Madame Langlois’ Legacy, Preview Chapter

History & Recipes for your enjoyment and edification

What follows below are recipes and a later chapter of the upcoming (Summer, 2020) culinary history of eighteenth century Louisiana and New Orleans. Herein is found the truly Original Creole Cuisine of Louisiana. These foods and recipes are true to the cooking styles and ingredients that are documented in the various records and histories of the period. Many of the recipes and foods mentioned are to be found in cookbooks, journals, and documents that survive from the 1700’s. Others are the extrapolations and interpretations of a 21st Century historian and Creole cook native to New Orleans (yours truly). Enjoy!

1740’s – 1750’s

***Everyday Eating in New Orleans, 300 years ago***

{Suzanne} As I did most mornings when the weather allows, I wander in the gardens thinking about what to cook today, when I noticed a lovely patch of mushrooms growing in a shaded corner. Thanks to my friend, Frére Gerard, and everything he had learned from the local Natives, I knew them to not only be a safe species, but also quite flavorful. It’s small things such as this which provides inspiration to a chef, and I knew immediately the best way to use these delicate mushrooms… a chicken and shrimp dish in a simple butter and garlic sauce, spiced with cumin and parsley, just the thing after the recent spell of bad weather.

Leaving the bloody work of butchering the chicken and cleaning the shrimp to the kitchen helpers — one of the benefits of being chef de cuisine — I returned to the kitchen to supervise the daily activity of managing the tasks at hand. Once the chores of scrubbing pots and pans, washing dishes, cleaning work surfaces, doing the laundry, and tending the fire were well underway, I turned to my favorite pursuit; preparing the herbs, spices, and vegetables for today’s meal, but it was that sauce that occupied most of my thoughts.

For the chicken, I would need thyme, salt, pepper, flour, fresh cream, of course, a few shallots and parsley, and a bit of garlic for flavor… and maybe some cardamon, just to spice it up a bit.

By the time the chicken and peeled shrimp arrived in my kitchen, I had a heavy iron skillet on the burner, with the bear grease sizzling hot, to which I added the chicken. I let it render as I set about mixing the other ingredients and making a roux. Into melted butter, I carefully added the flour, stirring until I had a light tan béchamel. After adding the other seasoning, I slowly added cream until I had a lovely white sauce. The shrimp were layered in a large pan, with the mushrooms on top to add a deep, woodsy flavor. The spices were added to the melted butter and poured over the dish, and it went into a hot oven to bake.

I drained most of the rendered juices from the chicken, and prepared to pour the béchamel over the chicken, then paused. I thought of my Maman, and wondered how she would have made this dish, what she might have added to the pot. On a whim, I hurried to the spice cabinet and took out the ground nutmeg, cayenne, and the precious bit of paprika I had just gotten last week. then added just a dash of each to the dish. The final sauce — light, creamy and full of flavor — was a delight.

Within the hour, a delicious and satisfying chicken dish would grace the table along with the shrimp, and I created a new recipe to share with Frére Gerard. As for him, the turkey he was cooking today would be well on it’s way to perfection about now. I will save him some chicken and shrimp, just as he would save some turkey for me, and later tonight, we will have a quiet feast of our own.

{Gerard} The turkey was one of the largest birds I had ever seen. It’s full chest alone would fill the bellies of every frére in the Presbytere, and there would be much left over to make a gumbo the next day. I had hoped to have couple of geese, or even a brace of wild pheasants or partridges, but with turkeys so plentiful, and so big, I could not resist the bird offered to him by the hunters.

“See, Frére Gerard,” the hunter had said, holding up his prize catch, “I saved this one just for you and the good fathers, good for your belly and good for your purse, no? So much more meat than a bit of quail or partridge.”

“You don’t fool me, you old pirate,” I teased. “You are keeping the other fowl for the richer families, where you can charge more for them.” But for all his finagling, he was right. The turkey did cost less and will feed more people, and of course, provides a very tasty meat.

As I set about cleaning the turkey, I planned the best ingredients to stuff inside the bird as it cooked. Onion, parsley, bell peppers, celery for sure, just to make a good gravy to pour on the rice, with a few spoons left over for dipping our bread in the next day. There would even be enough meat left over to boil with the bones for a turkey and sausage gumbo.

Simple fare, but delicious and filling.

