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Café à la Créole.
A good cup of Creole Coffee!
Is there anything in the whole range of food substances to be compared with it? And is there any city in the world where coffee is so delightfully concocted as in New Orleans? Travelers the world over unite in praise of Creole Coffee, or "Café à la Créole," as they are fond of putting it. The Creole cuisiniéres succeeded far beyond even the famous chefs of France in discovering the secret of good coffee-making, and they have never yielded the palm of victory. There is no place in the world in which the use of coffee is more general than in the old Creole city of New Orleans, where, from the famous French Market, with its world-renowed coffee stands, ta the olden homes on the Bayou St. John, from Lake Pontchartrain to the verge of Southport, the cup of "Café Noir," or "Café au Lait," at morning, at noon and at night, has become a necessary and delightful part of the life of the people, and the wonder and the joy of visitors.
The morning cup of Café Noir is an integral part of the life of a Creole household. The Creoles hold as a physiological fact that this custom contributes to longevity, and point, day after day, to examples of old men and women of fourscore, and over, who attest to the powerful aid they have received through life from a good, fragrant cup of coffee in the early morning. The ancient residents hold, too, that, after a hearty meal, a cup of "Café Noir," or black coffee, will relieve the sense of oppression so apt to be experienced, and enables the stomach to perform its functions with greater facility. Café Noir is known, too, as one of the best preventives of infectious disease, and the ancient Creole physicians never used any other deodorizer than passing a chafing dish with burning grains of coffee through the room. As an antidote for poison, the uses of coffee are too well known to be dilated upon.
Coffee is also the greatest brain food and stimulant known. Men of science, poets and scholars and journalists, have testified to its beneficial effects. Coffee supported the old age of Voltaire, and enabled Fontenelle to reach his one hundredth birtliday. Charles Gayarre, the illustrious Louisiana historian, at the advanced age of eighty, paid tribute to the Creole cup of "Café Noir." Among advanced scientists it is rapidly taking the place of digitalis in the treatment of certain cardiac affections, and the basis of black coffee, "caffeine," enters largely into medicinal compositions. Coffee is now classed by physicians as an auxiliary food substance, as retarding the waste of nerve tissue and acting with peculiarly strengthening effect upon the nervous and vascular system.
How important, then, is the art of making good coffee, entering, as it does, so largely into the daily life of the American people. There is no reason why the secret should be confined to any section or city; but, with a little care and attention, every household in the land may enjoy its morning or after-dinner cup of coffee with as much real pleasure as the Creoles of New Orleans and the thousands of visitors who yearly migrate to this old Franco-Spanish city.
It is, therefore. with pardonable pride that the Picayune begins this Creole Cook Book by introducing its readers into a typical Creole kitchen, where "Tante Zoé," in the early morning hour, in her quaint, guinea-blue dress and bandana "tignon." is carefully concocting the morning cup of
And first she will tell you, this old Créole Négresse, as she busies herself parching to a beautiful brown the morning portion of green coffee, that the secret of good coffee lies in having
The Best Ingredients and in the Proper Making.
By the best ingredients, ahe means those delightful coffees grown on well-watered mountain slopes, such as the famous Java and Mocha coffees. It must be of the best quality, the Mocha and Java mixed producing a concoction of a most delightful aroma and stimulating effect. She will tell you, too, that one of the first essentials is to "Parch the Coffee Grains Just Before Making the Coffee," because coffee that has been long parched and left standing loses its flavor and strength. The coffee grains should "Be Roasted to a Rich Brown," and never allowed to scorch. or burn, otherwise the flavor of the coffee is at once affected or destroyed. Good coffee should never be boiled. Bear this in mind, that the GOOD CREOLE COOK NEVER BOILS COFFEE; but insists on dripping it, in a covered strainer, slowly, slowly—DRIP, DRIP, DRIP—till all the fiavor is extracted.
To reach this desired end, immediately after the coffee has been roasted and allowed to cool in a covered dish, so that none of the flavor will escape, the coffee is ground—neither too fine, for that will make the coffee dreggy; nor too coarse, for that prevents the escape of the full strength of the coffee juice—but a careful medium proportion, which will not allow the hot water pouring to run rapidly through, but which will admit of the water percolating slowly through and through the grounds, extracting every bit of the strength and aroma, and falling steadily with "a drip! drip!" into the coffee pot.
To make good coffee, the water must be "freshly boiled;" and must never be poured upon the grounds until it has reached the good boiling point, otherwise the flavor is destroyed, and subsequent pourings of boiling water can never quite succeed in extracting the superb strength and aroma which distinguish the good cup of coffee.
It is of the greatest importance that "The Coffee Pot Be Kept Perfectly Clean," and the good cook will bear in mind that absolute cleanliness is as necessary for the "interior" of the coffee pot as for the shining "exterior." This fact is one too commonly overlooked, and yet the coffee pot requires more than ordinary care, for the reason that the chemical action of the coffee upon the tin or agate tends to create a substance which collects and clings to every crevice and seam, and, naturally, in the course of time will affect the flavor of the coffee most peculiarly and unpleasantly. Very often the fact that the coffee tastes bitter or muddy arises from this fact. The "inside" of the coffee pot should, therefore, be washed as carefully "every day" as the outside.
