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Oct 11, 2005 09:37 AM

The Saddest Thing (To Me) About New Orleans

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I mourn for the dead, I cry for the lost architecture, but I admit it, what makes me the saddest is the fear that recipes will be lost.

Recipes are just as high a form of creation as architecture and music, and when they are lost, they are gone forever.

My grandmother didn't reopen her restaurant in Biloxi after Hurricane Camille, and she took her red beans and rice recipe with her to the grave, because that was the secret that drew the customers for miles around, and she might reopen one day. Lost. Gone forever.

I've been looking in old books and on the Internet for a recipe for Didee's Duck (famous from a certain era in Baton Rouge). It might be lost.

With the death of Austin Leslie -- have we lost his recipe for fried chicken? I hope not, he wrote a book.

But Mary Hansen -- I bet she didn't write her snowball syrup recipes down. Taught them to her granddaughter, is my hope.

Time will heal some wounds, and smooth over some others, but a great recipe lost is like the loss of a great painting or a great symphony.

Let's preserve these incomparable elements of our culture before they are irrevocably lost.

You don't know what you've got until it's gone.

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  1. h
    Hungry Celeste

    I swear I've seen the Didee's duck recipe somewhere...I'll search my files & see what I can find.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Hungry Celeste

      I did a little Lexis-Nexis search and found a recipe, allegedly for Didee's duck, in the Morning Advocate.

      I have a thawed duck in the fridge, will give it a try later today and if it works will post on the Home Cooking page.

      1. re: Ilaine
        Beau Noppatee

        Could you post the website for the Didee's duck recipe?

        1. re: Beau Noppatee

          The Didee's recipe isn't on a website, at least I don't think so. I got it from the Baton Rouge paper via Lexis-Nexis.

          I will cut-and-paste on the Home Cooking page.

      2. re: Hungry Celeste

        You can find this at The Advocate, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004, Page 9F

      3. Passing along family recipes should be considered as important as passing photographs or other keepsakes..

        My mother's Aunt and husband were surrogate parents to my mom and her sis as they grew up. Gram worked all day, and the cooking was done either at home by the young girls, or at Gram's sister's home. Aunt Eva and Uncle Steve opened their home to the two girls, and this is where they went after school for treats, and where all the two families' celebration and holiday meals were prepared and eaten.

        Aunt Eva was a great cook and Uncle Steve was the family baker, turning out traditional English cakes and breads. He made fancy marzipan candies for all the children at holidays.

        I despair that I have none of Aunt Eva's recipes, even though I've asked her last living daughter-in-law for any that she might have. This rich English cooking heritage has been lost, and it saddens me deeply. I do have my mother's cookbook and recipe binder, but the truely English heritage recipes are gone, except for Uncle Steve's white bread recipe from his parent's village bakery.

        so, please, hounds, WRITE IT DOWN.

        For my part,I've made copies of my favorite recipes as wedding gifts and included traditional family recipes and cooking methods so they can be passed down to another generation. Its fun and easy to do. Those who are creative on the computer can really do it up royal. I just use recipe cards and hand-copy the recipes. Included are any recipes shared at multi-generational meals as well as everyday favorites.

        I agree that the Gulf's rich cooking tradtions are in peril of being lost. Maybe this is something FOOD TV could get behind as a fund raiser. Have people send in their heritage recipes for compilation, sell cookbooks, etc. Stage heritage food festivals all over the Gulf area to share the cuisine with those who have renewed interest in visiting the area. The press is certainly all over the area, and it would be something positive to report on...or does this just sound naive?


        6 Replies
        1. re: toodie jane
          Hungry Celeste

          Better than writing the recipes down & holding heritage festivals: actually TEACH someone in your circle of family & friends to prepare your specialties. The culture is not in the product, but in the shared experience...and while I'll agree that things will change on the NOLA restaurant scene, it is a bit overblown to think that our cooking traditions are in peril of being lost, whether because of Katrina or Rita or mass relocations of people. Yes, the city will be quite a bit smaller, but all of those displaced folks are going to cling to their culinary traditions tighter than ever: studies of cultural change show that foodways persist as a marker of cultural identity long after other traits are lost (language, dress, speech patterns, religion, etc). I'm thinking that the diaspora will increase the quality of restaurants all over the country! Maybe red beans & rice will be a new American national dish in the 21st century?

          1. re: Hungry Celeste
            Beau Noppatee

            HC, what's the best RB&R recipe you have found? Ham or sausage? Where is it served in NO, if you have a favorite in the city? Have you ever heard of serving it with condiments on the side for sprinkling, like Indian folks do with lamb curry? Someone told me recently she serves chopped green onions and grated cheese for garnish. Don't know that I'll do it though. I may try to mock up from memory a white bean recipe I tasted in Huntsville Alabama that had a seafood base and included some bay scallops.

            1. re: Beau Noppatee
              Hungry Celeste

              Sadly, the best RB&R was at Buster Holmes (long gone). I think homemade are the best...I usually use smoked sausage, but I also use salt pork or pickle meat, or bacon if I'm too lazy to go to the store. As for condiments, parsley or fresh green onions are about as adventurous as I get. RE: white beans, I love em cooked with shrimp, or as an accompaniment to fried fish (a common Friday lunch special on Bayou Lafourche)...some people drizzle a little olive oil over white beans at the table...

