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Glimpse New Orleans History From a 1901 Creole Cookbook

I recently got a cookbook in the mail that I was asked to review The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book from the American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection, a company founded in 1812.

This thing is a reprint from a cookbook that came out in 1901 as a collection of recipes from the The New Orleans Times Picayune with an introduction from our own local chef-du-jour John Besh.

Glimpse New Orleans History From a 1901 Creole Cookbook

Creole cookbook of 1901 New Orleans.

Creole cookbook of 1901 New Orleans.

It’s a fascinating book. The original introduction states it was published “to assist housekeepers generally to set a dainty and appetizing table at a moderate outlay; to give recipes clearly and accurately with simplicity and exactness.”

It has all the classic recipes that you’d expect a cookbook of New Orleans food to have. Not only does it have familiar as well as unfamiliar recipes but has brief histories and explanations of the origins of some of thm.

And you really get an idea of what was common back then and how you can compare it to cooking practices of today.

For instance, they talk about fixing creole coffee. Now this was before the war and at that time using chicory in coffee was not a common practice.

So lest you think that mixing chicory with coffee in New Orleans was an everyday thing throughout the city’s history it was not.

Adding chicory was a way of extending coffee since coffee was in short supply during the war. There are still places in Europe that add chicory but they have been doing that for a long, long time. It seems that the chicory actually complements the flavor of the coffee while extending it and, for those who want to cut their caffeine intake, coffee and chicory is a great choice.

What was fascinating about the coffee section of the book is that it was considered no good to use coffee beans that had been roasted previously and stored. A good creole household used green beans that were roasted that morning in the stove. And the stove would not be a gas stove or electric stove but a wood stove.

Imagine that to have a cup of coffee in the morning you would have to get the stove going –imagine the heat in the summer — which takes quite a long time to get up to temperature. I know. I lived on 65 acres in the Pacific Northwest and we had a wood cookstove in our kitchen in addition to our propane one.

So after getting the wood up to the proper heat then you would take the time to roast the coffee beans which takes maybe ten minutes or so. Then after the beans are roasted you need to put them in a colander and shake them out to get rid of the flakey substance that comes off the bean when you roast it. I know. I’ve roasted my own beans too.

Then after you go through all that you brew your coffee in the double French drip style pot which takes 10 more minutes or so. So all of that to have a cup of coffee.

And to be honest having roasted my own beans and drunk the resultant coffee it really does not taste much different than good already roasted beans you get at the store. Which is why I only went to the trouble of roasting green coffee beans a couple times. Had it tasted really spectacular I might have continued roasting my own. But imagine having to light a cook stove and roast then drip your own beans to make a cup of coffee.

Living among our modern conveniences where we can turn a knob and a nice little ring of fire appears in our kitchen it’s difficult to appreciate what our ancestors had to do just to enjoy a simple cup of coffee.

This cookbook is an eye-opener to the social attitudes and kitchen practices at the turn of the 20th century, the century in which technology turned the world completely on its ear, and social mores were turned upside down.

This is one of the few cookbooks that can be read like a history book. It’s a fascinating account of our New Orleans creole culinary culture and history with great recipes you can actually use to boot.

You can get the Picayune’s Creole Cookbook here.

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