Nov 25, 201309:18 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Moms and Thanksgivings

Thanksgiving is about family and sentiment so indulge me please as I recall my mom’s home cooking which was a cross between the classic offerings of her French Louisiana heritage and the dishes of the then modern housewife. Long before the microwave quickened the speed of cooking, meals were made faster in her world by the pressure cooker, a pot with a lockable lid and a valve to let out the steam. Cabbage, beans, anything cookable was made better by the pressure cooker. I have tried, without success, to duplicate the flavor of her boiled cabbage, which had the extra advantage of producing “pot liquor,” the juice from the cooked cabbage enriched by the bounty of flavors from within the pot. While the dish was still cooling I would ladle some of the juice into a cup. A peppery taste was the first sensation followed by the flavors of pickled meat, carrots and greens.

For reasons having nothing to do with her, I never did adapt well to hot breakfasts, perhaps because of the anxiety of the school day ahead. One dish that did make the cut was her version of pain perdu (French toast) for which slices of white bread were drenched in an egg batter, fried and then served with syrup or jelly. We did not have the slices of French bread or the powdered sugar of the fancy restaurants, but we did have peanut butter which allowed for our own innovation.

Breakfast for her when she was growing up was often cornbread and milk, a poor folks food common to rural Louisiana often referred to, phonetically, as “coosh-coosh.” On good days the cornbread was speckled with pieces of cracklings that added a crunch to breakfast long before Rice Krispies.

Her two best supper dishes were mushroom rice (the modern housewife influence) and stuffed mirlitons (the French Louisiana influence). Both were stellar dishes but the latter was closest to her roots. She prepared two versions of the mirlitons; one made with shrimp and the other with ham. At what turned out to be her last Thanksgiving at home she made a platter full of both versions.

Unfortunately, a relative who was asked to keep the dish in his refrigerator because my mom’s was full, misunderstood that the mirlitons were to be served on Thanksgiving. Instead he devoured them ahead of time on his own. On Thanksgiving he returned the empty platter. At least he was thankful.

Mom spent her last years in a nursing home. When we visited, her recollections quite often turned to family gatherings. As a holiday approached, her ongoing wish was to be able to fix “a big dinner.” In her generation, cooking for others was a grand way of expressing herself.

While some of us are still blessed to have our moms, all of us are increasingly separated from the early grand dinners in our lives. Food, I learned from watching my mom, provided nourishment, not only for the body but also for memories.

 

                      
                     -30-


                   

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online.

Watch "Informed Sources" Fridays at 7 p.m., repeated at 11:30 p.m. WYES-TV, Ch. 12.

Reader Comments:
Nov 25, 2013 12:50 pm
 Posted by  John

Mr. Labord: I always look forward to your contributions in the myneworleans.com website. This one was especially poignant and evoked memories of my mother and Thanksgivings gone by. I was raised in North Louisiana but had relatives living in Port Barre who loved to share their recipes with us. Stuffed merlitons were a favorite and something I haven't had in several years. One doesn't dare ask a grocer here in Southwest Virginia for anything such as that.

Again, thanks you for this enjoyable trip down memory lane and as Pogo said: "it caused that lump in my throat to get into my eye".

Happy Thanksgiving and kindest regards,
JMS
Woodlawn, VA

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

about

Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.

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