most of the above are thoroughly modern convenience foods, which makes today’s cooking so much easier than all the preparation that Suzanne and Gerard had to go through to produce similar meals, that is a part of their genius of which I am chronicling}.

To make the fake Dirty Rice, I began by preparing a box of Zatarain’s Spanish Rice. Easy and well seasoned, I simply prepared it according to package directions, drained and set aside. Next I fried off the ground beef, adding a tablespoon of Worcester sauce. Pouring off some of the fat from the pan, I mixed the beef with the rice, added a little salt and voila – fake Dirty Rice! with one pepper broken, I sliced the other in half, sprinkled the seeds onto the rice, mixed, then stuffed the “dirty rice” into the peppers. I had on hand some frozen bake ‘n serve baguettes, opened a can of peas and carrots into a bowl for the microwave, fixed the Iced Tea – and the rest is history;-)

NOW BACK TO OUR VOYAGEUR’S STORY

It is an oft repeated cliché the the French colony of Louisiana “was a failure”. And while this argument may hold some water, especially under the regime of the Crozat company and the Company of the West/Indies up until 1732, the colony showed every sign of growth and improvement from 1734 until the loss of the Seven Years War in 1763. IMHO, this reputation needs correction in that Louisiana was not a failure, the failure was in the actions, or rather, the IN – actions of the regie or the ruling boards of the Company(s). This in turn can be seen as a symptom of the failure of ancien regime which finally fell in 1789. These aristocrats on the “boards of directors” of the these companies consistently made promises of support to the Louisiana government, their appointed soldiers and explorers who mapped out and built out the vast colony,  as well as the Native Americans with whom they desired trade relations and peace, and the actual settlers and colonists whom they shipped over to the New World. These promises were only rarely fulfilled and even then often at partial levels. It is a wonder that the actual “boots on the ground” in French Louisiana were able to make any progress at all with virtually no promised help, aid, or supplies from the homeland?

It appears to this writer that the real people here, Bienville, Boisbriant, Bourgmont, the rest of the “government”, the colonists, the settlers, the voyagers and coiuriers de bois, as well as the unheralded and forced Africans – really made a success of this “failed” colony. When the “companies” finally gave up, the decades of Bienville, Vaudreuil, and Kerlerec actually saw an economic and political stabilization comparable to any Spanish or British colony in North America.

An excellent example of this point is the case of Etienne de Bourgmont, who may be properly be called “The Discoverer of the Missouri Valley”. Not only did he travel through and explore the Missouri and connected waterways, he treated with and established positive trade and military relationships with the Native communities along those rivers, he planted a settlement upriver from the Missouri/Mississippi confluence, Fort d’Orleans. The fate of this fort becomes a case-in-point of the above mentioned policies of the home government in France.

Bourgmont‘s adventures in the New World read like a modern action thriller. His career began in 1702 when he was convicted at age 19 of poaching on monastery land and fined 100 livres. he decided instead to take ship to New France (Canada). Once there he ingratiated himself with the authorities and by 1706 he was placed in command of Fort Ponchartrain (modern Detroit) where shortly a flare up between two Native groups resulted in the death of a French priest and sergeant. In true ancien regime fashion the aristocrats quickly passed the buck to Bourgmont, who, choosing the better part of valor quietly decamped into the vast forests of North America. Bourgmont and some companions became coureurs des bois around the eastern Great Lakes for a few years and finally made a return to Fort Ponchartrain where he became involved in an inter Native war between the Fox Indians (enemies of the French) and a coalition of Algonquin, Missouria, and Osage communities. By 1713, even though technically still outside the law, Bourgmont was once again in the aristo’s favor.

The French colonial experience in Louisiana has been seen by many as an expression of that cultural phenomena sweeping through France (and Europe in general) in the 17th and 18th centuries known as the “Enlightenment”. Bourgmont’s career in New France and Louisiana offers an excellent example of what it means to be an “enlightened” explorer and trader in the New World. While living the rough and tumble life of a voyageur, hunting, trapping, and trading, Bourgmont also adding writing to his repertoire.  In 1713 he began writing Exact Description of Louisiana, of Its Harbors, Lands and Rivers, and Names of the Indian Tribes That Occupy It, and the Commerce and Advantages to Be Derived Therefrom for the Establishment of a Colony.

