Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gas Street Lamps in the French Quarter, A Brief History

Blogger's Note: Try taking a step through the French Quarter without catching a glimpse of this iconic copper lamp and you will find it simply cannot be done.  This is the history of how the traditional gaslight came to the French Quarter.

From the Storyville District Nola website:

"Under the early French and Spanish dominion no attempt whatsoever was made to light New Orleans, but all persons in the streets at night were required to carry lanterns to prevent collisions and accidents.  The first city lighting was done in 1792, when Governer Carondelet established eighty street lamps.  In 1824, the American Theater was lit with gas by its owner, Mr. James Caldwell, this being the first time that gas was seen in New Orleans.  Encouraged by his success, Mr. Caldwell, in 1834, organized the New Orleans Gas Light and Banking Company, with a capital of $300,000, which was subsequently increased to $600,000 in a charter with the City of New Orleans. 

The charter gave the city the right to purchase the works at the end of forty years.  When the charter expired, in 1875, a consolidation was effected with a new company which had secured a charter from the Legislature and which was known as the Crescent City Company.  This would last fifty years, extending the charter to 1925.

The illumination of the streets was by gas until 1887, when a contract was made for lighting by electricity for the first, second, third, and fourth municipal districts.  On the expiration of the contract with the Jefferson City Gas Light Company in 1899, the sixth and seventh municipal districts were illuminated by electricity instead of gas as formerly' and the city in 1900 used electricity wholly."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cypress Harvesting in the South 1700-1960, Part 1

Blogger's Note:  It is of interest to Albany Woodworks as to where we source our wood from.  Over the last 37 years, Richard Woods, Owner and CEO of Albany Woodworks, has built a reputation of knowing that story.  The story of Louisiana Cypress.  This series explores the rich history of craftsmanship and the vibrant lumber industry of Louisiana, bringing the Albany Woodworks story full-circle.  Richard Woods realized what a valuable resource it could be, allowing his company  provide beautiful antique lumber without cutting down a single tree.   How the vast stands of virgin growth Louisiana Cypress began strong trade between a young Louisiana and the French-owned West Indies and grew to the top choice for the building the warehouses and factories at the heart of the Industrial Revolution on the East Coast of America.  This history is what Albany Woodworks brings to life with traditional craftsmanship from 100% reclaimed antique lumber.

(Above): Before chainsaws were invented, the logging industry in the United States & Canada was a seriously challenging occupation; there were forests full of monster trees and cutting them down was done by hand. 
From A history of the harvesting practice used in the cypress swamps of the southern United States, 1700-1960:

"Colonial Louisiana and other areas harbored vast reserves of one of the best species of wood in North America: the bald cypress.  Early residents of Louisiana struggled to meet the demand for the lumber.  Records show that ass early as 1699 French settlers at Biloxi were using cypress and selling it to merchants sailing for ports on the islands of Martinique, Santo Domingo, and Guadeloupe.  

(Above): Lumbermen sizing-up an old cypress tree prior to felling, circa 1911.

The market was not always strong over the 260 years it took to harvest the cypress stands.  Until the 1750s Louisiana settlers were the benefactors of a lucrative trade with the French West Indies.  That trade was put on hold as France lost control of Louisiana after the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War, in 1763.  By 1779 Spain had gained control of the Florida Parishes and so controlled all of present day Louisiana.  The new Spanish subjects were not allowed trade with the French-owned West Indies.  

 (Above): Cypress logging, circa 1918.

The cypress markets were depressed, but by 1820 the sugarcane and cotton plantations and the New Orleans building boom had revitalized the domestic market.  Cypress would remain in high supply and demand until well after World War I.  The depression of the 1930s slowed the demand until World War II.  The war effort and strong economy of the fifties and sixties would see the last of the industrial cypress operations.

(Above): A view of a lumber camp in the swamps in 1888. The men in the background are standing on a raft. Note the five pirogues in the picture.

While the nature of its habitat made it seemingly impossible to ever exhaust, the vast cypress stands would eventually fall after a 260-year period that cypress was commercially logged can be divided into two periods: pre-steam power and post steam power."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Old Absinthe House, Where Legends Are Made


From the Rue Bourbon website:

"In the heart of the French Quarter, at the corner of Bourbon Street and Bienville, sits the stuff that legends are made of; The Old Absinthe House.

Many celebrities have been welcomed through our doors in the nearly two centuries since its opening; including Oscar Wilde, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Jenny Lind, Enrico Caruso, General Robert E Lee, Franklin Roosevelt, Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra. Indeed, the walls throughout this incredible building are covered in the framed photographs of several famous patrons.

The building endures the name of Jean Lafitte's because of the rumored meeting of the Pirate Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson as they planned the victory of the battle of New Orleans on the second floor, now the newly-renovated Jean Lafitte's Bistro.

Built in 1806, this building was erected by Pedro Front and Francisco Juncadelia of Barcelona to house their importing firm. For the next forty years, trade continued in the bartering of food, tobacco and Spanish liquor ... a sort of early 'corner grocery.'

In 1815, the ground floor was converted into a saloon known as 'Aleix's Coffee House' and was run by the nephews of Senora Juncadelia. This coffee house was later rechristened 'The Absinthe Room' when mixologist Cayetano Ferrer created the famous Absinthe House Frappe there in 1874.

To this day, The Old Absinthe House still has the decorative marble fountains that were used to drip cool water over sugar cubes into glasses of Absinthe.  The original Old Absinthe House bar was to be destroyed at the start of Prohibition; as a powerful message to proprietors and others that Absinthe was to be abolished from the United States and would not be tolerated.