            2. re: Hungry Celeste

              I like to think that the Creole diaspora will bring the wonders of Louisiana culture to the rest of the world at large.

              Lord knows, the rest of the world could sure use it!

              It's just so danged hard to wrap my brain around -- all the working class people I knew in New Orleans lived "back of town."

              If they don't have anyplace to live, what happens to New Orleans?

            3. re: toodie jane
              Beau Noppatee

              Another thing that is sad in a way - other cities like Houston are stealing our cooks! I hope they will want to come back. I don't know if they are well paid enough, and I don't want anyone caught in a cycle of poverty. But heck! The cooks in New Orleans restaurants are a national treasure and someone should pass legislation that they have to come back. Keep in mind they know all the recipes, including whatever is not written down. I feel the same about many of the other underprivileged citizens who probably will not come back. They are a huge cultural base and without them the city is not the same. And I better not hear anyone criticizing the ones that looted. If I had been there I probably would have looted Whole Foods Market - I wouldn't waste a second looting for televisions. I'd get me one of those wheels of parmesan, some grouper, some apple and blue cheese bread, and some white tea!

              1. re: Beau Noppatee

                Funny about looting high on the hog! Good on you!

                Because -- while we all know that stealing is wrong -- all that food went to waste anyway!

                My mama used to tell me that throwing away good food made the angels in heaven cry!

                As for the Creole diaspora -- there was a good article about that in the New York Times today.

                New Orleans without black Creoles is Six Flags Over Bourbon Street.

                New Orleans' black working class Creoles write and perform New Orleans Jazz, they cook and serve New Orleans food, they tend New Orleans bars and make wonderful concoctions, they tend the gardens, they maintain the pumps and the streetcars, they build the houses with the ten foot ceilings, they craft the wrought iron.

                New Orleans' black middle class and upper middle class Creoles run the government, they run the schools and the colleges, they run the charitable foundations, they run the hospitals and the corporations.

                A Creole diaspora means the death of New Orleans as we know it.


            4. u
              underworld gourmet

              Calvin Trillin said much the same thing about twenty years ago during a visit to Acadiana. CODOFIL was just gettin started, seking to preserve stories and other traditions of the cajun way of life--Trillina suggested-and Codofil subsequently endorsed--the idea of "pass your recipies to your children"...just as important, in his opinion, as the Cajun dialect. And I would agree.

              1. Your post reminded me of the sadness of the loss of Eddie's and all the wonderful food that the Baquet family provided. I always wondered the extent to which the exact execution of gumbo, bread pudding, and oyster stuffing was conveyed to the kids who ran Zachary's. They were reminiscent of Eddie's but not quite the same. I've linked to a wonderful article from


                1 Reply
                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  That was a beautiful article, thank you for linking it.

                  Louisiana cuisine will not fade away. There are too many good cooks all over Louisiana who will maintain the tradition.

                  It's just the little personal touches that make the sublime rise to the celestial -- those are like being struck by lightning -- those are the ones that cannot be learned from a book or even from an inspired cook who was not elevated by the muses.

                  Those who have not experienced it don't have a clue what I am talking about. Poor them.

                2. I found a recipe for Didee's Duck in The Baton Rouge Advocate's Archives:

                  Didee's Duckling à l'Orange

                  Serves 4 to 6. This recipe from the late Herman Perrodin is in "I'll Be Home for Christmas" Food Focus booklet by The Advocate's food staff.

                  1 (4 1/2- to 4 3/4-lb.) duckling
                  3 cups hot water
                  1 tsp. pickling spice
                  1 tbl. parsley
                  3 tsps. salt
                  1 tsp. ground black pepper
                  1 tsp. red pepper
                  1 tsp. poultry seasoning
                  1 1/2 cups apricot nectar
                  2 tsps. soy sauce
                  1 tsp. anise
                  1 tsp. onion powder
                  1 tsp. garlic powder
                  1 tbl. honey
                  1 tsp. grated orange peel
                  1 tbl. arrowroot
                  1/2 cup water
                  1 oz. orange curaçao or Grand Marnier

                  1. Thaw duck according to package directions. Wash duck thoroughly and cut off excess skin at neck. Cut off wing tips. Remove excess fat from cavity.

                  2. Place heart, gizzard, liver and neck in a small saucepan. Add hot water, pickling spice and parsley. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer while duck is roasting.

                  3. Prick duck in breast and back with tines of a fork.

                  4. In small bowl, mix salt, black pepper, red pepper and poultry seasoning. Rub inside of cavity, breast and back with seasoning mixture.

                  5. Place duck on rack in open roasting pan and bake in 400-degree oven for 45 minutes. Drain off fat, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake.

                  6. Mix together apricot nectar, soy sauce, anise, onion powder, garlic powder and honey. Baste duck frequently with the mixture and continue roasting for about 2 hours, until duck is tender and well glazed.

                  7. Pour off excess fat from drippings and add remaining basting sauce to the drippings along with 2 cups of stock from giblets. Simmer for 5 or 6 minutes until browned drippings in pan are dissolved in stock. Stir in orange peel.

                  8. Mix arrowroot with 1/2 cup water and stir into sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce has thickened slightly and is smooth.

                  9. Just before serving, add orange curaçao or Grand Marnier. Carve duckling or cut into quarters. Serve with sauce over the top of the duck.