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OP: Cooking in Old Creole Days (1903)

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by Celestine Eustis

America’s southern cooking has long been highly admired, and under that heading perhaps the most prized and the most celebrated culinary tradition is Louisiana’s. And, truth be told, “traditions” would be a better word because the roots and the development of Louisiana food are so diverse and so complex that there is not even agreement as to what it is properly called. 

With origins drawing on France, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean, a diversity of Native sources and conditioned by the rich variety of the plants and animals of this semi-tropical region, it is truly a mélange, itself marked by a rich variety of “dialects.”

We offer here one of the “grandmother” books that contributed to this tapestry. It was assembled and published in 1903 by Celestine Eustis (ca 1836–1921), born and raised in Paris and later settled in New Orleans where her mother was descended from a prominent Louisiana Creole family. The book, fittingly, bears a second title: La Cuisine Creole a L’usage des Petits Ménages, and some of it, including the author’s introduction and one 22-page chapter of recipes, are in French.

The recipes—in prose form with no ingredient lists but with suggested quantities—are wonderful. From familiar (gumbos, of course, and “jumballaya” à la Creole) to many less broadly known: oyster and peanut soup, couche couche (a breakfast dish prepared from sweetened corn batter), a range of lively salads, and special takes on pastries. 

Fair warning: not surprisingly, the book reflects the attitudes and usages of the era and locale. The language and many of the illustrations, each accompanied by a song of the time printed on cover tissues, are quite offensive. In many ways this book is an attempt by the white upper-class Eustis to record the recipes of Black cooks in the kitchens of the Old South. Credit is given to these cooks, but the condescension is undeniable.

This copy is in overall Very Good condition, the interior impressively fresh and clean, the 3-piece cover (printed paper front and back, cloth spine) is often seen stained and faded, but here is in excellent shape. Published without dust jacket. We have made a repair where the frontispiece and the facing tissue had become stuck together and were tearing apart from the binding, now quite secure. The book is rather scarce; a significant addition to any American collection. We believe this to be a first printing, distinguishable by the dishes on the cover bearing the 1903 date.

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