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OP: Plantation Cookery of Old Louisiana

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by Eleanor Ott

Harmanson, 1944. Paperback. Very Good Minus.

Author Eleanore Ott (1903–1978) dedicates Plantation Cookery of Old Louisiana (1938) to her grandmother, Mary Simmons Leggett, whose handwritten recipes served as the basis for this small, self-published book. The resulting cookbook illuminates the grand scale of cooking and management involved in wealthy southern households. 

Ott adds her own colorful commentary, sometimes noting the shortcomings of the original recipes, other times mentioning how custom or technology had changed. Her perspective, though, retains the mindset of an aristocratic landowner, and she seems to pine for the good ol’ days before the Civil War, an era she could have only known second hand. Offensive and oblivious words and phrasing are common.

The recipes themselves, however, speak to those grand kitchens where extravagant and hearty comestibles were prepared, and a picture of a deeply rooted, proud culinary tradition emerges. You’ll spot the likes of cracklin’ bread, hoe cakes, chow-chow, ambrosia, and pork cake—a variation on fruit cake which includes salt pork. 

Indeed, the significance of porcine cookery to a southern housewife’s repertoire, along with the festivities and fuss over hog killing time, is emphasized. Pork recipes feature strongly. Among them: baked ham, pork chops and potatoes, backbone pie with dumplings, souse, three different pig’s knuckle preparations, sausages, smothered liver, and chitterlings.

Fried chicken, squirrel pot pie, stewed rabbit or fish, venison, partridge, quail, duck, and, of course, barbecue all make appearances—a breadth suggestive of the available bounty. There are also a great number of baked goods, some of which call for a dozen eggs or more and come with instructions like, “beat with determination and persistence.” That the two cakes bearing “Grandmother Leggett’s” name both call for a healthy amount of bourbon is a subplot in this culinary history.

We offer the 1944 second edition in Very Good Minus condition. Only issued in paperback on fairly flimsy stock, copies can rarely be found intact. Happily, ours remains solid and clean, though yellowing somewhat, and ¾” of paper at the head of the spine is tearing loose. The rear cover is creased and pulling from the hinge but remains attached.

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