After traveling to the mouth of the present-day Platte River in March of 1714, he composed The Route to Be Taken to Ascend the Missouri River. This account reached the cartographer Guillaume Delisle working in Lower Louisiana, who noted that it was the first documented report of travels that far north on the Missouri.

By now, Bienville had replaced Cadillac as commandant. On September 25, 1718, he recommended that Bourgmont receive the Cross of Saint Louis for service to France, for the value of his explorations and documentation of river travel. A year later the Council of the Colony of Louisiana also officially praised Bourgmont’s work with the Natives. Drawing on his years of experience in what is now “the heartland”, he established long lasting positive relations with the locals. Tribes were said to have valued the products Bourgmont offered, as he traded gunpowder, guns, kettles, and blankets. In contrast to the Spanish whom were said to trade few horses, knives, and “inferior axes.”  He once described his knack for for dealing with the native Americans,

“For me with the Indians nothing is impossible. I make them do what they have never done.”

{N.B.  Within the same time frame Bourgmont was connecting with the Indians and exploring the Missouri valley, Bienville and a small group of workers were busy building a new city, destined to become the capital of the French colony, New Orleans. As we celebrate our Tricentennial, it may be useful to remember that – thanks to Bourgmont – New Orleans was also the capital of the Missouri valley as it was being built.}

By 1720, Bourgmont had become a fixture in Louisiana, both Lower and Upper. A recognized leader in Native American relations, an explorer and geographer of note in the Missouri Valley. That year he and his son (by his Missouria wife) travelled to Paris. (Remember he was still technically an outlaw). Luck was still on his side, for simultaneously with his arrival, news reached France that Natives allied with the French had defeated a Spanish expedition into the mid continental prairies where there were no established European claims. Our not-to-reluctant hero, was commissioned as a captain in the French army. In August he was named “Commandant of the Missouri River” and was commissioned to build a fort on the Missouri River and negotiate with the tribes to allow peaceful French commerce.

In 1723, he established Fort Orleans, the first European fort on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Grand River and present-day Brunswick, Missouri.] The fort was to be the staging base for a planned to visit the Padouca on the Great Plains and Bourgmont hoped to open a trade route to reach the Spanish colony in New Mexico.

{N.B. -again – Trade between New Mexico and Louisiana was strictly forbidden by the two empires mercantile policies. Take note that nobody in either (colonial) government paid much attention to the two empires mercantile policies.

* Bourgmont sought aid from the Kaw aka the Canzas to facilitate his expedition. He sent 22 Frenchmen and Canadians by boat from Fort Orleans to the Canzas village on the Missouri with supplies and gifts. The explorer himself set out by land, marching with 10 French colonists, and over 150 Natives. Prior to this first official French visit, many voyageurs, including Bourgmont, had visited them in the first two decades of the 18th century. The Canzas had also likely journeyed to trade in Kaskaskia. This grand expedition reached the Canzas village at the beginning of July, 1724. After innumerable speeches and feasts, the talk turned to trade, the Canzas were hard bargainers. Bourgmont wanted to buy some horses. With only five horses to trade, they extracted a high price. The Canzas also traded six slaves (likely American Indians of other tribes captured in battle), food, furs, and skins. At the end of July, in the high summer heat of the American prairie, Bourgmont, his original party of French, Missouri, and Osage, now swelled by most the Canzas village left on their quest to find the Padouca, almost certainly the French name for the Apache.

Unfortunately the heat caused a delay to the expedition. The commandant became ill and had to return to Fort d’Orleans to recover. By autumn, Bourgmont was once again able to travel. Not surprisingly, his Grand Expedition by this time had shrunk considerably. So, with fifteen Frenchmen and twenty-four Natives, including the five Apache who had joined him as guides, the “Commandant of the Missouri Valley” set out to finally, hopefully, connect the main Apache tribes.  The party headed southwest across the Kansas prairie, and after crossing the Kansas River on Oct. 11, Bourgmont recorded in his journal a sight that would dumbfound European and American travelers for the next two centuries, the Buffalo. As they passed through the innumerable beasts, they saw unfolding before them “a hunter’s paradise”. Recording 30 herds in one day, each herd consisting of 400-500 buffalo. Bourgmont wrote, “Our hunters kill as many as they please.” Deer were also abundant. In one day they saw more than 200, plus numerous turkeys near the streams.”On October 18, Bourgmont encountered the Apache*. Eighty Natives rode out on horses to meet the French and took them back to the camp.

