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.

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is porch.jpg
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.

Food, Meet Southern Politics

Soccer Jersey still Fits, Decades Later

This is actually a heart warming story, after all the witticisms I have made about heart warming stories. This is how a bunch of smart Alabama white guys insured that the University of Alabama was peacefully integrated. Naturally, food was involved.

Dr. John Blackburn was something of a genius (there is still a Blackburn Institute at UA). I was something of your local friendly environmental radical as an undergrad. Then Dr. Blackburn came to speak at our dorm, Mallet, the Men’s Honors Dorm, which he had founded. After his talk, I became an all-around radical. I still am.

The gist is this: Dr. Frank Rose, the UA prez, was something of a genius himself (He also worked with NATO, and hired Bear Bryant as the football coach). He gave Blackburn the job of coming up with a plan to end segregation at UA, without the rioting that happened at the University of Mississippi. Blackburn’s idea in 1961 was beautiful. We’ll get a bunch of smart guys to be our enforcer goons against the frats, in case there was trouble. Thus the Mallet Assembly, the Men’s honor program was born. Even when I interviewed for a spot in the dorm seventeen years later, they still wanted only highly intelligent athletes. When they found out I was one of those three sport letter guys in high school, I was in.

Here’s where the food comes in. The frat expletives decided they could get rid of James Hood, the first Black male to enroll in 1963, by denying him a seat at the cafeteria. The whole plot was as laughable as George expletive Wallace standing in the school house door earlier that year. Everyone knew that frat expletives ate in their frat hidey-holes, and that they all had Black cooks. (The women’s Honors dorm, in Fitz Hall, protected Vivian Malone, who later became Vivian Malone Jones, the sister in law of US AG Eric Holder. Nobody messed with a Fitz woman, least of all some dainty sorority expletives.)

Dr. Blackburn passed the word down to Mallet–now is your time. After the Malleteers finished laughing at the idiocy of the frat’s plot, they decided it was time for the frat expletives to get some of the old what for. So they staged a little drama for the village idiots.

For the first time in history, when James went to pick up his first meal, every seat in the cafeteria was full. The Malleteers sat at their usual table, and tried not to laugh while the frat expletives all smirked. James was in on the plot, and came in with his tray of food, and looked around, as if confused. A Malleteer stood up, waved him over, and gave him his seat. The frats couldn’t believe that it happened. They really were that dense. Soon thereafter, Mallet was listed “as a subversive organization with capability to build a nuclear weapon.” I never saw any nukes, but a chemistry major made LSD in a sink in the kitchen next to my room.

Barely ten years later (thirteen, to be exact), Mallet ran, and elected, the first Black Student Government president. This was before my time, but I would have quoted Bertolt Brecht to the losers, “Erst kommt das Fressen, Dann kommt die Moral.” (Food First, and then Morality.)

Which leads to a lighter story, about our dorm soccer team, which was unbeatable for our first two years. I was a defenseman, but we were required to choose a nickname and a number for our jerseys. I choose the nickname of Sierra Club president David Brower, who defended the environment by founding The Friends of the Earth, and the Earth Island Institute. John McPhee’s great non-fiction book Encounters with the Archdruid featured three long stories about Brower.

“Without Wilderness the World is a Cage.” –David Brower, the original Archdruid

Truthfully, we won every match because our front line was three Nigerian grad students, all of whom were working on MS degrees in Petroleum Engineering. I actually would go a whole half sometimes, without ever seeing the ball come my direction. I did see a member of the frat league break his leg, when one of his rival frats kicked the snot out of him. Their game appeared to be more like a cross of rugby with thunderdome, than the beautiful sport we played.

Seed Grinder and Mill

From Central Europe to You–The Grinder, not the Flour

I am down to my last two cast iron grinders to write about, and MJ has banned me from buying more. Even with that, I have my eye on a couple of them on Fleabay. Gearheads have no limits.

This Porkert mill is from the Czech Republic, and is the only one I have purchased new. It excels at grinding mustard seed for making fresh mustard. It will also produce a really good medium grain cornmeal. If you are Hulk Hogan, you could even attempt to grind wheat into flour with this. I have had the most success with spelt wheat, which is very soft.

