The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, 1901 Edition Reprint

I love people who hate on Amazon and our corporate overlord Bezos, when I know that they are buying like crazy from them. Life these days would be nearly impossible without them.

I have been saving writing about this cookbook for a couple of years now, and this is only a teaser. I’ll begin with the modest assertion that this is the greatest cookbook ever written (or at least it’s my favorite). You are allowed to ask why.

First, thanks to archduke Bezos, I was able to purchase a mint quality hardback of the 1989 version of the book for $3 plus change. It is expertly edited by a great cookbook writer herself, Marcelle Bienvenu, who wrote the definitive cookbook on Cajun cooking, Who’s Your Mama…? And please don’t confuse Creole food with Cajun food, unless you want to get laughed at.

Then, the recipes are superb, especially the meat recipes for chicken, beef, and Gulf seafood, as well as every vegetable imaginable. There is even a suggestion about how to serve broiled Robins or Larks–this one is not suggested by me, but the recommendation is to serve your songbirds on buttered French toast, and garnish with parsley.

The last mystery was as to who wrote this mammoth book (this latest version is 629 pages). An intrepid young scholar at Tulane University named Rien Fertel has determined that the author was one Marie Louise Points, a writer for the Picayune, who was “from a white, French-Creole family in New Orleans; her ancestors were from Virginia and around the Gulf Coast.” This is a common enough history, as my two favorite “Louisiana” writers came from Missouri and Alabama, respectively.

Bienvenu took the interesting approach of using the recipes from the second edition, but the introduction to the first edition. Anyone who has a copy of the second edition knows why. The second edition has an introduction that contains every racist stereotype that one would expect from the city that brought us legalized segregation with the case of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896–only four years before this book was first published. Fortunately, when it comes to the kitchen, all women and men are created equal.

Sandvik/Bahco Scraper

Hand Forged or High Tech, the Swedish know their Metals

When one of top woodworking tool sellers in the country describes a single thin piece of steel as being “legendary,” it’s time to pay attention. The wood certainly does, when this well sharpened Sandvik (now Bahco) scraper gets in on the action.

It’s easy enough to sharpen a good scraper blade, as it can be done with just a file and a burnisher–a screwdriver will do as a burnisher in a pinch, but mine (re:gear head department), is carbide steel. The edge is a “hook” edge, not a chisel edge, like a plane blade.

Let’s have a trans-Atlantic coalition:

Western Europe, Meet Eastern US

Gott in Himmel! A Swedish scraper blade in an American tool, which was designed by a German immigrant. This floor will be refinished in just days, if I can keep the stinking dogs from walking through the wet water-based polyurethane.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Four–Arthur Umanoff Stools

“And I Saw you on the Barstool, Where You held that Glass so Tight”–Neil Young

Seriously, I had never heard of this great designer of mid-century modern furniture until yesterday. Umanoff was the owner of a company called Post Modern Ltd, and his work was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Then we end up with two of his stools for $18. Read on.

MJ and I both grew up in dire straits, or as we say in the South, dirt poor. We did have houses full of books, and the beautiful Southern outdoors around us. Even with that, a dollar is still a dollar, to this day.

Example given, our shopping habits. Our most famous shopping trip was buying a piece of layered Swedish art glass (an Orrefors candle holder, no less), and a classic Stanley woodworking tool, for $4. I didn’t even bother to get a better price, which I usually do.

Yesterday was as good. These stools were under a pile of junk at a flea market, but looked good. MJ, wanna be art major, saw them first. I thought $18 was a bit much, but we needed better bar stools. What the hey.

MJ, who should have the research degree instead of me, found these on the interwebs after we bought them. Three were going for $800. Maybe being cheap is it’s own reward. At least we have a nice place to sit now.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Three–The Storage Wars

This is how the Kitchen always Wins

The shelf under my baking bench was meant for baking equipment, but guess again. Three cast iron pots and a brass/ceramic beauty walked in and said–out of the way, jokers.

So we now have three Dutch ovens and a French/ American double boiler ruling the shelf. One Dutch oven is an eight quart Lodge model, and as heavy as a sea anchor. The other is a Franken Oven, made of a Dutch oven bottom and a skillet lid top. An old Creuset enameled Dutch oven hides in the back. The best, however, is the double boiler.

