Thu 24 Aug 2006
When the internet gets stale I like to pretend I’m old-school Cajun. To aid in my fantasy, I rely on Talk about Good: Le Livre de la Cuisine de Lafayette, a cookbook that Dr. G picked up at a garage sale back in the early days, in an edition that looks to be from the 70′s. He found a recipe in there that he liked so much, he copied it down and took it with him to Peace Corps, and it has followed us to every place we’ve lived. It’s called Plantation Cake, and it’s essentially a thick pool of dark molasses with sweetened biscuit dough floating on the top. I hate it. But of course on the days when I’m Cajun I re-read the recipe with relish. Even more fun is spot-checking a page for something interesting.
For example, the Poultry and Game section has recipes for “Doves in a Pot” and “Squirrel Sauce Piquante,” whose first listed ingredient is “17 squirrels, marinated.” The names of the contributors are interesting, too. We’ve got Mrs. Haskell Walker, Brigadier General Carl J. Dueser, Mrs. Walter B. Comeaux, Jr. The women kept their first names hidden and the men announce their credentials.
Then there’s the sheer metaphoric power of some of the recipe names. Cookies called “Mothballs” and “Oreilles de Cochon.” “Cloud-Top Cherry Pie.” “Sand Tarts.” “Feud Cake.” I’m a particular fan of “Tipsy Pudding,” which calls for two jiggers of hard liquor.
The texts of the recipes are sometimes puzzling and sometimes exquisitely satisfying. There are six recipes for the mundanely titled pecan pie (I, II, III, IV, peach-pecan, pecan-cream). “Prism Cake” is not cake at all, but a variety of jello flavors on a graham cracker crust. There is a note at the bottom of the recipe for Traditional Lebkuchen: “Cover tightly and store from 1 to 2 weeks to MELLOW. Excellent Holiday Cookie. Can be Baked one month ahead.” In the Mardi Gras mixed drink section, “Bowle a la Kumpa (A Festive German Wine Punch)” “Serves 4 lusty drinkers, or 8 bon vivants, or 16 ‘party drinkers.‘” Mrs. Charles Sanders calls her shrimp dip recipe “Courting Dip” because “This recipe was given to me during our courtship. It has proved to be a real favorite all these years.”
A dip titled “For Men Only” reminds us, “Don’t let the name fool you; women like this too!” And Mrs. William E. Wallace advises how to make a good roux: “Never make it too brown, because it must continue browning as other ingredients are added. The secret of good cooking lies in following implicitly the gradual introduction of the component parts in the order specified. There is an easier way!!!”
So excuse me, mes cheris, but I have to go read all about aspic.