I purchased this from Lehman’s in Ohio, as they have great service and great products. However, hereby hangs a tale, as I was once acquianted with the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. He was even a customer of mine, back when I was in the Outdoor Retail business.

George W. appointed his favorite henchman from Alabama to be the Ambassador to the Czechs. The Czechs are famous for their metal casting, and I immediately suspected some industrial espionage, as Birmingham wasn’t just a steel town, but also a cast iron foundry town. Some of the finest cast iron cookware came from there. I’ll finish with a story about that.

At any rate, he was a good customer, as he had boat loads of taxpayer money to spend. I asked him about the Czech Republic when he came home for the holidays once. I asked him if he had seen the Faust House in Prague (by the way, Faust probably never lived there). His answer was as follows:

Ambassador: Who?

Me: Faust, the guy who sold his soul to the devil

Ambassador: Never heard of him

Me: You know, the Faust that Goethe wrote about

Ambassador: Never heard of him, either

So our educational system produces such products, and they become our Ambassadors to foreign lands. I should stop there, but I have a great cast iron story.

One of his friends, who was much more intelligent, was a retired Gent who worked with us one day a week. He was an expert fly fisherman, had been in the steel business, and knew every mill and foundry in town. His wife wanted some really fancy iron posts for their gate to their new house, and had him custom order some from a cookware foundry nearby. He went to pick them up on a Friday afternoon.

He said all the muscle bound foundry workers were there, lined up to collect their pay checks. He went up to the foreman of the plant, and stated that he wanted to pick up his cast iron posts. The foreman did this. He turned around and yelled:

Foreman: Hey, the guy is here to pick up his Mule dicks!

Everyone laughed but him. He said he just wanted to sink into the concrete, but he had mule dicks to deliver to his house. The fence did look nice.

Michaux’s Lily

Blooming Now in a Forest Nearby

André Michaux was one more botanist, gardener, and traveler. He was the Royal Botanist to French King Louis XVI, (that is, before the King misplaced his head), and botanized all over Eastern America, Canada, Persia, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Among his friends were Ben Franklin, William Bartram, and Thomas Jefferson. This Southern lily is among the many things he discovered.

We have been fortunate enough to have owned two properties where these were native. That’s a good thing, as these are practically impossible to transplant. I got that info from Ben Pace of Callaway Gardens in Georgia, where he said they killed about twenty of these before they finally gave up on them.

This, however, is the first yellow one I have seen. The more common color is orange. If this makes seed, I will try and plant more. Deer and rabbit love to eat these things, so I will just have to play wait and see on the seed angle. (Note: I just noticed that it has been eaten. Correction! MJ found it for me, as it was hiding in the maples, and it has a seed pod on it!)

While I’m on the subject of Michaux, here’s another plant he discovered–Big Leaved Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla). It has the largest leaves and flowers of any plant in North America.

Shade for the Outdoor Kitchen

There is even a legendary yellow flowered version that is found in Alabama. I have seen one of the trees said to have yellow flowers but not while it was in bloom. It’s location is a deep dark secret.

Now that’s a Leaf

Easy to grow, but hard to find, these are too big for even a deer to eat.

Florida Man is Back!

When you allegedly get high on Meth, drive your Ford F-150 into the door of a liquor store in Alabama, and shoot the person who tries to help you, you must be a Florida Man. Such is life in the modern South.

Details, details, details. According to the Calhoun County, Alabama police, at 6.49 AM yesterday morning, a man from Panama City, Florida, ran his pickup into the Liquor King store on Alabama Highway 21. The manager of an Econo Lodge Motel next door came over to help him, and was rewarded for his good Samaritan behavior by getting shot in the leg by Florida Man. A woman who was also trying to help ran like hell to get away from the lunatic, and quite rightly so.

Florida Man was just getting started. He got out of the truck, and walked down the road shooting randomly, until he ran out of bullets. He then passed out in the middle of the highway, and stayed there until an off-duty cop came and arrested him. Florida Man was then taken to the local hospital for observation, hopefully in a different room from the person he shot.

Since liquor is a plant product, and meth is a cooked product (at least according to Walter White in Breaking Bad), I felt compelled to tell this story. That, and I get to quote the Sheriff of Calhoun County, who made the understatement of the century: “It’s a scary world that we live in.”

