If you’re a regular visitor to the Glover Gardens blog, you know I love cookbooks! (If you aren’t, click here to get caught up.)
In a world full of special cookbooks – and oh, there are soooo many! – I recently got one that’s EXTRA special. The extra-specialness started with how I learned of it.
On our last trip to New Orleans, during Jazz Fest 2019, the Grill-Meister and I made our traditional pilgrimage to the Tabasco Store on Jackson Square. We like it there. We taste the piquant sauces, browse the Cajun and Tabasco-themed kitschy gifts and goodies, and usually buy a mug or two.
The manager on duty when we visited The Tabasco Store this last time was Phaedra. She’s a delightful and interesting lady, and we got into a deep conversation about Louisiana cuisine. How to cook it, the broad variation in recipes for something as simple as gumbo, and how food is so very meaningful to people and cultures. We were instant friends. Phaedra was happy to pose for me, but in retrospect, I wish I had taken a selfie with her.
Phaedra has seen a thing or two in her time in NOLA, and has great stories. She clued me in to a cookbook she thought I’d like, Cooking Up a Storm, and gave me the back-story, too.
You see, after Katrina swept through with her violent hurricane winds and even more horrible aftermath of flooding, people who had lost everything pined for the comfort and connection of familiar recipes and dishes. But they had lost their cookbooks and recipes clipped from newspapers, too, so they were disconnected from their comfort food.
And since we’re talking about Louisiana, a place where food is in itself a kind of religion, losing a family’s culinary heritage was cause for a special kind of sorrow.From the NPR story: Cooking Up A Storm’: Recipes From The Big Easy
Post-Katrina, the New Orleans Times-Picayune received hundreds of requests for recipes they’d published in years gone by, recipes that were cut out of the paper and saved, paper-clipped into cookbooks or filed in little boxes. The wise food editors at the newspaper soon realized that a cookbook was in order, a volume that would bring together all of these requested recipes along with some contributed by readers, to honor the past and pave the way for a homey culinary future as the region rebuilt after Katrina’s devastation.
That’s how Cooking Up a Storm was born, published in 2008, and as soon as Phaedra finished her story, I knew I had to have it.
I bought that cookbook right away, the 10th Anniversary Edition, and I must reiterate: it is EXTRA special. Friends, I read it like a novel, cover to cover, in one sitting. There are stories, memories, interesting history and NOLA food facts. It feels like someone in your family wrote it, in a way. I think I will make every recipe in it. So many of them are instantly recognizable from taste memories, recipes that you know with an absolute certainty will produce a dish that tastes exactly like expected. My example of this is the first dish I made from the cookbook, the Crawfish Fettuccini. From reading the ingredients list, I was sure that it would be a culinary doppelganger for the dish of the same name from Suire’s, an amazing little cafe off the beaten path in Cajun Country.
I was right. It was soooo good, and I didn’t get a chance to take a picture, but the Suire’s version is below.
The Austin Chronicle Reviewed Cooking Up a Storm back in 2009:
With Cooking Up a Storm, Bienvenu and Walker have compiled 250 of New Orleans’ best authentic recipes, covering both simple and more complex dishes in every category. It’s hard to imagine recipes that have been tested more often than these. Many of them feature descriptions of the history of the dish, with fascinating historical backstories. It would be a stretch to say that the editors have saved the cuisine of a city with a single book, but after reading and cooking from Cooking Up a Storm, it really isn’t that hard to believe.From Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found From the Times-Picayune of New Orleans
If you love cookbooks, New Orleans, or Cajun-Creole food – or if you just want a good read that pulls you into a magical culinary history – you need this cookbook. You’ll be hearing more about it here in the pages of Glover Gardens.
Thank you for the tip, Phaedra! We’ll see you at the Tabasco Store the next time we’re in NOLA.