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Not to be Forgotten

The Picayune Creole Cookbook

Not often is there romance and a golden glamour about a cook book.
From the introduction to The Picayune Creole Cook Book, 1916,



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I found this great old cookbook during a house sale at my friend’s Dad’s house after he passed away at the age of 111. It was on the cluttered shelf of his butler’s pantry. The beautiful frayed leather cover and fragile yellowed pages opened to reveal a 1916 publication date. Turns out it’s quite a book.

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First of all, New Orleans Creole style cooking is fascinating: think Spanish spices, tropical fruits from Africa, native Choctaw Indian gumbos, all with a French influence.

Its namesake is a turn of the 20th century Crescent City newspaper, The Picayune, that embarked on a quest to

gather “these excellent and matchless recipes of our New Orleans cuisine … ere Creole cookery with all its delightful combinations and possibilities will have become a lost art.”

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The paper deemed the city’s own cooks and housekeepers the best sources for the recipes, making the book a bible for not only Louisiana cooks but gourmets world over. There are more than a thousand recipes: complete chapters on Creole coffee, the bouille, Creole gumbo, jambalayas, and Louisiana Rice.

There’s a fine introduction explaining the traditional way French food is prepared, and a list of full menus for celebration as well as the everyday.

By 1922 it was in its sixth edition.  It was first printed in 1900 or 1901 with at least 10 reprints by 1945. It hasn’t lost its charm for cooks in over a hundred years. When Laura saw the photos I took of it for this post, she commented that aside from its uses, it is such “an intriguing object of the past” with its patina of age. This was an especially poignant comment to me in the age of kindles and other electronic reading devices. Books really are wonderful objects. I hope the pleasure of turning pages is never lost to us.

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Incidentally the book I have lists its retail price in 1916. If purchased from the Times-Picayune Office, $1.25. If sent by registered mail, $ 1.50. Now it is new in reproduction only and costs a bit more than a buck and change but you can get one or an old edition here.

Here is a lovely Shrimp Gumbo recipe copied from the Creole Gumbo section:

Shrimp Gumbo File
(Gumbo File aux Chevrettes)

50 Fine Lake Shrimp
2 Quarts of Oyster Liqueur
1 Quart of Hot Water
1 Large White Onion
1 Bay Leaf
3 Sprigs of Parsley
1 Sprig of Thyme
1 Tablespoonful of Lard or Butter
1 Tablespoonful of Flour
Dash of Cayenne
Salt and Black Pepper to Taste.

Scald and shell the shrimp, seasoning highly with the boiling water.. Put the lard into a kettle, and when hot, add the flour, making a brown roux. When quite brown, without a semblance of burning, add the chopped onion and the parsley. Fry these, and when brown, add the chopped bay leaf; pour in the hot oyster liqueur, and the hot water, or use the carefully strained liqueur in which the shrimp have been boiled.  When it comes to a good boil, and about five minutes before serving, add the shrimp to the gumbo and take off the stove. Then add to the boiling hot liquid about two tablespoonfuls of the ”File” thickening according to taste. Serve immediately with boiled rice.

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What a great find - I love old cook books in part for what they tell you about what was available. I’m not sure where I would go to get 2 quarts of oyster liquor these days.

My father has a hundred year old cook book with a recipe for a party that calls for two pounds of black truffles. Those were the days!

    – Tiernan (March 13 2010 at 9:55)



Tiernan, Oyster “liquor” is just the left over juice from inside the shell.  However, two quarts of clam juice would do nicely!

two pounds of truffles… wow.

    –  (March 13 2010 at 1:04)


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