The Bazar Francais double boiler is a gem, with a French made copper body and a lining from Hall Pottery in the USA. I had a brain infarction, and decided today this would be perfect for keeping mulled wine hot during Xmas.

Wait, there’s still wall space.

Yes!

What, actual baking equipment? These dudes are serious. The cherry French style pin was made in Kentuck, and the bad mother Dogwood one made in my basement, though everyone thinks it is Walnut. I know Walnut, and this is no Walnut.

A fifty/fifty split. The pins are used more often than the interlopers. But I can’t get that mulled wine off of my mind.

Homemade Habanero Powder

Habanero with the Offensive Instrument that Made it

Just a brief note about what to do with end of the season really hot peppers. A bunch of really squishy looking yellow peppers were hiding in the bottom of a big container of hot peppers I bought at the Festhalle. It was obvious what they were: Habaneros.

Not intending to use them fresh, I turned to my lowest tech imaginable method of drying, with the sun as the only source of heat. It does a great job of heating up the South every summer. I threw them in my drying platter, and forgot about them. Before I knew it, they were ready for the grinder.

I have a couple of electric machines, but none clean up as easily as the trusty Enterprise #602. More peppers are drying as we speak. Should I ambush my in-laws with this? Maybe.

Pepper “Poblano”

With Hardy Begonia

Unbelievably, there may be more Hoya! about Poblano peppers on the interwebs than there is about any other pepper. (For those not familiar with Hoya!, it’s the stuff you don’t want to step in while in the horse barn). First, it is sold under two names–Poblano and Ancho, though the name Ancho is usually (but not always) reserved for dried ground, red, Poblanos. Secondly, it is said to grow in zone 10 and further South, and be no more than 25″ tall. Guess again–I’m in zone 8, and this plant is 52″ tall and still growing.

Ocular Proof

The last and third pile of Hoya! is that these are a mild pepper. Actually, Jalapenos can be also, if you buy one of the varieties that has had all the heat bred out of them. The worst case of pepper burn I have had all summer was from Poblanos I cut up to freeze. I bought them from one of our best local Hispanic farmers, and she neglected to tell me they were really hot. Let the buyer beware.

In short, be skeptical. Grow some yourself, and see what result you get. I am mixing up a seed mix with upwards of ten varieties of hot peppers for next year, so I can see which ones are best. It’s called evolution in action. That is, as long as I survive the pepper burns.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Two–If the Preacher had not Fallen through the Porch, We would not have this Cupboard

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Seriously

I really wish I could make this stuff up, but Pastor Fiedler fell through this porch. Actually, these are just some of the surviving boards of the porch that the hefty pastor fell through. Read on.

Fiedler was one really funny pastor, and I witnessed his take down of one of MJ’s most repulsive in-laws–at a wedding, no less. With that said, he was also quite large, and he never once missed a free meal cooked by Agnes Olga, MJ’s mother. However, he almost missed one meal when he fell through the porch.

Background info. When MJ’s parents built their house, they did it right. Oak floors throughout, and even oak boards as the floor to the porch. To preserve the porch, they used green lead paint to keep it from rotting. Bad news–nothing will keep wood from rotting in this hot humid climate.

A couple of decades later, the fateful day arrived, and it could have been karma, as he was the first pastor of the church who could not speak German (the church was even founded by Col. Johannes Gottfried Cullman). Fiedler showed up as hungry as usual, but no lighter than before. He hit the one really weak board on the porch, and boom! Down he went, about three feet.

No harm was done to the man of God, but the porch received a death sentence. Here’s where I come in. I happened to be there while my in laws were tearing up the oak boards, and replacing them with cheap pressure treated pine. I asked them what they were going to do with them, and the answer was that they were going to be burned. There is nothing as healthy as burning boards painted with lead paint.

I offered to take a few boards off of their hands, and the result is above, a cabinet I made using only hand tools. I even saved some of the green paint. Hey, nostalgia, and a great story.

Fiesta Ware not Included

As my man Brecht wrote ( sorta plagiarizing Villon), where are the snows of yesteryear? I at least I saved a few of the oak boards.