The explorer’s journal narrates an honored welcome. It tells how he and his son with two other French explorers, were seated on a buffalo robe; carried to the tent of the Apache chief for a great feast. The next day Bourgmont assembled his trade goods and divided them into lots.

The following is the list:

“one pile of fusils [guns], one of sabers, one of pickaxes, one of axes, one of gunpowder, one of balls, one of red Limbourg cloth, another of blue Limbourg cloth, one of mirrors, one of Flemish knives, two other piles of another kind of knives, one of shirts, one of scissors, one of combs, one of gunflints, one of wadding extractors, six portions of vermillion, one lot of awls, one of large hawk beads, one of beads of mixed sizes, one of small beans, one of fine brass wire, another of heavier brass wire for making necklaces, another of rings, and another of vermillion cases.” The Apache (or Apache) had never seen such a variety of European goods.

After the trading sessions were done an assembly of 200 of the Apache chiefs and the Commandant discussed the need for peace among all tribes. He implored them to allow the French traders to pass through their lands en route to the Spanish settlements in New Mexico. Next, he invited the chiefs to take what they wanted of the merchandise. Bourgmont wrote that the Apache maintained permanent villages. He estimated that the village contained 140 dwellings, about 800 men, more than 1,500 women, and about 2,000 children. The imbalance between men and women indicates that the life of an Apache man was hazardous. The dwellings were large enough to house 30 people to live in each. The Apache chief said that he had twelve villages under his control and together four times the number of people as in this village, or about 16,000. The Apache lived in a large territory extending more than 200 leagues (520 miles).

They sent out regular hunting parties, in groups of 50-100 households. As one hunting party returned, another would leave, so that the village was occupied at all times. They apparently journeyed up to five or six days from their village to hunt. The Apache sowed a little corn and pumpkins. They obtained tobacco and horses from trade with the Spanish in New Mexico, in exchange for tanned buffalo skins.

The Natives were hospitable; they feasted and fêted Bourgmont and his group for three days before the French party turned toward home on October 22. On the 31st, Bourgmont had reached the Canzas village again. Traveling down the Missouri in circular “bullboats”, made of buffalo hides stretched over a framework of saplings, the party reached Fort Orleans on November 5. Bourgmont thought his expedition had been successful, but little came of it. Within about a decade, the Apache whom he had met in Kansas were gone, pushed south by an aggressive tribe migrating from the Rocky Mountains and sweeping all before them: the Comanche. By the end of 1724, the French, in the person of Etienne Bourgmont, had now established friendly and peaceful relations with the central Plains Indians. The Missourias, the Cansas, the Apaches, the Oto, and several other Native Communities effectively provided a secure base for the French in the Missouri Valley. Bourgmont had in reality become the “Commandant of the Missouri Valley”. But, alas, it was not to be. In 1725 Bourgmont was called upon to invite and accompany representatives of the tribes to Paris. The chiefs were shown the wonders and power of France, including a visit to Versailles, Château de Marly and Fontainebleau, hunting in the royal forest with Louis XV, and seeing an opera. In late 1725 the tribes’ leaders returned to North America. Bourgemont stayed in Normandy with his French wife, where he had been elevated to écuyer (squire). As usual, The French did not continue to support Fort Orleans, and it was abandoned in 1726. Bourgmont remained in France where he died in France in 1734.*

The above retelling of Bourgmont’s career (between the ** is a paraphrase from:

Wikipedia; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89tienne_de_Veniard,_Sieur_de_Bourgmont

PS: Authentic “Voyageur” recipes to follow shortly.

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Teaser Recipes, Ch. 2, Presbytere &Church

As I’ve said before, the Tricentennial is upon us. But there are just 2 or 3 chapters that remain to be completed. Rather that wait around for the print version, I have decided to pre-publish the entire book here online within this blog. Chapter 2 (sans recipes) and the Christmas chapter may already be found here, but moving forward I will pre-publish all the chapters as I clean them up into final drafts (I use the word “final” very loosely). The included recipes will make their way into the chapters as the year goes by. Hope you enjoy the history AND the food!

Pain Perdue: 

A staple in any South Louisiana kitchen, translates as Lost Bread, and is a popular way to use up stale bread as opposed to making bread crumbs or feeding the birds outside; sometimes also called French Toast.

At its most basic, (1) heat up some oil in a frying pan, (2) make an egg and milk wash, (3) soak the stale bread in the wash, (4) fry it brown in the pan, (5) add some sugar, or cinnamon , or what have you, (6) eat it up with some coffee.