***************************************************

***RECIPES***

Roast Turkey & Mirepoix Stuffing

11 lb. turkey w/ giblets

2 medium bell peppers
3 celery stalks
6 to 8 shallot -individual stalks
8 to 10 toes of garlic
2 parsnips
15 2-inch carrot sticks
2 cayenne peppers
Salt, pepper, parsley, oil

In this recipe, we are working with a small turkey and CHUNKS of vegetables, no chopping necessary. A traditional mirepoix is made up of onions, bell peppers, celery, and carrots. To this mix, onions were replaced with shallots. Parsnips and garlic were added.

Place the turkey in the roasting pan in a bit of water. Pit the giblets in the pan, they will form the base of the gravy. Put the two whole cayenne peppers into the gravy mix. Chunk up the vegetables to your preference, about one inch square or 1 x 2 inches depending on the shape of vegetable. Using the stalks and sticks, begin stuffing the bird’s cavity, fill in with the other veggies as you go. Whatever does not fit into the bird, let fall into the roasting pan, again adding to the incipient gravy.

Once filling the turkey with vegetables is complete, rub the bird down with salt and pepper, some sage if you have it, coat the turkey with a little oil, add some seasoned ( or plain) flour, Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Cover the roasting pan, place in a slow oven 300˚F fo 3 hours.

Shrimp on Mushrooms & Butter

Recipe still in testing and will follow in published edition.

Chicken Stew in Béchamel

Recipe still in testing and will follow in published edition.

***************************************************

***YOUR TRICENTENNIAL MEMO***

New Orleans, The Enlightenment, & The Rise of the Bourgeoise

In our story, Suzanne and Gerard set about preparing meals in what would become a hallmark for the future interpretations of the Creole cuisine they were helping to create. The New Orleans’ cooks of that first Creole generation were laying a foundation for future generations – originating a world class cuisine simply from what was on hand around the kitchen.

The birth of New Orleans has been seen by some scholars as an attempt by the enlightened bourgeois of France to create an urban space, modeled on the principles of the Enlightenment. There, in a New World, on the blank canvas of a wilderness, they could plant the seeds of a bourgeois powerhouse destined to dominate the North American continent. Except for some success in the 1740’s, the Louisiana experiment did not really work, largely due to the inept policies of the French government. The designers of the city along with its founder and builders, did what was needed to create the potential physical space for such a goal. The powers at home in France did not support their efforts materially and sent to the colony not a bourgeois workforce but the destitute, the prisoners, and the most immoral population available from the streets and “hospitals” of Paris.

Most of these forced emigrès died en route or could not adapt to the sub-tropical climate or ran away into the vastness of North America as soon as they had a chance. The few who remained, blending with the original French-Canadian settlers and those French emigrants who came on purpose and decided to stay in Louisiana, created the next generation, the first Creole generation. Along with the descendants of the African settlers (slave and free), and the Germanic Rhinelanders, together they bequeathed to the modern world that Creole culture whose 300th anniversary we celebrated in 2018.

Those sometime hungry, but always resourceful and inventive, settlers in French Louisiana managed to create the first examples of the Creole cuisine in the city that is celebrated by Lawrence N. Powell’s The Accidental City, 2012:

. . .{New Orleans} ” . . . was fast becoming a veritable African market town . . . For game and grain, and kindling wood, no market came close to New Orleans.”

. . . African slaves, “hawked their handicrafts” local Indians sold, “spices and basketry . . .” (p. 96)

“The creation of a hybrid culture – a Creole culture, whose whole was always greater than the sum of its ethnic parts – is one of the Atlantic World’s most vital contributions to modernity.”

“The charter generation of French colonists, the settlers who carried across the Atlantic that “peculiarly French way of viewing or relating to the world – by cooking it” quite naturally preferred traditional French foodstuffs. (p.97)

“But by the second generation, the Creole generation, those French-descended people began spicing up their diets with local grains, fruits, fish, and wildlife, not to mention domestic livestock and imported crops transforming them into something pleasurable to the palate. The kitchens may have been French, but the cooks were slaves, tossing into the same kettle culinary ingredients plucked from three continents. Not only did they cook the food, but they purchased the groceries . . . from Illinois convoys, they bought the wheat flour that arrived (in the winter). From Indians, they might purchase sassafras and maize, as well as the bear fat used in cooking. From African hucksters, they snapped up rice, as well as the okra to make the roux that thickened the gumbo. And from the frontier came wild pheasants, partridges, turkeys, and quail, grapes surpassing in size anything seen in Europe, not to mention colossal catfish ‘and an infinity of other fishes that (were) unknown in France ‘. . . In other words, African slaves not only stirred the pot; they filled it, too.” (p. 98)

Consumption of food also underwent an evolution of sorts during these two centuries. By the end of the nineteenth century, “foodways” in post-bellum Louisiana and the South would have dimly reflected eighteenth and nineteenth century culinary customs. By the turn of the twentieth century the meal triumvirate of breakfast, luncheon, and supper had become well established. The Early Modern era in Europe (1500-1700) provides a slightly different picture. Prior to the settlement of the Americas, most people ate whenever they could, while meals prepared in kitchens tended to be two times a day.

