06
Oct 17

Six Cookbooks that Capture Louisiana’s Unique Flavor

There’s a cornucopia of Louisiana cookbooks out there. Some, like The Fonville Winans Cookbook, the one I co-authored with Melinda Winans, not only have good recipes, but they give the cook an overall idea of what makes the cuisine of south Louisiana so unique.

I’ve been a food writer for the Newcomb College Culinary Writers Group and the Baton Rouge and New Orleans Advocate newspapers, and I’m currently editor of the LSU Press cookbook series “The Southern Table.” I thumb through a lot of cookbooks, and I’m always amazed at how much I learn from those mouthwatering pages. Remarkably, in this digital age, readers still find physical cookbooks entertaining. I, for instance, am the type who’d rather get lost in a cookbook at night instead of a novel. I like turning a page to find someone’s family’s favorite soup, or a new chef’s innovative desserts. There’s also something about a clever recipe title or a heartwarming header that is, well, exciting.

While with the Newcomb group, we were writing a scholarly book on food, and I was instructed to scour that institution’s massive cookbook library for my research. Wow! I was in heaven. At my fingertips were copies of some of the first cookbooks published in Louisiana. From them, I figured out how gumbo evolved over the years, how calves foot jelly was once popular, and that now-hip quenelles, egg-like shapes of forcemeat, were common on nineteenth-century New Orleans tables. All it took was a little detective work, and I had the basis for my work. It was also at this time that I realized that the popular cookbooks of bygone eras had two things in common: their recipes were relatively easy to make, and reading them made you want to rush out to your stove. Both of these distinctions still separate extraordinary cookbooks from the rest.

I met Melinda Winans at an Herb Society meeting in Baton Rouge, and we instantly connected based on one thing—we both love everything about food. Like me, she has an extensive home cookbook library, where there are books she turns to time and time again. Also, her late father-in-law, the internationally famous photographer, Fonville Winans, liked to cook, and he wrote down a mountain of his recipes. One day while browsing through Fonville’s scribbles, we realized we were not only reading a cherished family keepsake, but we had the foundation for an outstanding cookbook.

To make things interesting and to put things in perspective, we made The Fonville Winans Cookbook a compilation of recipes, his photographs, and his biography. He spent most of his youth in Texas, and is most famous for his photographs of the impoverished Depression-era Cajuns who lived on Grand Isle on Louisiana’s coast. During those years, when he was in his early twenties, he became good friends with many of his subjects, and they taught him how to cook what became his favorite cuisine, Cajun.

Fonville later settled in Baton Rouge, where he raised a family, became a sought-after portrait photographer, an inventor, and a pilot. He was also a cook who incessantly experimented. And it is from the many, many versions of his recipes that we get a glimpse of what families were eating in mid-century south Louisiana.Fonville adored both Creole and Cajun food, but his natural curiosity led him to experiment with cuisines such as Mexican and Chinese, creating dishes that were mostly unheard of in the region at the time. His notes tell us that he studied cookbooks, too. He was especially enamored of a book called The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller. In our cookbook, we include many of Fonville’s interpretations of what was, for him, exotic fare. These creations give insight into a man who was definitely ahead of his time, and who was often credited with introducing many new dishes to the Baton Rouge mainstream.

This brings us back to the question of what makes a cookbook exceptional. To me and Melinda, any cookbook tells a story. But many, such as the ones listed below, are encyclopedic, not so much for their girth, but for what their recipes tell us. Importantly, they give a broad spectrum of what folks in Louisiana think is good food. Most of those recipes have a history, some that can be traced back hundreds of years. These recipes also work in a home kitchen and, above all, our modern palates think they still taste great. Once you start reading through them, you’ll pick up on recipe titles, ingredients, and cooking techniques that are found nowhere else. Like The Fonville Winans Cookbook, they capture the local food experience, and any meal made from them would put something authentically Louisiana on the table.