Ahhh! But as with most classic recipes, these simple steps offer a wide range of variations.  

Step One: What kind of oil? Frere Gerard would have used bear oil, olive oil, bacon grease, or butter. Each one would infuse a distinct flavor upon your breakfast toast. In our tricentennial kitchens, the plethora of cooking oils available in our markets gives the cook a vast repertoire of flavors to experiment with.

Step Two: Beat an egg into some milk (we won’t get into what kind of egg or which animal’s milk). Gerard may have added some vanilla bean, nutmeg, allspice, or cloves into the wash. Today, your choices are measured beyond number.

Step Three: The same sentiment holds true for the bread choice. In New Orleans today, it is usually stale po-boy bread. But again go with your imagination.

Step Four: Sugar (powdered or table) and cinnamon are almost de rigeur. But think pancakes or waffles (like at IHOP), knock your lights out.

Step Five: No choice or variation allowed here. Just Eat.

Crab Cakes

4 or 5 Red Potatoes, boiled & mashed
½ small onion
½ red bell pepper
2-4 cloves garlic
Oil. Egg, lemon juice, thyme, parsley, cayenne
½  lb. picked crab meat
Bread crumbs

Boil and mash 5 large red potatoes. Chop the veggies as fine as possible (modern, pass them through a food chopper).

Next prepare a proto-recipe for the blending medium, i.e. the mayo*. Blend together (vigorously beat together) a large egg yolk, ½ cup olive oil,1 tsp. each of vinegar and/or lemon juice, the thyme, parsley, and cayenne to taste. When you have a nice firm mayo-like sauce, add the crabmeat to the mashed potatoes, blend in the “mayo”. Form into 8 or 10 cakes, correcting the texture with added bread crumbs. Coat the cakes with a layer of crumbs. If you have time, chill the cakes for a few hours. Bake the cakes at 370˚ for a half hour, then fry them in a heavy pan, oiled ¼ inch deep for 2 minutes on each side. Alternately, you can fry the cakes directly in ½ inch of oil, five minutes in each side. 

* Gerard would not have had access to the sauce we call mayonnaise, as it wasn’t invented until the late 1700’s. However, egg and oil emulsions had been around sine Classical times. For a brief history and fuller discussion of mayo see chapter 14 Everyday Cooking in Creole New Orleans.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Coming soon as they are tested:

Sagamite Stuffed Cabbage*  with Black Eye Peas (for a New Orleans New Year’s)

Corn flour, Onions or shallots, Green peppers, Parsley. Chopped or Ground Pork. Cabbage leaves, Black Eye Peas

* makes great stuffing for mushrooms, tomatoes, or bell peppers as well.

Bacon Wrapped Cabbage Rolls – nuts, bread, carrots, onions

Pies: Fruit and Nut

Turnip and Rabbit Pie

 

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The Lakes of Pontchartrain; What a Great title !!!!

Since a title cannot be copyrighted, I feel no compunction in commandeering Mr. Robert W. Hastings’ entitlement of his excellent 2009 examination of the history, geography, topology, and biology of our Pontchartrain Basin. And seeing that the Bonnet Carre’ spillway was opened this past week, it seems like an opportune time to reflect on how the lakes influenced the development of Greater New Orleans and SE Louisiana 300 years ago. It is commonly accepted that New Orleans is where it is because of the Bayou St. Portage from the Vieux Carre to Lake Pontchartrain.

Before exploring the Pontchartrain/New Orleans relationship, an editorial opinion needs to be stated regarding the Native American name of the big lake, “Okwa’ta” . I cannot help here but to recall a reservoir one passes as I-40 crosses the Arkansas/Oklahoma border out of Fort Smith. The highway signs along the Interstate inform the traveller that this relatively large body of water (apparently a natural outflow of the Arkansas River) was known to the Native Americans as – Lotsawa’ta. C’mon folks, the Indian name for a big lake is lotsa water – give me a break! and now the Choctaws are telling us that Lake Pontchartrain is OK water. This blogger would very much appreciate any Choctaw speakers in the audience to give us European-Americans a clarification of this situation. Personally, I can accept a reasonable linguistic coincidence, wa’ta = water. But lotsa and OK give me pause to think that our Choctaw friends might just be pulling our legs a bit.