Peter Hemings, Y’all

As this is Juneteenth, we should celebrate someone who was freed from slavery–Peter Hemings, head chef at Monticello. He learned to cook from his famous older brother James, and was such a master that President Thomas Jefferson would write from the White House for his recipes. Despite being enslaved, he was the half-brother of Jefferson’s wife. History is complicated.

Not satisfied with just that, Peter taught himself brewing, and became the head brewer at Monticello. He was so good at that that he was recommended to be an instructor for the brewer for President James Madison. Jefferson wrote Madison that Peter was “uncommonly intelligent and capable of teaching.” Apparently he could make great beer as well.

After he finally gained his freedom, Peter took up yet another trade–being a tailor in Richmond. It appears that the people of Virginia were both well fed and well clothed, because of people like Peter. My guess is he was the source of many of Mary Randolph’s recipes, from the famous 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife.

Fifteen Tomatoes

Ripe in May!

It’s been almost a hundreds years since scientists discovered that ethylene gas could artificially ripen fruit. That’s the reason why most supermarket tomatoes taste like yuk. They’re green tomatoes, turned fake red, and sold as “vine ripened.” There are very limited penalties for lying, especially in the food industry.

That’s why I am officially declaring war on Big Tomato. ( I have previously declared war on Big Chicken.) In the spirit of ’76, I now have 76 tomato plants, with more seedlings probably coming. I have fifteen varieties, which I will list below.

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! I was going to buy a couple more of these,but I actually bought three more

Roma-the heirloom variety, not the hybrid. Bought at the Festhalle, as were the rest of these. We’ve grown this before, and all of the below

Wild Cherry-the real wild mater.

Brandywine-the classic heirloom, with great tasting maters

Cherokee Purple-Perhaps the classic heirloom Southern variety

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before also. All these have now germinated

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row, and carried it all back to Louisiana. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

Peppers, Dude

I only have forty something pepper seedlings, so I have a truce with Big Pepper. I do have three more pots of seeds that have yet to germinate. The cease fire could be temporary, and I do eat a bottle of hot jalapenos every month. Everyone has a weakness.

Native Rhododendrons, Part IV–Rhododendron chapmanii

Chapman’s Rhododendron

When people think of Florida, it’s either about beaches, or the trailer parks where Florida Man and Florida Woman live, although I also think about possums who drink cognac. They certainly don’t think of evergreen Rhododendrons. However, right there in the panhandle is the rarest of the rare, Rhododendron chapmanii.

Endemic to just around six counties in Florida, this plant is still sometimes listed as a variety of Rhododendron minus, the other deep South rhody. I have both, but the resemblance between the two is slight. Chapmanii is both state and federally endangered, and unfortunately lives exclusively on private timber comany property. In short, the long term survival of the species is in no way assured.

Fortunately, I was able to purchase two nursery propagated plants for my ark of a garden, and these guys are tough. My first plant is about to cross twenty years of growing out in the woodlands of Oak and Hickory. It has also made it through two of the worst droughts in memory.

The Survivor

Once again, for those in other hardiness zones, this species blooms at the same time as Vernal Iris (Iris verna). This one happens to be between my two plants.

Iris

Like the Ark of Taste, we need an Ark of Plants as well. Your local friendly bees will thank you with pollination.

Vidalia Onions are Here!

No Onion will be Left Behind

The calendar may say it is still winter, but when Vidalia onions hit the shelves in the South, you know it is really spring, or Früling, or printemps, depending on your language. These things are delicious no matter how you pronounce it.

The Real Thing

These can legally only be grown in a few counties in Georgia, where the low sulphur soil is ideal for producing perfectly sweet onions. They are eevn protected by the “Vidalia Onion Act of 1986,”which was passed by the Georgia legislature. This is a rare example of a Southern legislature doing something useful.

Use the whole plant, including the green leaves, as it is all superb. These are great raw in a salad, or sliced onto a pizza. Or any other way you want to use them.

There should be more food designations like this in the U.S. Otherwise, we will all end up eating the generic fast food “Fish Sandwich.” What fish that is on the sandwich, we probably don’t want to know.