Six Cookbooks that Explain Louisiana’s Unique Flavor:

River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine (The Cookbook Marketplace,1950) – This “textbook of Louisiana cooking” was published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, and has sold over 1.3 million copies. Recipes were contributed by home cooks and run the gamut from roux to courtbouillon to the now-world-famous Spinach Madeleine.

The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine (Chef John Folse & Company Publishing, 2004) – This is the first of Chef John Folse’s gigantic cookbooks. Along with a healthy dose of culinary history, he includes 700 recipes for cooking traditional south Louisiana cuisine.

Cooking up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans (Chronicle Books, 2015) – In 2005, Hurricane Katrina washed away many a recipe collection. Times-Picayune food editor Judy Walker and food writer Marcelle Bienvenu came to the rescue with this cookbook based on treasured local favorites.

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1984) – Chef Paul Prudhomme shook up traditional New Orleans Creole cooking with his down-home, rustic Cajun cooking. This cookbook is classic Cajun.

A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly’s New Orleans (LSU Press, 2015) – Cynthia LeJeune Nobles turned the food found in John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel into a cookbook that reflects what was popular on tables in New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s, before south Louisiana cooking was all the rage.

Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans (LSU Press, 2016) – Elizabeth Williams, Director of the Southern Beverage Museum, and Chris McMillian, co-founder of Museum of the American Cocktail, teamed up to write a detailed history of New Orleans’s varied cocktails. Authentic recipes are included. If you’re interested in cocktails, this book is a must.


Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, series editor for “The Southern Table” from LSU Press, is the author of A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly’s New Orleans (LSU Press, 2015) and The Delta Queen Cookbook: The History and Recipes of the Legendary Steamboat (LSU Press, 2012).

With Melinda Risch Winans, Nobles co-authored The Fonville Winans Cookbook, which was published by LSU Press earlier this week. You can read more about their cookbook in The Advocate and SIBA News. Take 30% off select Louisiana titles, including this one, during the month of October with offer code 04LBF! Buy your copy while it’s still hot off the press by clicking here.

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27
Jun 14

Recipe: Pralines

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Pralines
Makes 24-36, depending on size. Recipe is by Cynthia Nobles.

Pralines originated in France, where legend has it that the personal chef of sugar industrialist Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675) created a sugar-coated almond confection that was named for his boss. It is believed that Ursuline nuns brought the recipe to New Orleans in 1727 and substituted native pecans for almonds. The praline, also known as pecan candy, was popular with both early Acadians and New Orleans Creoles. In Old New Orleans, street vendors selling pecan pralines were called “pralinieres.”

Ingredients

2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp butter
3 cups pecan halves

Instructions

  1. Cover a hard surface with parchment paper.
  2. In a large heavy saucepan combine brown sugar, white sugar, milk, salt, and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat, without stirring, until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 F. (Recipe works best using a candy thermometer).
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter. When butter is melted, add pecans and stir until creamy and cloudy, and pecans are suspended in the mixture.
  4. Using a tablespoon, quickly drop candies onto parchment paper. Cool completely. Can be stored 2 weeks in an airtight container.

26
Jun 14

Recipe: Crawfish Etouffee

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Crawfish Etouffee
Makes 4 servings. Recipe is by Cynthia Nobles.

Etouffee is the French word for smothered, and crawfish typifies Cajun food probably more than anything. When this dish was invented in colonial times, butter was scarce in Louisiana, so cooks of the period would have made roux with hog lard or bear fat.

Ingredients

4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup minced onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups seafood or chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
cayenne pepper to taste
1 lb. crawfish tails, with fat
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped green onions
hot cooked rice for serving

Instructions

  1. In a large heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour. Stirring constantly, make a dark brown roux. (Takes 4-5 minutes).
  2. Remove skillet from fire and add onion, bell pepper, and celery and stir until roux stops sizzling. Stir in garlic.
  3. Return skillet to fire and carefully add stock. Stir until well blended. Add tomato paste, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook (uncovered) 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in crawfish, with fat. Cover and simmer 5-10 minutes, depending on size of crawfish.
  5. Stir in parsley and green onions. Serve hot over rice.

