The Fonville Winans Cookbook: Recipes and Photographs from a Louisiana Artist

My co-author, Melinda Winans, and I are excited to announce that The Fonville Winans Cookbook: Recipes and Photographs from a Louisiana Artist will be released by LSU Press September, 2017.

As many art-lovers know, Fonville Winans was the Depression-era photographer who befriended the Cajuns who fished the waters of Grand Isle, Louisiana. Through Fonville’s black-and-white pictures of this isolated population, we have vivid documentation of a hardscrabble way of life that no longer exists.

What many don’t know is that Fonville was an excellent cook. He was also meticulous about writing down everything he did in the kitchen, and when he passed away, Melinda found herself the owner of over 300 of her father-in-law’s recipes.

Our cookbook is a combination of Fonville’s biography, his recipes, and his photographs, many of which have never been published. Even if you don’t like to cook, you’ll learn the fascinating story of a man who was a photographic genius, and whose work is celebrated throughout the world.

 

Chowderland

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Chowderland

Brooke Dojny

Storey Publishing, May 2015

144 pages, $14.95

ISBN 978-1-61212-375-2

I love cookbooks that teach me something, and Brooke Dojny’s Chowderland did just that. Specifically, I, a cook from south Louisiana, did not know that there were so many styles of chowder. And chowder is a favorite meal of political marching societies? Who knew?

Dojny does an excellent job with chowder history, and she even includes the provenance and importance of chowder crackers. She also explains the differences in regional chowders, and includes basic recipes for Maine-style Haddock Chowder, Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder, and a farmhouse Parsnip Chowder popular in Vermont. There’s also chowders from the west coast, along with a good selection of vegetable chowders, something that most folks outside the Northeast don’t know exist.

I was a little surprised to see a recipe for Creole Seafood Gumbo. I certainly don’t consider gumbo a chowder, but she slipped in a chapter titled Splendid Seafood Stews and Bisque, so I suppose gumbo can fit in. And the gumbo recipe is authentic — to New Orleans.

This book is fairly slim, with only about 60 recipes. And the last few chapters are on breads and sweets. But if you don’t know much about chowder, this is a good book to start with. The recipes are well written, the photographs make everything look irresistible, and you’ll learn something.

 

Guess What’s Growing at Burden!

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(LSU AgCenter Photo)

This post is not about a book — it’s about a horticultural treasure that sits smack dab in the middle of Baton Rouge.

In case you didn’t know, the 420-acre Burden Center is home to a research facility that conducts trials to evaluate various varieties of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, mayhaws, figs, peaches, and pawpaws, along with many other commercial and home garden vegetables and fruits.

Part of the LSU AgCenter, Burden also has an outstanding fig breeding and selection program that recently released the new varieties O’Rourke, Champagne, and Tiger. Other fruit research is investigating low-chill peaches for coastal areas and pawpaws for fruit production and landscape use. Too, they’re experimenting with organic vegetables and summer and winter cover crops. All of this is right there for you to see, and if you plan your trip right, you can even get in on an LSU Extension Service demonstration project.

If you’re not into the latest fads in crop production, you’ll certainly be interested in Burden’s herb and rose gardens, woodlands, wetlands, arboretum, and the Rural Life Museum.

Every time I go to Burden I’m amazed that something that lies in the heart of such a sprawling urban area can be so quiet and unspoiled. But perpetual serenity and a natural landscape is exactly what the land’s donors wanted.

The original land was acquired in the mid-nineteenth century by John Charles Burden, and he called his home Windrush Plantation. In 1966, Burden’s heirs donated 50 acres to LSU. Over the succeeding years, they donated additional acreage, and the final parcel with given in 1992.

Admission is free, and you’re not going to find a prettier place in town to get in your daily jog. And while you’re there, stop by and check on the progress of those figs and sweet potatoes.

The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, LSU Rural LIfe Museum, and Windrush Gardens. Located at 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 225-763-3990. www.discoverBurden.com.

Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook Launch Party

Confed Dunces CoverPlease join me for the release of  A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, Tuesday, October 13, 6:00 p.m., Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania Street, New Orleans. I’ll be signing books and you can enjoy Fortuna’s Black-eyed Pea Hummus, Coconut and Macadamia Macaroons, Dr. Talc’s Bloody Marys, and Lucky Dogs, served by Jerry Strahan, the real-life Mr. Clyde.

A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook

Ignatius J. Reilly on the cover of 'A Confederacy of Dunces.'

Ignatius J. Reilly on the cover of A Confederacy of Dunces

Anyone who’s read John Kennedy Toole’s satirical masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces knows that the book’s main character Ignatius J. Reilly likes to eat. And so does just about every other character in this Pulitzer Prize winner. So for the past few months I’ve been hammering away at the computer and the stove developing recipes for a cookbook based on the foods that became such an important part of Dunces, and which includes everything from Miss Trixie’s longed-for ham to Darlene’s “juicy” wine cakes.

LSU Press will publish my manuscript, and has given me a deadline of December 31, 2014. Until then, I’ll be writing and cooking, doing research in New Orleans, posting to Twitter and Pinterest, and hoping that my finished manuscript shapes into something more coherent than the disorganized, but promising mess it is now.

So stay tuned. Santa Battaglia’s recipe for Daube and Spaghettis is coming your way. Now — back to work.

Ga-Ga for Grapefruit

A Prolific Backyard Grapefruit Tree

A Prolific Backyard Grapefruit Tree

It’s hard to believe, but grapefruit didn’t even exist until the 18th century.

Some time in the 1700s on the island of Barbados, someone crossed a sweet orange and a pumelo, the largest of the citrus, and what locals termed “forbidden fruit” was born. The word “grapefruit” originated later in Jamaica, and was given because the large golden fruits grow in clusters, like grapes.