There was ‘dinner’, the main meal of the day, taken in the middle of the day (anytime between 11 am and 3 pm), ‘supper’ which generally tended to 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, usually eaten between the morning chores.

Another point to consider is that mealtimes are culturally based. That is, eating (as well as timekeeping itself) in an agricultural society (pre-1850) is a lot different than eating in a post-1900 urban culture. Meals also varied according to the relative wealth of the household, the time of sunrise and sunset as well as 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.

{BackgroundReading: }
The Rule of St. Benedict,
The Picayune Cookbook,
Massialot, etc.

http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcolonial.html#colonialmealtimes

The development of Creole and generally American “foodways” during the colonial and revolutionary centuries coincided with the rise of the modern middle class, aka the bourgeoisie. This cultural evolution was a centuries-long and drawn out process. Beginning with the development of agriculture some 10,000 or more years ago, a small group of any village population were the few people who created and supplied the required “tools of the trade” to the farming majority. These craftspeople – blacksmiths, weavers, cooks and brewers, wainwrights, etc. – slowly evolved to answer the needs, and the desires, of village, town , and city.

By the European Middle Ages, this class, separate and apart from the triumvirate of rulers & clergy, warriors, and workers (peasants/farmers) began to coalesce into a distinct population. As governments developed from tribe/clan to district to region to states and finally into nations, another group (scribes, lawyers, lower clergy, and accountants) emerged and joined the mixture. At the beginning of the Early Modern Period (c. 1500) – the middle class, or bourgeoisie, had begun to flex its economic and political muscles. The exploration, colonization, and settlement of the Americas, in large part, is a story of the middle class coming of age and infiltrating, if not creating, what has become the dominant political, moral, and economic structure of today’s world.

For a thorough examination of the rise and moral effects of the bourgeoisie, see McCloskey, Deirdre N. The Bourgeois Virtues; Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2006.

During the eighteenth century in France and her colonies, political, social, and even culinary norms were undergoing monumental shifts. The thousand plus years between the fall of Rome and the rise of America, the peoples of Europe and Africa cobbled together systems of survival and eventually of civilizations (always based on some sort of economic surplus). New factors such as colonial expansion, and the Columbian Exchange brought about new ideas and methods of food consumption, even at the level of the humble household kitchens. In noble households — the never changing 1% — meals usually happened twice a day. In the morning, folks of all economic levels grabbed some bread, maybe some cheese, perhaps some leftover meat from yesterday’s cooking and washed it down with water or wine or beer. The Columbian Exchange added coffee, tea, sugar, and maize (as cornbread) to the mix. There was, during this era of Enlightenment, usually just one big meal a day. As the eighteenth century progressed, an evening meal evolved into the souper (Yes, s-o-u-p-e-r, a shared root word for supper and soup).

Suzanne’s kitchen at the Marigny household, Gerard’s kitchen at the Presbytere, such cuisines (Fr. kitchens) throughout the city, the colony, the Americas, and in Europe, Africa, and Asia all reflected and embodied these traditions of the past and embraced the new developments of the modern world of the eighteenth century. New Orleans’ cooks like Suzanne and Gerard, however, added that pinch of cayenne and the soupcon of file’, that led to one of the world’s greatest culinary traditions… Creole Cooking.

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About Jerry Laiche

Jon (Jerry) Laiche, B.A., M.A. is a  working historian, writer, and co-author of “The Petticoat Rebellion; A Culinary History of French Louisiana”.  He is a twenty-year veteran teacher and scholar, having taught courses in Louisiana, American, and World History. An unabashed bibliophile, for three years, he owned and operated “The Philosopher’s Stone” a bookstore on the New Orleans’ Northshore specializing in rare and antiquarian volumes.  He and his life partner, Elizabeth, currently live at Beltane Grove, one acre and a cottage, 30 miles north of New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain. (Rev. April Fool’s Day, 2020) jlaiche@earthlink.net https://jerryandbeth.com (alt.) nola1718@icloud.com Home Office: (985) 795-2372 Primum est Edare, diendi Philosophari