25
Jun 14

Recipe: Calas

calasRS

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Calas
Makes 2 dozen. Recipe is from The Delta Queen Cookbook (LSU Press, 2012).

In the 1800s and well into the twentieth century, Creoles enjoyed this rice fritter for breakfast with café noir (black coffee) or café au lait (coffee with milk). Originally made with yeast, the batter adapted well to the modern baking powders that became widely available after the mid-1800s.

Ingredients

2/3 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups cold cooked rice
Vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour baking powder, and salt.
  2. Whisk in eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. Stir in rice. Refrigerate batter while oil heats.
  3. In a deep fryer or heavy pot, heat 1 1/2 inches oil to 365 F. Drop batter by a rounded tablespoon and fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. (Refrigerate batter between batches).
  4. Remove cooked calas from oil, drain, and liberally sprinkle with confectioners/ sugar. Serve hot.

24
Jun 14

Recipe: Sazerac

This recipe comes to you from Cynthia Nobles, author of The Delta Queen Cookbook, in honor of our Made in Louisiana sale. Until July 4th, shop books by Louisiana authors or about Louisiana and receive 35% off and free shipping, using the offer code 04LALOVE. And stay tuned every day this week for more authentic Louisiana recipes!

Sazerac
Makes 1 drink. Recipe is by Cynthia Nobles.

The basic recipe for the Sazerac was created in the 1830s by Antoine Amedie Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary who immigrated from the West Indies and created his own brand of bitters. The drink was originally made with a cognac named Sazerac de Forge et Fils. On June 23, 2008, the Louisiana Legislature designated the Sazerac as the official cocktail of the City of New Orleans.

Ingredients

2 oz. (4 tbls.) rye whiskey
1 tsp. simple syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Big splash Herbsaint
Lemon twist

Instructions

  1. Fill a rocks glass with ice and set aside.
  2. In a separate glass, mix whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters. Add a couple of ice cubes.
  3. Discard ice in chilled rocks glass. Add Herbsaint and swirl around until glass is thoroughly coated. Pour out excess.
  4. Strain whiskey mixture into the chilled and coated glass and garnish with the lemon twist.

23
Jun 14

Creole or Cajun: What Exactly Am I Eating?

Stay tuned every day this week at the LSU Press blog for Louisiana recipes from Cindy Nobles!

Tourists flock to New Orleans for Cajun crawfish, boudin, cracklins and tasso, but the menu availability of these specialties in Louisiana’s largest city is relatively new. Until the 1980s, New Orleans food was strictly Creole (meaning born in the New World). Cajun (of the Acadians) was still relegated to the state’s western swamps and prairies, and really didn’t become popular in New Orleans until Chef Paul Prudhomme introduced it to the world. But together the two cuisines have made Louisiana one of the most heralded food regions in the world. And here’s a primer on how the basic ingredients and techniques for our famous dishes got here in the first place.

We’ll start with the first Louisiana inhabitants, Native Americans. Long before the French arrived, tribes like the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Natchez, Houmas, and Chitimachas had been drying fruit, herbs, and meats, and simmering game and turtle in stews. They also gathered pecans, cultivated sweet potatoes, caught fish and shellfish, pounded sassafras leaves to make the thickener file, and ground corn into grits.

The Catholic French sailed here in the late 17th century, and by 1718 had built the Port of New Orleans. This is important because the port and Catholicism were magnets for future immigrants whose plants, livestock, and cooking techniques combined to create our food.

The French themselves brought memories of classic Parisian cuisine. They had a knowledge of making roux, sauces, and stocks, and of seasoning with herbs and starting many a dish with a mirepoix, a mixture of diced carrots, celery, and onion. The colonial French were also fond of the seafood soup known as bouillabaisse, along with pralines (the French original made with almonds), and imported liqueurs and wine.

