My neighbor’s son is off to college at Louisiana Tech, four hundred miles away from our Florida neighborhood. And in the past three weeks on campus, his mother reports, he’s embraced the Louisiana culture, foodwise that is. He bought a container of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning because every person he met had one. And he’s learning all about gumbo and etouffeé and jambalaya. It’s just a good thing he’s a cross-country runner because in Louisiana the “freshman fifteen” can easily swell to the “freshman twenty-five.”
Just about the time he headed for college, I bought a copy of “Authentic Cajun Cooking” at an estate sale. Still unopened in its original clear cellophane mailing package, I snatched it up when I saw the photo of the author – Chef Paul Prudhomme. Neither the Pitney-Bowes postage label or the publication has a date, I suppose because it’s bulk rate advertising. The booklet was published and distributed by McIlhenny Company (Tabasco) as a marketing gift. The guide’s text and graphic design date it somewhere between 1981 to 1983. It’s a personal history of Cajun culture and food told in the words of the late
“Chef Paul,” who put Louisiana cooking in every kitchen in America. Next week marks two years since white-jacketed chefs carried his casket into St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square. After the mass, hundreds of mourners formed a “second line” and followed a brass band to K-Paul’s Kitchen, his famous restaurant.
The 14-page brochure features two gumbo recipes, along with Cajun favorites courtboullion, jambalaya, dirty rice, meat pie, sac-a-lait and corn maque choux. And then there’s candied sweet potatoes, potato salad and sweet potato-pecan pie — and more — to total seventeen recipes. Each chapter begins with a Prudhomme story about growing up in a Cajun farming family. Accompanying the stories are 1930s photographs by
Fonville Winans, noted Louisiana photographer who preserved the culture of Louisiana in black and white images, along with other photos from the Historic New Orleans Collection and The Louisiana State Museum.
In the introduction, Chef Paul writes that his family descended directly from the “Acadians who emigrated from southern France to Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, then migrated to South Louisiana in the mid-1700s.” These authentic Cajun recipes are ahead of their times in the culinary world. Take, for example the latest cooking trend — television chefs “elevating” almost every dish by topping it with a fried egg. The Cajuns were elevating with boiled eggs a hundred years ago .
For the above recipe, Prudhomme explains since his family consisted of Cajun “farmers,” fresh shrimp were not generally available so they used dried ones. The lack of refrigeration might have had something to do with that, too. But it just goes to prove, you can enjoy Louisiana flavors wherever you live. And for an extra dash of Louisiana, sprinkle on a little Tony Chachere’s or, better yet, add a dash of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Gumbo Filé.