Now back to some history. While there “ is no clear evidence that any Europeans entered Lake Ponchartrain prior to Iberville (1699)…” p. 25 Spanish explorers of the northern Gulf Coast of the 1500s and 1600s knew of some kind of waterways in the region around the “lakes”. The Cortes map of 1520 may have been the first to actually depict the estuary in its approximate location along the coast west of Florida. The map shows two blobs at the mouth of two combined rivers named the Espiritu Santo as it opens into the Gulf. This could easily be the conflation of Mobile Bay, Lake Borgne, and Lake Pontchartrain with the mouths of the Mobile, Pearl, and Mississippi rivers. In later references, the lakes were often called bays (and also included the Chandeleur, Breton and Mississippi Sounds).

“ Even before New Orleans was developed, Lake Ponchartrain, Bayou Manchac, and Bayou St. John had become important waterways for the transport of goods to the French colony at Mobile. The voyageurs were active in the upper Mississippi Valley and would transport to Mobile by way of Lake Ponchartrain pelts, lead, bear’s oil, slaves, smoked meat, wheat, and flour, . . .” p. 37

In 1717 it was “suggested that store houses be built at “Biloxy on the Mississippi”, the future site of New Orleans, to shorten the journey of French Canadian voyageurs traveling down the river from the Illinois country. p.37

“Another idea presented long before its time was that of Darby (1816), who apparently was the first to propose a diversion of the Mississippi River flood water through an artificial channel at “Bonnet Quarre” to reduce the incidence of damaging floods along the lower Mississippi River.” pp. 38-39.

All of this information should remind us about the reasons for the European powers to push these efforts and spend lots of money on colonies. The prevalent economic theory in the 17th and 18th centuries was the Mercantile system. That is, the potentates and governments of the European powers back then wanted to establish colonies for two reasons. Colonies had natural resources and populations that could be exploited to increase a county’s wealth – in other words, to make money. The second reason can remind us of our own colonization efforts in 1990s and first decades of of this century. I am talking here about our colonization of the WWW. A common refrain during the fist dozen years or so of the Web’s existence was we (individuals, companies, and corporations) need a web site – why? – because our competitors have one ! – in other words, to make money. In the case of the emerging nations of the West in the 17th century, political and military power was also a driving force. To the point, Louisiana was founded by the French to exploit North American resources and to “balance the power” of Spain and Britain on the continent. The lakes of Ponchartrain were a vital conduit for the trade from and political/cultural expansion into the Mississippi valley.

Mention must also be made of the three very important connections in south Louisiana between the lakes and the extremely valuable trade highway we call the Mississippi. These bayou/portages formed the links between the easy passage through the lakes and the more problematic passage that the mighty river posed to navigation. First, of course is the Bayou St. John portage – the raison d’etre of our fair city. Water traffic from the Gulf and from upriver could easily be moved (in 18th century terms) to and from the city through the lakes and the bayou to New Orleans. Next upriver is the bayou/portage at Bayou Trepaigner (tre-pan-yay) at what soon became the German Coast and is today the Bonnet Carre. The third passage between the waterways was Bayou Manchac to the Amite river to Lake Maurepas. This outflow dis-tributary of the mighty river was very useful – but only during its annual floods. Constant dredging and tree removal hindered its year round use. Taken together these three passages to the lakes and the Gulf made a perfect trade route for traders and the furs and agricultural produce coming downriver from Upper Louisiana (aka the Illinois country).
Between the river and the lakes was THE natural place to locate the capital and chief port of Louisiana. It’s hard in these days of steam and diesel to visualize the amount the commerce that travelled over the waterways surrounding New Orleans. It was the fastest way to get cargo in and out before the railroads came, so it should come as no surprise. So next time you’re tooling around the lake in your Lafitte skiff or sailboat, or crabbing and fishing off the seawall, or even crossing the Causeway; the next time you’re at Spanish Fort at the mouth of the bayou, take a walk over to Robt. E. Lee Blvd and check out the Locks of Bayou St. John – say a silent thanks to that Bayougoula scout that showed the brothers LeMoyne where to build their city.

The page references above point to passages in Robert Hastings’ book, The Lakes of Pontchartrain  ISBN-13: 978-1604732719

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Everyday Eating 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 to the Civil War/Reconstruction generation who did, in fact, still survive into the early 20th Century as well as ancestors of the colonial, American, and ante-bellum generations . 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 may have been 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 fruit, 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 certainly varied according to the relative wealth of the household as well as he time of sunrise and sunsets 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 for the above: The Rule of St. Benedict,
http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcolonial.html#colonialmealtimes,
Massialot, etc.)