Slaves were imported to the region in 1719, and with Africans came black-eyed peas, watermelon, okra, a love of simmered greens, and the knowledge of growing rice. Slaves also knew how to season with spices, and in the kitchens of their masters they continued doing what they had done in their own countries: skillfully stew and fry.

Because slaves were considered too valuable to spend time growing food to sell to locals in New Orleans, in the 1720s Scottish speculator John Law lured in Germans. An industrious group of them settled in what is today St. James and St. Charles parishes, where this industrious group set up the state’s first dairies. They also grew turnips, spinach, cauliflower, artichokes, onions, garlic, cabbage, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, and were prolific bakers and knew how to cure meats, such as the smoked pork sausage we call andouille.

When the Spanish took over the Louisiana colony in 1762, they brought along jamon (ham), chaurice (spicy smoked sausage), tomatoes, and cayenne pepper, along with a love of onions, garlic, and parsley. They also had an affinity for eating beans with rice and for cooking paella, the one-pot ham and rice dish.

The Acadians arrived in New Orleans in 1785 and ended up isolated west of the City in the uncultivated prairies and marshes, where they foraged for just about anything that flew, crawled, climbed, or swam. Although they’d been living in Nova Scotia, Louisiana’s first Acadians were still partial to the one-pot meals of peasant France. This displaced population was also totally unfamiliar with Louisiana ingredients and consequently adopted cooking techniques from established residents. Over time they morphed what they learned into their own hearty “Cajun” cuisine, including robust roux-based versions of gumbo and jambalalya (as compared to the delicately-seasoned tomato-based recipes from New Orleans). In time, the Acadians became experts at cattle ranching and smoking meats, and are now the state’s leading rice growers.

Although Jesuit priests had brought the first sugar to Louisiana in 1751, Etienne de Bore didn’t grow the first successful crop until 1795. Commercial salt production in the state started in 1790, and the arrival of Saint-Domingue refugees in 1809 brought a variety of hot peppers and Creolized dishes such as bouilli, courtbouillon, étouffée, and meunière.

By the 1840s, New Orleans, had become the second largest importer of coffee in the U.S. Also during the 1840s, commercial sales of oysters, fish, and shrimp got a big boost with the arrival of seasoned Croatian fishermen. These former sailors from the Adriatic Sea lived on Louisiana’s coast south of New Orleans, and started the state’s oyster cultivation.

Chicory is common in France, and during the Civil War the blockaded French in New Orleans began using this ground up root as a coffee extender. The mirliton arrived around 1870, likely from Mexico or the Caribbean, and bananas didn’t arrive in New Orleans until the 1880s, the same time as waves of Sicilians, who brought with them a passion for bread, wine, pasta and tomatoes. Louisiana’s Italians took to truck farming almost immediately, growing vegetables like zucchini, spinach, garlic, lemons, eggplant, fennel, figs, leeks and cucumbers. In many cases, traditional Italian dishes melded with Creole dishes, and the resulting recipes are known locally as Creole-Italian.

The word “Creole” became an icon in the late nineteenth century and was fashionably attached to all sorts of foods, including vegetables, eggs, and coffee. And although the line of distinction between “fancy” Creole cooking and rustic Cajun cooking has over the years been blurred, Chef John Folse makes the distinction eloquently: “Creole…is that melange of artistry and talent, developed and made possible by the nations and cultures who settled in and around New Orleans.” And Cajun is “the mirror image of [the Cajun] unique history…a cooking style that reflects their ingenuity, creativity, adaptability, and survival.”

So there you have it, a quick history lesson on the beginnings of Creole and Cajun food. And next time you pick up a menu in New Orleans and you can’t remember who created what, don’t worry – it’s all delicious, and it’s all reflective of a state historically culturally diverse as its food.

Cynthia LeJeune Nobles is the author of The Delta Queen Cookbook: The History and Recipes of the Legendary Steamboat. She lives in Baton Rouge.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off The Delta Queen Cookbook and hundreds of other Louisiana titles. Check them out at our website, and use offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.