DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Alum edits book on New Orleans cuisine

Possibly no other city in America is as closely identified with certain types of food as New Orleans. Chicago has its hot dogs, New York has its pizza, but New Orleans has gumbo, red beans and rice, trout amandine, crawfish etouffee, beignets and many other popular dishes that have ended up on menus around the world.

New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories (University Press of Mississippi, 2009), edited and co-written by Susan Tucker (MA librarianship ’73), delves deep into the city’s food culture, devoting each chapter to a different menu item, from sazerac—a cocktail with whiskey, bitters, anise-flavored liqueur, sugar and a twist of lemon—to turtle soup (the real, not the mock).

In the book’s introduction, Tucker writes that she chose 14 dishes that “tell the stages of adaptability, the centrality of public encounters with food, the passion for ingredients and talk of food, manners of serving, and social and economic forces that lie behind the way New Orleanians cook. The 14 dishes are those foods for which the traces of historical documents, recipes, and other written and oral accounts show how cooking became a hallmark of the city.”

Although each chapter includes at least one recipe, New Orleans Cuisine is not a cookbook. Through chronicling each dish, the writers uncover information on the city’s history, geography, sociology, politics and more.

Consider contributor Cynthia LeJeune Nobles’ chapter on Oysters Rockefeller, which is full of historical and social context. The dish was invented by Jules Alciatore, owner of the restaurant Antoine’s, in 1899. It was so rich in flavor that Alciatore named it after John D. Rockefeller, one of America’s richest men. President Franklin Roosevelt tried it in 1937.

But Nobles delves even deeper, informing readers that the French settlers in New Orleans regarded oysters as inedible until Native Americans introduced them to the bivalves’ subtle flavors in the mid-1700s.

Indeed, it is New Orleans’ rich cultural heritage that gave rise to its multitextured signature dishes. As S. Frederick Starr writes in his foreword, “Yes, there were strong influences from France, the West Indies, and, through them, Africa.” But contributions also came from the Germans, Sicilians, Cubans, Canary Islanders, Croatians and Chinese.

Tucker—who wrote the book’s chapter on bread pudding—is the curator of books and records at the Newcomb Center for Research on Women at Tulane University in New Orleans, where she resides.

Comments are closed.