Fortunately, the bar was removed from the Absinthe House and moved under cover of darkness to a warehouse on Bourbon street in order to save it.  This warehouse became known as 'The Absinthe House Bar' until the actual bar was returned to its home in early 2004.  It is now known as the Mango, Mango daiquiri shop.

The bar is again part of this historical building after a 3 million dollar renovation returning it to its turn-of-the-century splendor.  It is now operated by Tony Moran, himself the son of a New Orleans legend 'Diamond Jim' Moran.  The building now houses Tony Moran's Restaurant and Jean Lafitte Bistro,  and the front room is still the tavern known as Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe House."

Biscuits & Gravy, Breakfast of Champions

Blogger's Note: Biscuits and Gravy were something this blogger's mama introduced early in life.  The warm buttery crannies soak up the rich and saucy gravy in a heavenly concoction that has warmed the bellies of soldiers and patriots alike through our nation's history.  Louisiana has two variations uniquely its own: Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy and Biscuits & Red-Eye Gravy.  The latter was said to be invented by a cook in Stonewall Jackson's army as a hangover cure.  However, when it comes to this American classic, we tend to think of a traditional sausage gravy over homemade biscuits, recipe included.  Enjoy!

(Above): Biscuits and Gravy have filled stomachs through hard times in history when supplies were scarce.

From the Cooking With Mama website:

"Early European settlers in the United States brought with them a simple and easy style of cooking. After the American War of Independence a meal emerged for people wanting breakfast. The supplies were very short and it had to be cheap. So came the biscuits and gravy. It was prepared in many different ways at first. There was the scrambled eggs fried in bacon grease and adding flour to it. Boiling a brown gravy mix and adding beaten eggs. There was also a concoction called chipped beef with gravy."

(Above): Real, old-fashioned sausage gravy.

From the Jim Long's Columns website:

"Pigs were brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1608, but had actually arrived on the continent a full century earlier with the first Spanish explorers. As the Spaniards looked for gold, some of those early hogs went feral in Florida and Georgia and became the early razorback hogs of the South. Because wild hogs were plentiful, and a pest, and domestic hogs became a staple on Southern farms, sausage became a base for a variety of foods, but most especially, sausage gravy. You couldn’t find a meal better than sausage gravy on biscuits to feed a large family and it became a staple of poor food all across the South and into the Midwest.

Biscuits and gravy can vary greatly by region. Head down to into Mississippi and you’ll encounter tomato gravy. It likely shows the influence of the early French in the region before the Louisiana Purchase. It requires approximately 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings, 4 tablespoons of flour, 2 large chopped-up tomatoes and about 2 cups of cold water. Once made, some cooks add crumbled bacon before spreading it over hot buttermilk biscuits.

If you head down south into Arkansas, into Mississippi and northern Louisiana, you’ll encounter a completely different gravy served on biscuits - chocolate gravy. This is a truly Southern dish served as both a breakfast meal or sometimes served as a dessert in the evening. Chocolate gravy is made with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 level teaspoon of cocoa and a cup and a half of water. Once that’s boiled together and thickened, a touch of vanilla is added. It’s typically served over lavishly-buttered buttermilk biscuits.

The traditional red-eye gravy was born in the 1840s on a battlefield. A drunken, hung-over cook for General Andrew Jackson, poured hot coffee into ham juices and brownings from frying the ham and served it up on biscuits without having added flour to thicken it. Soon cooks all across the South were cooking up "The General's red-eye gravy."

(Above): A plate of traditional style Biscuits and Sausage Gravy.

Old Fashioned Biscuits and Gravy Recipe
1 pound sausage (mild or hot)
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and lots of black pepper
2 to 3 cups milk

Crumble the raw sausage in a hot cast iron frying pan. Fry the sausage until there is no pink left. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring quickly until a paste forms. Then add milk, 1 cup at a time. Stir briskly and cook the mixture until it thickens. Then pour it over fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits, split in half, buttered or not.

(Above): Drop biscuits or rolled, your choice!

And the biscuits? You can buy those canned, frozen, instant or bakery-made but the old-fashioned biscuit is as follows:

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lard or other shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. With your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. Pour in the chilled buttermilk and stir to mix. Turn dough onto floured surface, dust with flour and fold dough over on itself 4 or 5 times. Roll out with a rolling pin or quart fruit jar until the dough is about an inch thick. Cut out biscuits with 2-inch cutter and place biscuits on a baking sheet so the biscuits are just touching. Bake until golden and fluffy, about 15-20 minutes. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Historic JAX Brewery Building

From the JAX Brewery website:
"Jackson Brewery, commonly known as JAX Brewery by locals, is a building in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, containing shops and restaurants and primarily frequented by tourists. Constructed in 1891, it became the central brewery for JAX Beer in 1956, after the JAX Brewing Company of Jacksonville, FL, closed its doors and Jackson purchased its copyrights. 

In the 1960s it became the 10th-largest brewery in the country. But in the 1970s, the company owning the brewery went bankrupt, and in the 1980s the building was purchased and turned into space for shops and restaurants.

Over 110 years old, and long since the days of being a brew house, The Shops at Jax Brewery has endured as a great landmark in the City of New Orleans. Designed and constructed by German-born and educated architect Dietrich Einsiedel in 1891, the Brewery was the largest independent brewery in the south and the tenth largest single-plant brewery in the country. Today the building is no longer a brewery, but the view is still intoxicating.  

Enjoy breathtaking views of the French Quarter at Jax Brewery, and a taste of New Orleans history and shopping."