“Customary Before Prohibition”: Moving back in time with food and drink through the Picayune Creole Cook Book
As I have previously described in my wine cookery posts the post-Prohibition years in America saw the rise of recipes where wine is an ingredient. These recipes appeared in both newspaper articles and cook books. There were indeed several books dedicated solely to wine cookery but other well-established cook books were updated to include sections or simply recipes involving wine. One such cookbook is the Picayune Creole Cook Book.
The Times-Picayune is a newspaper which originated during 1837 in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1900, the paper published their first edition of the Creole cookbook. A number of editions were published over the last century introducing new formatting and additional recipes. The sixth and seventh editions, published during Prohibition, do not contain any recipes that require wine or liquor for both food dishes and drinks.
Back in December, I was showing my wine cookery books to my friend Sudip as part of our general discussion about the history of cookery books. Sudip loves to cook and in his exploration of Creole and Cajun cooking he purchased a facsimile of the 1901 second edition of the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book. We quickly decided it would be fun to cook a few recipes involving wine so I purchased the ninth edition published in 1942. Titled The Original Picayune Creole Cook Book the title page notes that it was Reprinted from the Fifth Edition, Containing Recipes Using Wines and Liquors Customary Before Prohibition. As this edition is, in effect, a restoration of original recipes with wine, there is no wine cookery chapter nor wine specific indexing. Instead the wine inclusive food recipes are integrated throughout. The wine and liquor based drinks appear in the chapter “Domestic Wines, Cordials, Drinks”. Here you may find Moselle Cup, Elixir of Violets, and Louisiana Orange Wine.
Sudip and I coordinated our menu which we prepared at my house. We could not just jump straight into cooking so we started with a bowl of Ponche au Vin de Champagne a la Creole or Champagne Punch a la Creole. I made sure to include good wine in the form of The Rare Wine Co, Les Mesnil, Champagne and Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curacao. The punch was pretty good. With added sparkle from seltzer water the sweetness from the shaved pineapple and strawberry slices were balanced out by the lemon juice. It was a rich punch so after two small glasses it was time for Sudip and I to move into the kitchen.
The punch recipe and indeed everything else we picked pre-date Prohibition. Thus we were not looking at a new post-Prohibition flavor profile, instead we went straight back more than 100 years. My ninth edition notes that some recipes may be made without wine, as even some Creole cooks object to wine, but for other recipes it is essential. This includes our venison and chicken dishes for “the success of the dish depends greatly upon the flavoring given by a small addition of wine.” That is about the extent of the discussion on wine in food.
Our menu consisted of Gumbo aux Huitres (Oyster Gumbo), Supreme de Volaille a la Reine (Breast of Chicken, Queen Style), and Salmi de Chevreuil a la Creole (Stewed Venison a la Creole). These dishes were accompanied by macaroni with cheese and roasted carrots. The chicken and venison dishes both include wine. I picked the chicken recipe because the breasts are stuffed with quenelles (forcemeat) and mushrooms then simmered in Madeira. Likewise the Venison is stewed in Claret.
We continued the use of good beverages that day by using Blandy’s 15 year old Malmsey for the chicken and 2008 Domaine de la Solitude, Pessac-Leognan for the venison. The later was a tasty wine, already taking on a firm, mature profile. If I faulted the wine it would be for a lack of weight. Regardless, we all practically finished the bottle while cooking. In keeping with the menu suggestions in the cookbook we should have started with a Sauternes but with punch and four bottles of wine already selected for the evening, adding one more bottle would have done the four of us in!
The Oyster Gumbo, made without wine, calls for a tremendous volume of oyster liquor. Quarts of it in fact. We wonder if the fresh oysters were kept at home in water due to a lack of ice or refrigeration. In that case the home cook would have access to as much oyster liquor as needed. We drank this with our white wine being the 2008 Varner, Chardonnay, Home Block, Spring Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Lou introduced me to Varner many years ago with the 2008 vintage. Based on his recent experience I opened this bottle which was drinking perfectly. Though you get the butterscotch and pineapple flavors the wine remains flavorful rather than overbearing in any sense.
The Chicken Queen Style requires chicken breasts to be stuffed with a chicken forcemeat and mushroom mixture. On top of the breast is place the fillet. The whole piece is then basted with melted button, sauteed on the bottom then cooked for 15 minutes in Madeira with a lid on the skillet. Our chicken breasts were rather large so did not complete in time. Perhaps chicken breasts were smaller back then. I have noticed a number of wine cookery books utilize Madeira for flavoring. I find this fascinating as Madeira was no longer the wine of choice in America during the 1900s. Perhaps it is a holdover from the last great Madeira decades of the mid to late 19th century when it was still widely drunk.
The Stewed Venison Creole style reminded me exactly of boeuf bourguignon. It is essentially the same recipe but with venison. Which is not surprising given this is a Creole recipe. Sudip found that after the recommended 45 minutes it was still very liquidy so he doubled the cooking time to reduce it. I should add that Sudip used fresh mushrooms instead of the canned mushrooms despite the claim that “This dish will be improved beyond estimation if a can of mushrooms is added”.
With the chicken and venison we drank two mature red wines. The NV (1960s) Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast Counties turned out to be a cleaner version of the magnum of NV Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 271, North Coast Counties which I opened in November. It had an old school, sweet red wood profile with only some funk. A solid enough wine which remained drinkable for a few days. The 1974 Veedercrest Vineyard, Petite Sirah, Batch 2, Cask YUG 77, Sonoma County proved to be the best bottle I have yet opened of this wine. It sported fresh and clean red fruit with supporting leather. Whereas the Sebastiani leaned towards the funky spectrum, the Veedercrest was an elegant example of Petite Sirah that many would enjoy.
It was all great fun and you can be assured that another dinner will be in the works.
2008 Varner, Chardonnay, Home Block, Spring Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Alcohol 14.3%. The rich nose yielded aromas of butterscotch and yellow fruits. In the mouth the wine was still fresh and drinking very well. There were butterscotch flavors that mixed with pineapple and some toast. All of this was delivered with weight. Best on the first night. **** Now – 2017.
2008 Domaine de la Solitude, Pessac-Leognan – $25
Imported by MacArthur Liquors. This wine is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.5%. The nose reveals hints of maturity. In the mouth the red and black fruit mixed with leather and watering acidity. The wine is firm with apparent structure. It is actually rather tasty but could stand to have more fruit weight. It eventually took on some licorice and mature notes in the mouth. *** Now but will last.
NV (1960s) Sebastiani, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast Counties
Alcohol 12.5%. There were sweet, old smells on the nose. In the mouth were old school flavors, sweet red wood, and roasted earth by the finish. The flavors were clean but certainly different. With air the firm cherry fruit took on some foxy notes. ** Now but will last for quite some time.
1974 Veedercrest Vineyard, Petite Sirah, Batch 2, Cask YUG 77, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12.5%. The tart red fruit was very clean with hints of leather and some old school notes. There were minimal, fine tannins, a citric finish, and decent aftertaste. Still fresh *** Now.