The grapefruit itself was first documented in 1750. In 1809 Spanish nobleman Don Phillipe planted the first grapefruit in Florida. Later, in 1823, the French Count Odet planted a grove on the west shore of Tampa, in a town now known as Safety Harbor.

By 1885, Odet was shipping grapefruit to New York and Philadelphia, creating a whirlwind of interest and launching the beginning of the commercial grapefruit industry.

Today, 40% of grapefruit in the U.S. is consumed as juice and 60% is eaten fresh. And Florida is the world’s leading grapefruit producer. But since the one lone tree towering over my roofline produces enough to feed an army brigade, it’s safe to say that grapefruit grows pretty well in Louisiana, too.

Cutting the Cost of Vanilla

Dried Vanilla Beans

Dried Vanilla Beans

Planning ahead for holiday baking, I recently did an inventory of one of the most important and pricey flavorings in my pantry — vanilla.

A familiar bottle of vanilla extract.

A familiar bottle of vanilla extract.

Vanilla was first grown in the highlands of Mexico, where 15th-century Aztecs called the mature seed pod the “black flower.” After the French discovered Mexican vanilla, they started plantings in the Comoros Islands, Reunion and Madagascar. Today, Indonesia and Madagascar produce 80% of the world’s vanilla.

Vanilla is a tropical orchid that grows on a vine. The main cultivars are Bourbon vanilla (from the Indian Ocean region), Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla and West Indian vanilla. Vanilla beans and extract cost so much because harvesting and preparation are extremely labor intensive. For this reason, saffron is the only spice more expensive than vanilla.

A Jar of Homemade Vanilla Extract

A Jar of Homemade Vanilla Extract

Because it seems like I use it by the gallon, I’ve learned to brew my own from pods I buy in bulk. To make a pint of homemade vanilla, just slit three vanilla beans all the way down, place in a clean glass pint jar and cover with a distilled spirit such as vodka or rum. Let the covered jar sit for a month and, voila, you have vanilla extract!

And guess what? I just found a jar I’d started brewing a few months ago and had forgotten about. Now, on to baking those Thanksgiving cake and pies — and I won’t have to scrimp on expensive vanilla.

Irish Stew and Irish Sacrifices

Irish Stew (and, yes, we eat it over rice, even though it contains potatoes)

Irish Stew (and, yes, we eat it over rice, even though it contains potatoes)

One of my Cajun father’s favorite meals was Irish stew. My mom cobbled her version together with the typical beef, carrots, onions and potatoes, and thickened it with roux.

Aside from a dynamite stew, the Irish made rich contributions to Louisiana culture. But, as with African slaves, their beginnings here were extremely trying.

Fleeing British tyranny, the Irish began arriving in Catholic-friendly New Orleans at the end of the 18th century, and came in droves beginning in 1820, when they were forced out of their home country by famine. Although many were successful and bought property and businesses, the majority of Irish immigrants were uneducated and ended up doing menial labor.

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New Basin Canal, New Orleans, 1915

In 1830, the city’s American leaders decided to compete with rival French merchants and dig a shipping canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the American sector. Since slaves were considered too valuable to do such treacherous, and possibly fatal work, digging jobs for what was to be called the New Basin Canal went to Irish immigrants.

Desperate for money, workers dug on the canal even when deathly sick. So by the time the canal was completed, an estimated 8,000-30,000 Irish had perished on the job. Many bodies were buried, or just left, right where they’d fallen.

In 1990, the Irish Cultural Society of New Orleans erected a Celtic cross at the end of New Orleans’s West End Boulevard in honor of the fallen workers. So here’s to the Irish of New Orleans, not only for their delicious stew, but also for their unimaginable sacrifices.

 

Roselle, The Tea Hibiscus

Roselle buds ready to be picked. I'll dry the calyx, outer part, and use a handful to make tea.

Roselle buds ready to be picked. I’ll dry the calyx, outer part, and use a handful to make tea.

I was first introduced to roselle by my Herb Society buddy Melinda Winans, who gave me a few seedlings that promptly rocketed into tall bushes festooned with large maroon-colored buds. The calyx, the bright red outer part of the bud, can be dried and steeped into a tart, refreshing tea that, for eons, has been consumed around the world.

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is native to the Old World Tropics. This relative of the garden hibiscus is extremely popular in places like Thailand, Senegal, Sudan, Jamaica, Mexico, and South America. There, both hot and iced roselle teas are common, while some folks even eat the leaves and roots.

Iced Roselle Tea

Iced Roselle Tea

Research shows that a dried calyx is very high in vitamin C, and many devotees swear it lowers cholesterol, is good for the heart, and is a diuretic. In Southeast Asia, roselle is even known as the “Oriental Beauty Fruit,” because it supposedly keeps your complexion looking dewey-young.

Hmmm. I have a few dried calyces in the cupboard. I think it’s time to brew up a cup of roselle tea.

It’s Persimmon Time!

These early beauties came from the Baton Rouge Red Stick Farmers Market.

These early beauties came from the Baton Rouge Red Stick Farmers Market.

A delicious right of fall in Louisiana is the “turning of the persimmons,” which miraculously happens every year beginning in October, when this fruit (that’s technically a berry) changes from a leaf green color to pumpkin orange.

Persimmons are native to China, where they’ve been cultivated over 2,000 years.

Louisiana does have native varieties, but gardeners tend to have better luck with orientals like Hana Fugu and Fugu, which are 7-10 times larger and have less seeds. Japanese varieties made their way to the U.S. in the 1800s, and grow well in the South and California.

Although persimmons are great baked in quick breads and cookies, I prefer them raw, and snatch up as many as I can during the season.