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Cajun Classics

By Gini Rainey

When life seems to get a bit overwhelming, it’s great to know that, number one – you are missed, and number two – someone who misses you has your back.  So today’s blog entry was written by someone who prefers to be identified only as “Guest Writer.”  So, kudos and deeply felt appreciation to you, my dear Guest!

I’m not from Louisiana, myself – I lived in Shreveport for a few years when I was younger, but when you say that to someone who lives south of Alexandria, you’re met with a look that’s halfway between pity and their Resting B!tch Face.  So I can’t claim any Louisiana heritage.

But while living in that northern outpost of Louisiana culture, I discovered that my ‘foodie’ friends all used the same few cookbooks.  One of these was “Talk About Good,” one of THE classic guides to Louisiana cuisine.  First assembled and published in 1967 by the members of The Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana as a fundraiser for the organization’s social work, “Talk About Good” has sold almost 900,000 copies in more than 30 editions.  Mine is the 24th edition that I bought in 2004 as a replacement to my old one, which was lost in a move.*

According to the Lafayette Junior League’s website, all the original recipes are still in the book, with no additions or changes over time.  I’ve heard the rumor several times that there’s a recipe in the book that calls for a full cup of salt, but I haven’t found it yet.

I’m sure that most of us or our mothers have contributed recipes to a fundraising cookbook.  The ladies of the Junior League contributed their families’ treasured recipes for seafood, wild game, gumbo, and desserts.  More than 1200 recipes cover the spectrum of Cajun family and party cooking.  Exotic-sounding recipes, such as Poule a lá Bonne Femme, share the page with more pedestrian fare like Chicken and Spaghetti.

As one would imagine, classic Cajun game and fish recipes are well represented here – there are 11 different recipes for gumbo (I suppose that the original editors didn’t want to get in the middle of that one), as well as several methods for cooking doves, ducks, and venison.  Tired of your shrimp recipe?  There are more than 35 here.  Surely you’ll find something that tempts you!

The editors don’t leave the reader completely on their own when it comes to the proper technique for Cajun cooking.  There are excellent instructions and recipes for a variety of Cajun and French stocks, sauces, and bases, including complete instructions for making roux, the smoky, bittersweet base for so many soups and casseroles.  You have the feeling that your aunt is standing next to you, dictating the instructions as the recipe starts: “A heavy pot is a must to make a pretty roux. The heavier the pot, the easier your job will be.”

I always found it interesting that the first section in the book isn’t “Breads” or “Salads” but rather “Mardi Gras.”  I suppose when your cookbook gets to have a section on Mardi Gras, you put it right up front!  What’s in the Mardi Gras section?  “Rum Coffee” of course, along with lots of hors-d’oeuvres, party dips, “Champaign Punch for 100,” and everyone’s favorite, The Liverwurst Ball.  I must say that I haven’t tried much out of this section!

Although many of the recipes reflect what was popular in the 1960s, when the cookbook was assembled, the depth of game and seafood sections alone make this cookbook a valuable reference in anyone’s collection.

I’ll leave you with one of my family’s favorites, “Seafood and Wild Rice” casserole, which was contributed by Mrs. Frank Rippy.

Seafood and Wild Rice

1/2 cup white rice
1/w cup wild rice
1/2 lb peeled shrimp
1/2 lb crabmeat (may be fresh, canned, or frozen)
1 small jar of chopped pimento
1 small can mushrooms (I substitute fresh)
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
½ Bell Pepper, chopped into pea-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp slivered almonds
1 cup chopped celery

Mix the rices together and prepare according to package directions for the wild rice.   Saute onions, celery, and pepper in butter.  Add to cooked rice along with shrimp, crab, pimento, and mushrooms.  Put into a greased casserole pan, spoon soup over top.  Cover and bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.  Uncover for the last 10 minutes and sprinkle almonds on top.  Serves 5-6.

Try it and discover Cajun cooking for yourself!

*My mom, who would know, always said that three moves equals one fire.

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