Monday, February 3, 2014

A Brief History of Creole Cooking in New Orleans - Part 1

Blogger's Note: While reading this article about New Orleans written in the 1930s, it becomes quickly apparent that Creole food and Louisiana seafood, spoken of here in luxurious poetic phrases, is king.  With none of the health conscience or politically correct restrictions of today, this article offers a window in to the origins of food in New Orleans Creole community, built on a tradition of simple ingredients; well-prepared and well-seasoned.  Filled with charming details of day-to-day New Orleans of the recent past, this collection studies the character and historical resonance of the traditional Creole way of life.  Enjoy!

From the Louisiana Works Progress Administration article A Brief History of Creole Cooking in New  Orleans, 1930s:

"Creole cuisine is a combination of the French and Spanish influence, the Spanish taste for strong seasoning of food combined with the French love for delicacies, and it originated in Louisiana.  The large African-Americans population of Louisiana had their share in refining the product, and likewise the Native Americans, who gathered roots and pungent herbs in the woods.

There were no schools of domestic science in the early days of New Orleans.  The Creole maidens learned their recipes over quaint old stoves and from African-American cooks, who carried hundreds of recipes in their heads, and learned others by word of mouth.  Although several of the customs in regard to the serving of food have passed with other customs as this city becomes more cosmopolitan, still today, no Creole kitchen is complete without its iron pots, bay leaf, thyme, garlic and cayenne pepper.  Some of the restaurants of New Orleans are known the world over for their Creole cooking; yet you will be served just as fine a meal in a Creole home as in one of these famed commercial places.

If you have no faith in the potency of herbs and seasonings, don't try Creole cooking.  Remember there is a difference between one bay leaf and two bay leaves; and the difference between one clove of garlic and two cloves of garlic is enough to disorganize a happy home.

New Orleans is known throughout the country for its fine food.  Some of the Creole dishes can be procured in the larger restaurants of other cities, yet some foods are still typical of and can only be found in New Orleans, such as wine or "baba" cake, which is a large porus cake dipped in claret or rum many of the older caterers would dip it in snisette, the brioche, a coffe cake; pie Sauit-Honori, made with paste and a vanilla, or striped vanilla and chocolate cream filling with little balls of the puffed paste on top and daube glace, a highly seasoned jellied meat.

Louisiana has valuable natural resources which are a great asset in the preparation of food, such as partridge, snipe, quail, ducks, and rabbits; fresh and salt water fish of every description; numerous fruits, the most outstanding being oranges and figs; many nuts, and the most delicate being the pecan.

The Creole dejuner or breakfast was quite a feast.  Black coffee would be taken in the morning and 9 o'clock the dejuner was served consisting of several different meats and always "grillades", grits, biscuits, pain perdu (lost-bread) which is more commonly known as french toast.

The French Market was the scene of quite a social gathering on Sunday morning.  Some of the Creole ladies (followed by their servant carrying the basket) and gentlemen would attend early mass at the St. Louis Cathedral and later buy the food for the day at the market.  Others would attend later mass and afterwards partake of breakfast at the restaurant of Monsieur and Madame Begue on Decatur Street (Author is referring to the world famous Tujague's Restaurant).

This breakfast would be served from eleven in the morning until three o'clock in the afternoon, and consisted of several dishes, including their famous preparation of liver and all the wine one could drink.  In the afternoon practically everyone would attend the matinee at the French Opera House, and at six o'clock, dinner, another huge meal."

Exterior view of the French Opera House at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse Streets, circa 1919.  Photos courtesy of the State Library of Louisiana.