Pepper “Royal Black”

Or is it Black Pearl?

I bought these seeds from the greatest seed seller around, J. L. Hudson from California. He has kept me in seeds for years, and this one sounded primo. It really is.

The black fruit, which ultimately will turn red, contrasts with the purple leaves. The blooms are also purple. It is a type of pequin pepper, a variety that originated in the pepper famous state of Tabasco in Mexico. Though the peppers are upright like a Tabasco pepper, this is actually listed as a different species.

The question: Should it have round or Tabasco shaped peppers? Most photos on the inerwebs show plants with Tabasco shaped peppers. However, they are all black, and quite hot, even up to the level of a Cayenne pepper on the Scoville scale. In short, they are hot to quite hot.

My father, who was a notorious seed thief (he called it “collecting”), would have walked away with at least one pocket full of these. He even stole all the lily seeds from a college that was attended by my three oldest sisters–only the college happened to be housed in a convent called Sacred Heart. I know that because I was there when it happened.

Sage “Berggarten”

If it does this in Six Months . . . ?

Due to the ever increasing vagaries of our climate, no doubt caused by Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (the technical term for Global Warming), our herb gardening is now confined to containers. We have one sage plant that is at least ten years old, and it has to be root bound like nobody’s business. Then I saw this plant, with the German name of Berggarten (Mountain Garden), at our local plant seller. That made it a done deal.

Yikes! I planted it in this giant Mexican terra cotta container with a white Martagon lily, and the sage began growing like it was trying to escape back to the mountains of Deutschland. (I probably should add that the plant is in fact named after one of the gardens of Herrenhausen Palace in Hanover, Lower Saxony, which is not on a mountain). The interwebs descriptions call the plant “compact.” Draw your own conclusion.

Fortunately, the taste of this plant equals its magnitude. No holiday around here is complete without some cornbread dressing that tastes of sage as much as it does of cornbread. I can see a serious herb drying project in my near future.

The Medicis, and the First Drive Through/Walk Through/Pick Up Window

There was a good reason that the Medicis ruled Florence and Tuscany for centuries. Besides funding guys named Leonardo and Galileo, they performed many public services. One of the Medici popes even hired an artist to paint his ceiling, though the ceiling happened to be in the Sistine Chapel, and the dude’s name was Michelangelo.

The most interesting invention of the Medici family these days was the take out window, aka wine window. Leave it to the great journalists of Agence France-Presse (French Press Agency) to catalog these gems (for a picture of one, go to the reprint of the article by the website Raw Story).

This is how it happened: the Medicis returned to power in Florence in 1532, and wanted to promote both agriculture, and give the average wine drinker a price break. It was a PR miracle, as both farmers and drinkers were thrilled with the setup. The solution was genius in its simplicity.

First, there needed to be strict regulation. The Medicis only allowed wine windows in palaces, and the selling had to be direct from winery to customer–no middleman. A drinker could only buy 1.5 liters at a time, though apparently there was no limit to the number of windows someone could visit. This rule also assured that there could not be the creation of a monopoly.

Then 1634 rolls around, and everyone’s favorite plague, the Bubonic, hits Florence and Tuscany. Even then, before the germ theory of disease transmission, one local writer noted that the use of wine windows protected people from contracting the disease, in that there was a thick stone wall and a heavy wooden door between buyer and seller. In current terms, there was enforced social distancing.

Fast forward to the present, and everyone’s second favorite plague, Covid-19. Suddenly long unused wine windows are back in operation, except this time there is an entire menu. Various bars are selling wine, as well as mixed drinks, coffee, gelato, and sandwiches, through the windows. The association called Le Bouchette del Vino has an excellent website with a tour of the wine windows of Florence (some saucy French person translated that as “wine holes”). AFP reports that there are officially 149 wine windows in central Florence, and a grand total of 267 known wine windows in the entire province of Tuscany.

So grab some Chianti or even some Morellino di Scansano, and take a virtual tour of the wine holes on https://buchettedelvino.org/home%20eng/home.html. It beats riding on a plane for eight hours with some already addled anti-masker.

Ciao!