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

Early morning – “petit dejeuner” hot bread, coffee, milk, cream cheese, cornbread
Midday meal – “dejeuner”
Evening meal – “souper”

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

One morning Suzanne found some mushrooms in the garden, wondering about what to cook for tonight’s dinner, she searched around her larder. Finding some items, she 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 – that is originating a world class cuisine simply from what she had on hand around the kitchen. Of course, such high-minded culinary philosophy would never have entered her mind; at least, not this morning.

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 weekday’s ‘dejeuner’, or perhaps ‘souper’.

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.

 

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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,
http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcolonial.html#colonialmealtimes,
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!!!! webmaster@tssi-no.com

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Presbytere & Church: A View from the Kitchen

A Tricentennial Xmas Gift. Prepublication of Vol.2, Chapter 2

HISTOIRE:

Frere Gerard sat on an old stool at the kitchen door looking out upon the potager. The Presbytere and the Church had come a long way since those early days eight or nine years ago, he thought, when it was a problem to get a couple of eggs to fry up for the brothers’ dinner. His kitchen was finally in place, the central hearth with its brick ovens, iron fixtures, black pots and pans, cranes, trivets, and fire dogs was always burning—except during the wee hours of night. The pantry was stocked with flours, seasonings, and grains. Just outside, a few yards from the kitchen door, the smokehouse was hung with sausage, hams, game, and fowl from farm and field. Just beyond—taking up the square between the Presbytere and the Rue Royale—was his pride and joy, the potager, bursting with herbs, vegetables, fruit bushes, and even some small trees.
‘Yes,’ he reflected, ‘New Orleans has certainly taken on the character of its place as a colonial capital.’ Tonight, he decided, after the hustle and bustle of after-dinner clean up, he would sing a Te Deum in thanksgiving for his fortune in landing in this wonderful country. One thought led to another, and soon Gerard was reflecting on the essential truth that Louisiana was indeed a New World. But he wasn’t thinking in terms the new and exciting adventures to be found in exploring new lands, immense mountains, mighty rivers, and the vast open spaces peopled with colorful and sometimes dangerous inhabitants. Gerard’s whole experience as a lay brother in service to his God and brothers of his cloister had shown him a much tamer version of life in the New World. His everyday affairs of tending to the potager, the marketing, and his kitchen had changed over the years as the needs of his fellow priests, brothers, and missionaries were met with the new and sometimes very different foods and conditions of supply. At home in his quiet monastery in Charleville, those problems had been met, solved and developed into a routine sanctioned by literally centuries of now hidebound methods and rules. When Gerard was a young monk training in his northern French convent, the everyday fare of the monks consisted of Porridge, Soup, Vegetables, Bread, and on very special occasions some Fish or Poultry. Here in the New World, the porridge had become grits, the soup was often as not gumbo, and while the vegetables were pretty much the same, Gerard’s bread could have been made from maize flour, rice flour, occasional wheat flour or some combination of the three. Gerard’s New World poultry was also basically the same as what he had learned to cook in the Champaignois – chicken, duck, and/or geese. Here in the colony, he added the ubiquitous turkey, as well as numerous game birds and pigeons. And as to the fish ! That perhaps will require a separate accounting. Regardless of these newfound riches of land and water with which to feed his company, Gerard was able to, by and large, stick to St. Benedict’s dietary rules. As can be seen, the rule leaves lots of elbow room to deal with local conditions. Gerard’s guidelines would have been excerpted from:

Benedict’s Rules for Monasteries: Chapter 39: On the Measure of Food

. . . that every table have two cooked dishes . . . and if any fruit or fresh vegetables are available, let a third dish be added.

. . . Let a good pound weight of bread suffice for the day,
whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper.
If they are to have supper, the cellarer shall reserve a third of that pound,
to be given them at supper. . . .

. . . Except the sick who are very weak, let all abstain entirely
from eating the flesh of four-footed animals.

And Chapter 40: On the Measure of Drink

“Everyone has her own gift from God,
one in this way and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7).
It is therefore with some misgiving
that we regulate the measure of others’ sustenance.
Nevertheless, keeping in view the needs of the weak,
we believe that a hemina (@ 10 oz.) of wine a day is sufficient for each.
But those to whom God gives the strength to abstain
should know that they will receive a special reward.

