Tante Suzanne and Gerard sat down on the levee with their cans of steaming coffee. She opened her aprons to show her companion the treasures hidden therein. Inside were five elongated fruits of red and green color, a half-dozen precious brown nuts, and a handful of little dried out black pods.”Where did those come from!?” exclaimed Gerard. “Shush”, Tante Suzanne said, “you want the whole levee to hear you?”
Gerard had met Suzanne at the levee market a few years earlier. Like himself she was responsible for running the kitchen and the potager for a large family at a nearby home in the city. Although her mother had been African and a slave at the time of her birth, she herself was freeborn. All of her brothers and sisters were freeborn as well, due to an agreement between her mother and the Frenchman she worked for. In fact, before she was 10 years old her mother was also freed by her French owner. Nevertheless, free mother and children alike, had followed Monsieur Miragouen from San Domingue to Mobile in the early 1700s. As those early years in Louisiana passed by, Monsieur Miragouen had established a thriving farm and cattle ranch a few miles up the river from the city on the bay. By her early teens, Suzanne had demonstrated an affinity for the hearth and the garden. And by the time she was 20 she was the cook at the big house on the farm. A few years later her father died and Suzanne was forced to consider her options because of her lascivious half-brother Louis. A tall and handsome woman, Suzanne was often forced into uncomfortable positions as she, Louis and the others were growing up. He would playfully grab her or hold her against a tree making indecent remarks. Now that he had inherited his father’s farm and ranch, things were getting a little too serious for Suzanne.
A few years prior to this, when Governor Bienville had decided to build the new colonial capital at New Orleans about 150 miles west of Mobile, her brother Romulus had decided to go along and help settle the city. As Suzanne’s talents had manifested themselves in the kitchen, so her brother’s had shown up in the stable yards. With his knowledge of and seemingly natural abilities to handle horses, Romulus quickly found work in a large household of a rich merchant in New Orleans. Suzanne decided to move to New Orleans herself and within a few short months she established herself with the same family in their kitchen and gardens. While settling into her new city and workspaces, she often saw this interesting looking fellow at the markets in town seeming to be a bit out of place. One day, while examining some freshly caught catfish and shrimp being offered by a riverman, she bumped into this fellow, and a conversation began as to how to best prepare these gifts of the Great River.
Over the next few seasons Frére Gerard and Suzanne became fast friends, sharing cups of coffee on the levee along with their recipes, gardening ideas, and methods of running kitchens. On this day at the levee market, Suzanne, called Tante by her household family, had come across one of her acquaintances from the bayous and swamps west of the city. This area has long been a thriving depot for boats and pirogues coming up from Barataria Bay with fabrics and foodstuffs, whose origins in the busy ports of the Caribbean islands and cities along the Gulf Coast from Veracruz to Pensacola, were not officially sanctioned by the New Orleans Superior Council. This is why the spices were hidden in her apron. Now to be shared with her close friend Gerard were some wonderful chili peppers, nutmegs, and cloves.
Gerard gratefully accepted a few of the chili peppers, two of the nutmegs, but left the cloves for Suzanne this time around. On her part, Suzanne was already thinking of the wonderful puddings and cakes she was planning to bake for her household’s next Sunday dinner.