Having observed these conditions, proceed to make the coffee according to the following unfailing
Have the water heated to a good boil. Set the coffee pot in front of the stove; never on top, as the coffee will boil, and then the taste is destroyed.
Allow one cup, or the ordinary mill, of coffee to make four good cups of the liquid, ground and put in the strainer, being careful to keep both the strainer and the spout of the coffee pot covered, to prevent the flavor from escaping. Pour. first. about two tablespoonfuls of the boiling water on the coffee grounds, or, according to the quantity of coffee used, just sufficient to settle the grounds. Wait about five minutes; then pour a little more water, and allow it to drip slowly through, but never pour water the second time until the grounds have ceased to puff or bubble, as this is an indication that the grounds have settled. Keep pouring slowly, at intervals, a little boiling water at a time, until the delightful aroma of the coffee begins to escape from the closed spout of the coffee pot. If the coffee dyes the cup, it is a little too strong; but do not go far beyond this, or the coffee will be too weak. When you have produced a rich, fragrant concoction, whose delightful aroma, filling the room, is a constant, tempting invitation to taste it, serve in fine china cups, using in preference loaf sugar for sweetening. You have then a real cup of the famous Creole Café Noir, so extensively used at morning dawn, at breakfast, and as the "after-dinner cup."
If the coffee appears muddy, or not clear, some of the old Creoles drop a piece of charcoal an inch thick into the water, which settles it and at once makes it clear. Demonstrations prove that strength remains in the coffee grounds. A matter of economy in making coffee is to save the grounds from the meal or day before, and boil these in a half gallon of water. Settle the grounds by dropping two or three drops of cold water in, and pour the water over the fresh grounds. This is a suggestion that rich and poor might heed with profit.
CAFÉ AU LAIT.
Proceed in the same manner as in the making of "Café Noir," allowing the usual quantity of boiling water to the amount of coffee used. When made, pour the coffee into delicate china cups, allowing a half cup of coffee to each cup. Serve, at the same time, a small pitcher of very sweet and fresh cream, allowing a half cup of cream to a half cup of coffee. The milk should always be boiled, and the cream very hot. If the cream is not fresh and sweet, it will curdle the coffee, by reason of the heat. Café au Lait is a great breakfast drink in New Orleans, while Café Noir is more generally the early morning and the afternoon drink.
Having thus bid its readers "Good morning," and drank with them a cup of Cafe Noir, the Picayunè will proceed to discuss Creole Cookery in all its forms, from soup "à la Créole" to "pacandes amandes" and "pralines."CHAPTER 2
General Directions for Making Soup—The Pot-au-Feu, the Bouillon and the Consommé.
Uncooked meat is the base of all soups, except such as the Creoles call "Maigre," or fast- day soups. These delightful Cream Soups, or Purées, will be specially treated later. They enter largely into the domestic life of New Orleans, as also more particularly the Pot-au- Feu, the Bouillon and the Consommé. These three are the "mother-soups," for upon their careful preparation depend taste, flavor and the entire problem of good soup-making.
The ancient Creoles preserved with few modifications many of the customs of their French ancestors. Among these was the daily plate of soup.
In France soup enters far more largely into the life of the people than in this old French city of New Orleans. The morning cup of bouillon is served in the most exclusive homes. A cup of claret and a plate of good soup is the essential morning portion of the peasantry. Soup is always served at dinner from palace to hovel. Again, the "déliceuse" cup of cold bouillon is served at teas and soirées in old France just as served tc-day in its ancient colony on the banks of the Mississippi. The Creoles relegated the morning cup of bouillon, but retained the daily serving of soup at dinner, in time introducing as a frequent substitute that exclusive Creole concoction Gumbo. No dinner is considered complete without either. The custom has been sustained and adopted by American residents of New Orleans. The Creole housewife lays the greatest stress upon two great essentials in the making of good soup; in the first place, the soup must never stop boiling one instant until done; secondly, once the soup is started, water must never be added. Neither, on the other hand, must the soup be allowed to boil rapidly, or it will be muddy and lose much of its flavor and strength by evaporation. The "soup bone," or "bouilli," as we call it down here in New Orleans, must be put on in cold water, without salt, and must heat slowly. The pot must be kept well covered, and no salt must be added until the meat is thoroughly cooked, as the addition of salt tends to harden the fibers of the meat and prevents the free flow of the juices. At no stage of the proceeding must the soup be allowed to boil fast. If the bone has been fractured every inch of its length, the soup will be all the stronger and more nutritious. The beef should be selected for its quality, as freshly killed as possible, and preferably of the cut known by butchers as "The Horseshoe." To be most nutritious, the soup should boil a long time. The Creoles never serve soup that has been cooking less than five or seven hours, according to the quantity to be served. In a well-regulated household, the soup is put on at breakfast time, in the rear of the stove, and allowed to cook slowly four four or five hours, until the time comes for putting on the dinner proper. In the meantime, the fire has been replenished slowly from time to time, so that when the moment for adding the vegetables or other ingredients arrives, the strength of the meat has been nearly or quite extracted.