Gerard thought back to the problems of those early days especially providing bread and wine for the Liturgies. This, of course, would have been the primary consideration for any kitchen establishment of Catholic clergy, whether in monastery, mission, or parish. Since the beginnings of the monastic movement in mediaeval Europe, the first job at hand would be the production or procurement of bread and wine for the liturgies of the individual or group. Throughout the Middle Ages, as monasteries and convents moved into new territories, the planting of wheat and grapes would have been first on the agenda. It would be no different in the New World. In Louisiana, prior to the first productions of the field, bread and wine would have been supplies by the local trading/supply networks. In New Orleans, wine and flour came to the colony with the brothers, more were supplied by the supply ships from France, and then local production would have taken over as the seasons progressed.

Recipes: The physical POD book upon publication will contain several more recipes.

Chicken De Balize: With a Caribbean kick (The Balize was the French colonial term for the mouth of the river, there was a port facility there where ships of all nations could unload cargo to barges and pirogues for shipment upriver to New Orleans, not all of it sanctioned by the authorities. It’s location and trade practices also made it more part of the Caribbean than the Gulf Coast colony.

Small onion or half a large
Half a green pepper
Stalk of celery
5 toes of garlic
Third of a bunch of parsley
One jalapeño or to taste

2 tsp. Allspice, 1 tsp. ginger, 1/4 tsp. cayenne, salt (increase or decrease these spices to taste)

Corn flour/or meal

2 large chicken breasts, 3 leg quarters

1 large sweet potato, sliced
in circles (like chips) or sticks (your choice)

Chop the veggies into a traditional Louisiana mirepoix. Make a rub with some cornmeal and the spices. In the bottom half of a broiler pan (the kind that used to come with new stoves – maybe still do???) sauté the mirepoix for about 10 minutes, add some chicken stock, if it dries out too much.

Rub the chicken pieces with the spiced cornmeal. Place some sliced sweet potatoes in the bottom of the pan. Grease the top sheet of the pan, arrange the chicken on the top with the remaining potato slices. Bake at 350 for 2 hours.

History: The Capuchin parish of St. Louis, King of France 1720-1763.

Any discussion of colonial Louisiana usually includes several mentions of the Jesuits as the religious leaders of the enterprise. This is another popular misconception about colonial Louisiana. After all, the Jesuits are still here, in New Orleans, in some force. One only has to think of Loyola University (N.O.), the “Jesuit” church on downtown Baronne St., the corner of Banks and Carrollton. However, during the 1700’s the Jesuits were in and out of favor in France – even expelled for a while. During the French Revolution, all clergy were personae non grata. Upon the founding of New Orleans, it was the Capuchin monastic order* that was tapped to provide the religious leadership for the new capital**. The Capuchin order, under their third (really the first, as the first two were VERY temporary) pastor, Father Raphael, were the ones who actually built the church of St. Louis on the square, as well as the first Presbytere on the corner of Chartres and St. Ann. Both were destroyed by the fires of 1788 and 1794. They were rebuilt still under the aupices of the Capuchins. The famous Pere Antoine (namesake of the alley between today’s Presbytere and Cathedral) was a Capuchin pastor.***

As tro their life in the new colony, more insight may be gained from an original account, the journal of a minor company employee stationed in New Orleans during the late 1720’s. the journal of Marc-Antoine Caillot provides a brief vision of the Capuchin parish activities including an interesting comment on the morals and life of the priests and brothers of that first Presbytere. (See A Company Man, p.8)

“I forgot to say that there is also a monastery of Capuchins. there are three priests residing there, of which the warden is the vicar general of Quebec. . . . Their building is quite beautiful but too small for a monastery. Their garden is large and well cared for.”

( Here follow a few lines praising Father Raphael, the warden (leader) of the mission).

But, Caillot continues, “It is not the same same with the other priests, who secretly lead very excessive lives, of which it not necessary to make an account.
{Caillot then proceeds to make an account !}
Here in New Orleans they each wear shirts with lacy cuffs, silk stockings, and slippers, and carry money, a snuffbox, a watch, and a parasol.”

