Learn about Life in the 1920s

Information on Creole Cookery including Recipes from 1923

WHAT the Latin Quarter is to Paris, the Vieux Carre is to New Orleans, a spot unique, distinctive and alluring; and here are to be found the French Market and the many restaurants where, as of old, though not quite the same, one may partake of those dishes which have had almost as much to do with perpetuating the fame of New Orleans as its notable battle, its Mardi Gras or its charming balconies of iron lace. For to the initiated Creole cookery means the best cookery in the world, since the word "Creole" has the same significance to the dweller in Louisiana as the word "Knickerbocker" to the New Yorker. It stands for the best there is in ancestry as well as in foods, and one could wish for no finer feast than a dinner prepared after time-honored Creole recipes from delicious foods obtained in the old French Market.


Sunday morning is the gala time at the market; it is quite the fashion in the Vieux Carre to follow the early church service by a trip to purchase the Sunday dinner, and no one leaves the market or the Vieux Carre without purchasing pralines or calas from one or the other of the picturesque old mammies who, with baskets neatly covered with white cloths, sit on the street corners offering their wares. The calas are strangely delicious little cakes, half fritter, half roll, to be had only in New Orleans, but which might easily become as familiar in the ordinary cuisine as the pan-cake. I obtained the recipe for the making of these little cakes from an old, old woman whose fame for their making once spread far and wide. She made them, so I was told, by the hundreds every morning, and sent them out in their clean white napkins by young colored women, whose tuneful "Belle calas, tout chaud"—fine calas, all hot—was eagerly awaited by the early breakfasters.

The principal ingredient of the calas is rice, and this, the old quadroon told me, she pounded to a powder in a stone mortar; but her recipe for the cakes was as difficult to catch as a wild bird on the wing, for she recognized only the usual old mammy rule-of-thumb method, which she declared was Ires difficile—very hard—to describe. I finally contrived to secure both recipe and a snapshot of the old mortar which has seen nearly a hundred years of service.

CALAS, then, are made in this way: Boil half a cupful of rice in three cupfuls of boiling salted water till very soft, almost mushy; drain it well and cool to lukewarm. Mash the rice well and add to it half a cake of yeast dissolved in half a cupful of tepid water. Beat well and set away in a moderately warm place to rise overnight. In the morning add three well-beaten eggs, one-quarter of a cupful of sugar, one-half of a teaspoonful of salt, three or four tablespoonfuls of flour or ground rice and a pinch of nutmeg. In the old days, of course, only rice flour was permissible, but I find wheat flour very satisfactory. Beat the mixture hard, and let it rise for fifteen minutes, then drop by spoonfuls into deep boiling fat. When a rich brown, skim out, drain on paper, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve very hot.

GUMBO, eaten in all parts of the South, but with special gusto in New Orleans, is a dish midway between a soup and a stew, and appropriate for luncheon, supper or dinner. Every family in New Orleans has its own special recipe for making gumbo, but almost everyone will tell you that there are three distinct and separate varieties of it, each one of which is served only on the occasion for which it is appropriate.

OKRA GUMBO is the most easily made and perhaps the most popular. It requires a chicken, one large onion, six fresh tomatoes or half a can of the vegetable, a quart of okra pods, a bit of chili pepper, a slice of ham weighing about half a pound, a bay leaf, a sprig of parsley and a tablespoonful of lard or butter, with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Disjoint the chicken and cut the ham into small dice. Chop the onion and parsley, and cut the okra into fine pieces. Melt the lard or butter in a large frying pan, and cook the chicken in it to a delicate brown, then add the ham and the onion and other savories, and cook until they are brown, taking care that the okra does not become scorched. Cut the tomatoes, peeled, into small pieces and stir them into the gumbo; then cover and simmer slowly for half an hour. Add two and a half quarts of boiling water; then cover closely and simmer for an hour and a quarter longer. Season well-all Creole cookery is given plenty of cayenne-and serve hot with boiled rice. Sometimes a knuckle of veal or a shin of beef or the left-over ends of roast beef or fowl are utilized in making okra gumbo, with excellent results.

GUMBO AUX HERBES, or gumbo Serbes, as it is familiarly known, calls for a knuckle or brisket of veal, with a slice of ham, as in the okra gumbo. But for it one must have also equal portions of cabbage leaves, radish, turnip and beet tops, spinach or mustard greens, with a few sprigs of parsley and cress, all very young and tender and perfectly washed and dried. A green onion, a large, dry onion, a small bit of pepper pod, a bay leaf, a sprig each of thyme and parsley, a clove, and two or three allspice berries are also required to give the proper flavor. Trim the leaves and the green onion well, removing coarse ribs and hard portions, then boil them all together for an hour, adding toward the last a pinch of baking soda. Then drain well and chop very fine, reserving the water in which they were cooked. Chop the dry onion fine and fry it brown in a tablespoonful of lard or butter, adding the meat cut in small pieces. When nicely browned, place the greens in the kettle and stir them in the fat for a few moments; then add three quarts of water, including that in which the vegetables were cooked, the herbs, the spices and the pepper pod. Simmer slowly for one hour, then season to taste and serve with the inevitable boiled rice.

GUMBO FILE, the third of the traditional gumbos, is a dish of unusual and interesting origin, for it was first inspired by the Choctaw Indians who prepared and offered for sale in New Orleans, in the early days, a powder made of sassafras leaves, which imparted to the gumbo a peculiar pungency and flavor. This powder is now procurable in almost any grocery shop in the city; it goes by the name of File powder, and is used in the gumbo which has chicken and oysters for its foundation. File powder, however, is not a commodity common in other cities, therefore this type of gumbo will not be possible except in the land of its origin. Shrimp, crab and oyster gumbo are also served on occasion in Louisiana, and now and then the good housewife makes a gumbo from the remains of the Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey; indeed almost any variety of meat or game may be made the excuse for the manufacture of a pot of gumbo; but, when finished, the dish will very probably resemble one of the three I have attempted to describe, which are the true types of gumbo a la Creole.

CREOLE BOUILLABAISSE, like gumbo, is a dish that is neither a soup nor a ragout, but which partakes of the good qualities of each. For it, one must have three slices of red snapper and three of red fish, six large tomatoes or half a can, half a lemon, three onions, a small bunch of potherbs, a clove of garlic, a bay leaf, a sprig of parsley, a pinch of thyme, three tablespoonfuls of olive oil, one-quarter of a teaspoonful of saffron, with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Place the head of the red snapper and the bones of either fish over the fire in two quarts of water to boil, adding one onion sliced fine and the herb bouquet. Cook rapidly until reduced to one quart, then strain and reserve the liquid for stock. Chop the parsley and garlic, also the bay leaf and thyme, and mix well; rub the fish all over with pepper and salt, then with the mixture of herbs until the slices are well permeated with them. Lightly cook them on both sides in the olive oil, adding also the two remaining onions chopped fine. Take care that the fish slices do not overlap or become broken. Peel and slice the tomatoes, and place them in a saucepan with the lemon, also cut in fine slices, and the fish stock; let all cook slowly until the tomatoes arc done, then season well, and continue cooking until the stock is reduced to one-half its original quantity. Add the fish and cook slowly till done. Next place the fish on slices of fresh hot toast; dissolve the saffron in a little of the hot stock, add it to the rest of the liquid and simmer five minutes; now pour over the fish and serve the dish at once, and I am sure that you will say with Thackeray that "the likes of a Creole bouillabaisse was never eaten in Marseilles or Paris."

Download the Complete Creole Cooking Article with Recipes as a PDF File

Source: Ladies Home Journal - April, 1923

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