The two suggestions, "Never allow the soup to cease boiling when once it has begun, and never to add waster after the ingredients are once put together and begin to boil," have been called the "Golden Rule" of soup-making. The housekeeper should take them to heart, for upon their strict observance depends that boon to poor, suffering humanity—a good plate of soup. If these rules are learned and reliably followed, the first step has been taken toward setting a good dinner.
It might be added here that while soup stock is of general use in colder climates, and can be made and kept for several days, the warm tropical climate of New Orleans precludes this, as the stock would become sour; the soup broth must, therefore, be prepared fresh every day.
Rice flour, arrowroot or cornstarch mixed with a little water are often used to thicken soups; but every good Creole cook knows that the soup that is properly made needs no thickening. Salt should be used sparingly, as also spices, which should always be used whole.
To be palatable, soup must be served very hot.
It is generally estimated that in preparing soups a pound of meat should be allowed for every quart of water. In the following recipes the ingredients must be increased proportionately, according to the number of persons to be served. The intelligent housekeeper can readily determine the exact measurements needed in her family, increasing proportions when guests are expected at the family table.
The Every=Day Pot=au=Feu, or Simple Bouillon.
The Pot-au-Feu, or Bouillon, is made by boiling a good soup bone which has been carefully selected for its nutritive qualities) in water a certain length of time, by means of which the nutriment is extracted. Bouillon of the best quality can only be made from good meat, which should be chosen from the fleshy, juicy part of the thigh. Meat from the breast or lower ribs makes good Pot-au-Feu, hut of a lighter quality, and is preferred by some Creole cuisiniéres.
The vegetables used are found in the "soup bunch" sold by every New Orleans butcher, and carefully arranged. The bunch comprises pieces of cabbage, a turnip or two, carrots, marsley, celery and onion. Many of the most famous Creole cooks add garlic and cloves, thyme, bay leaf and allspice. But this is a matter of taste. The every-day Bouillon is made by boiling the soup bone for four or five hours, skimming carefully as the scum rises, and adding, as it starts boiling well, the vegetables contained in the "soup bunch." If vermicelli, macaroni or other soup is desired, such as can be made from the simple Bouillon. or Pot- au-Feu, these ingredients are added in the proportions mentioned in the special receipt for these soups, and the soup is boiled an hour or so longer.
The Herb Boquet.
Every good Creole cook keeps on hand an "herb bouquet," made of a spray of parsley, a spring of thyme, celery, parsley and bay leaf. These are tied together, and constitute the "bouquet." It will flavor a gallon of soup. if cooked for an hour.
POT-AU-FEU Å LA CRÉOLE.
4 Pounds of Lean Beef.
6 Quarts of Cold Water.
2 Small Turnips. 2 Onions. 2 Carrots.
1 Parsnip. 1 Cup of Cut-up Tomatoes.
2 Whole Cloves.
1 Bay Leaf. 1 Clove of Garlic. 5 Allspice.
2 Irish Potatoes.
Small Piece of Lemon Peel.
Small Piece of Red Pepper Pod.
Bunch of Celery Leaves (Chopped).
Bunch of Parsley (Chopped).
Pinch of Salt. Pinch of Black Pepper.
Sprig of Cabbage.
This Pot-an-Feu, properly made, is truly delicious, savory and delicately odorous. The best cut for this is from the round lower end of the beef. It is impcrtant to have good beef, and that it be as freshly killed as can be had. Many of the Creoles add the beef spleen or brisket to the soup. This is rich and juicy, and gives nutritive value to the dish. If delicacy is preferred to richness in the soup. the marrow bone is omitted. Put the meat into cold water, heating by slow degrees, in order that it may gradually penetrate the meat, softening it and dissolving the non-nutritive portion, which rises to the top of the liquid as a scum. As the scum becomes thicker remove it. After having skimmed well, set the soup back where it can be kept on a gentle but steady boil; when the soup is well skimmed, add the vegetables, which have been cut to proper fineness, and a little salt to suit the taste, and let the soup continue to boil from five to six hours, remembering strictly the two essential rules given. By following this recipe you will have an excellent soup for family use.
The Creoles often serve the Pot-au-Feu with small squares of dry or toasted bread, put into the tureen, and the hot soup is poured over them at the moment of serving
Should the flavor of the garlic, allspice, cloves or bay leaf be disagreeable, they may be omitted. But they are essential ingredients of the Creole Pot-au-Feu.
Excerpted from The Picayunes's Creole Cook Book by Picayune. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted December 15, 2004