A few weeks back, while working on the chapter about “hunting as a food source”, I found myself stumped, stymied, shut down, – blocked as it were. I couldn’t think of any way forward with the story. Luckily, with several more chapters in the bullpen as well as dozens of recipes to get on paper (metaphorically of course), I turned my attention to those tasks.
The chapter on Natchitoches was completed some months back, but I only had some recipe ideas in mind, no actual cooking had occurred. Natchitoches, of course, was the first permanent French settlement within the current borders of the modern state of Louisiana. The story of its founding, its Natives, and the very colorful character of its founder, Louis Jucherau de St. Denis is one of the more entertaining stories among colonial Louisiana’s many colorful tales. During his adventures in Spanish Tejas, he met, loved, and married the “most beautiful woman in New Spain” Emmanuela, the daughter of the commandant of the Rio Grande province. Spanish reaction to his adventures, marriage, and natural diplomatic abilities prompted them to check out (vigorously) the new French settlement he had established on the Red River. This in turn led to the establishment of the Spanish post of Los Adaes, a few miles west of Natchitoches itself. Officially, the Los Adaes post was there to check the French expansion into Spanish territory. Unofficially it became the connection between Spanish “New Mexico” and French Louisiana. Through this connection ran an active and vital and totally illegal trade channel between the two colonies. It was here that (New) Spanish culinary culture entered Louisiana early in its history, primarily in the form of cattle and horses. And lest we forget, during the eighteenth century, cattle could be of the domesticated variety (longhorns) as well as the “wild” cattle (aka buffalo or bison) mentioned in so many of the colonial records of Louisiana.
Although there are no records (that I know of) of the origin of the famous Natchitoches Meat Pie, it is within the realm of high probability that the beautiful and talented Emmanuela knew how to put an empanada together. Through her or her New Spanish kitchens this meat pie entered the culinary culture of Creole Louisiana. Stretching our imagination a bit, and cheating just a little (we used store bought pie shells instead of making our own), here is the recipe for the Spanish meat pies using buffalo instead of beef and some other original ingredients.
Buffalo Meat Pies
1 tbsp + 1 tsp. lard
1 bunch of green onions
1 stalk of celery
1 bell pepper
1 medium head of garlic
1 large onion
1 lb. finely ground buffalo meat (ground beef may be substituted)
1 lb. finely ground pork
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup beef stock
Salt, cayenne, red pepper to taste
Chop all the vegetables as finely as possible. Sauté in the tbsp. of lard. Push the veggies to the edge of your pan, add the tsp. of lard, and fry-off the buffalo until it browns. Push the buffalo to the pan edges and repeat the fry-off with the pork. No need to add more lard. After the pork browns, mix everything together in the pan, season with the salt and peppers, and cook for several minutes until well mixed and browned nicely. There should be no chunks of meat left. Remove from heat and let the meat mixture cool a bit. Add the flour and the 1/2 cup of beef stock. Use a potato masher or a dough cutter tool to thoroughly mix and grind the mixture. When done, the mixture should be moist and hold together in a ball.
If you are experienced at making pie dough from scratch, prepare enough dough for a large pie. If not, purchase pre-made pie dough that comes in a roll.
Roll out the pie dough and cut into discs about 5 inches in diameter. Fill half of each disc to about 1/2 inch from the edge and stop in the center. Do not overfill or stack the meat mixture too high. Fold the dough over forming a half-moon shape, then crimp the edges together with a fork.
Deep fry for 4 to 5 minutes until golden brown.
In the Natchitoches chapter of the upcoming volume 2 of the “Petticoat Rebellion”, Emanuella brings this recipe to New Orleans when she visits her friends the Marignys for the wedding of Antoine de Marigny and Francoise deLisle in the1740s. Whether or not this really happened is irrelevant as this is “histoire”, the historical “fiction” part of the work. The Tricentennial Memo (the historical notes here) deal with the actual founding of Natchitoches and St. Denis’ actual activities in New Spain and the Red River valley.
Stay tuned, more of this to come.