Caillot makes no mention of the foodways of the monastery, with the possible exception of his mention of the garden. But, as has been discussed by Symons⚜︎, cooks and kitchens (usually the domain of the servant class) are rarely spoken of in the writings of the bourgeois and/or the official classes. Frere Gerard, the [fictional] cook and gardener at the New Orleans Presbytere, is a lay brother – not quite a servant – but not quite a monk either. Can we also infer from the “excessive lives” of the priests that they ate differently compared to monks in a European cloister? Probably so, as official food supplies were few and far between, early New Orleans’ cooks and household chefs made due with what they had, or could produce in their gardens and backyard pens, or could find in the local markets.

The first Capuchin monks sent to Louisiana were from Champagne. Our fictional cook, Gerard, and his brothers were first drawn from the Charleville monastery in Champagne. Whoever the real monastery cook was, it was his task to blend the old world culinary traditions with New World circumstances (hunger, then plenty, then hunger again, sporadic food supply chains). By 1700 in Europe (France, Champagne, Charleville), a monastery would have been producing it’s own food for centuries. Mostly grains, vegetables, and fruits along with a very limited amount of meat (poultry and fish). Most in this locale (the province of Champagne) would have certainly produced it’s own wine as well. If a monastery did not have it’s own mill, there was certainly one nearby. In Louisiana, there were at first no mills and the the only agriculture was whatever the local Natives were growing, i.e. corn, beans, and squash. There was plenty of wild, native fruits, berries, and nuts. It was the cook’s task to create something from these resources as well as begin the process of establishing the monastery’s own food supply chain. At first, this would have been planting the “kitchen garden” (potager). Beginning in the late 20’s and certainly by 1740 gardens, farms, and mills were producing the food needed by the capital and the surrounding region. Local farms and backyards were also producing pork, poultry, and some occasional beef. Hunters ranging up the Mississippi, into the Ozarks, and the prairies to the west of the river (past Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee) were supplying game and especially the “wild beef”, that is buffalo. The Illinois Country (Upper Louisiana) was exporting downriver hams, bacon, and wheat flour. We also cannot forget the use of the literally vast seafood resources found in the bayous, rivers, lakes, and Gulf coastal areas. This would have been especially important to the convents at the Presbytere and on Ursulines Street. So, after a very shaky start in the early 20’s, the cooks in the Ile d’Orleans were – by the 30’s and 40’s – able to utilize a growing, varied, and more regular food supply. It must also be recalled that despite the pitiful “official” supplies from France, Louisiana’s economy was largely based (60 – 70%) on the smuggling trade. This contraband consisted mostly of slaves, dry goods & textiles, but also foodstuffs from the Caribbean and New Spain (Pensacola, Mexico, and Texas), were supplied from these sources.

Holding to our theme that Louisianians HAD TO EAT something, the cooks, gardeners, Natives, traders, hunters and fishermen had by the 1730’s began the traditions of not only feeding the population but of feeding them in the stylistic origins of the famous Louisiana cooking of today. Along with native resources, consider the food heritage of the Champagne region from whence the Capuchin “Gerard” would have hailed – Ardennes smoked hams, wild boar, game birds, jugged hare, pig’s feet, blood pudding (boudin), dandelion salad, andouillettes, chicken in champagne, hams in crust, trout, brie cheese (from western Champagne) {see The Food of France, W. Root}. Before closing this discussion of actual food issues, a brief word should be said regarding early cooking methods. Frere Gerard’s iron pots and pans would be at home in any Louisiana kitchen today. Cajun cooking for sure, and Creole as well, is essentially “iron pot” cooking. Stews, gumbos, etoufees, fried fish or chicken, have been traditionally cooked in the iron pot since colonial times, and in the old world, going back centuries to classical times. Even now, in the 21st century, Mama’s iron pots are passed down to the daughters (or sons, as the case may be). If south Louisiana cooks did not inherit their iron pots, they acquired them in most instances as wedding gifts.

* The monkeys were named after the habits and hoods of the Capuchin order, not vice versa.

** There is much more to this story, at one point, French Louisiana was divided into three territories, each with a specific religious order assigned to minister to the inhabitants.
See Baudier, Roger. The Catholic Church in Louisiana. New Orleans: A.W. Hyatt Stationery Mfg. Co. Ltd.,1939.

⚜︎ Symons, Michael. A History of Cooks and Cooking. Champagne, IL: U. Of Illinois Press, 1998,2000.

***More on the activities of the Capuchins and the building of the Church and Presbytere can be found in Volume 1 of The Petticoat Rebellion, Chapter 10.

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