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11 Louisiana Creole Food Culture The old saying "Too many cooks spoil the pot" might, in reference to Creole cooking, be revised to "Many cooks spawn the pot." The historical links of food preference and methods of cooking for the dishes famous around the world as "Louisiana Creole cuisine" extend to all those countries that trace the pattern of the American slave trade route from West Africa to the Caribbean down to the northeastern coast of South America and finally backup to Louisiana. Once in the New World, these slaves not only grew the produce but were responsible for preparing and cooking dishes that fed slave owners and slaves for hundreds of years. The result of what these millions of cooks created from the cultural memory of cooking in Africa combined with the acculturated tastes and ingredients from indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, South America, and Louisiana was Creole cuisine. The West African connection to Creole cuisine is apparent upon examination of the culinary habits of West African people. Mendes suggests that "West African cooking is a composite of the culinary methods used by the tribes of Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria (particularly the Yoruba and Ibo), Dahomey, Togo, Cameroon, Angola and the Congo." Jessica B. Harris traces the early diet of West Africans from the Middle Ages before European contact via foreign voyagers in the later centuries. She summarizes her findings : 244 Afro-Caribbean Links SYBIL KEIN LOUISIANA CREOLE FOOD CULTURE 245 It all started in Africa. Scholars have researched old Arab manuscripts and discovered some of the foodstuffs that were eaten by West Africans during the European Middle Ages. Reports of Arab travelers reveal that the African diet was somewhat similar to that of today. Ibn-Faqih alHamadhani , the earliest known Arabic author to write about the foods of the West African peoples, emphasizes the role played by cultivated plants in the diets of people in the area that is now Mauritania and Mali. He mentions that they ate beans and a kind of millet known as dukhn. Other grains eaten by Africans during this period included some forms of sorghum, wheat, and rice. These grains were made into thick porridges , pancakes, fritters, bread, and various puddings served under a variety of sauces. Yams . . . were also a major part of the local diet. . . . Beans too formed a major part of West African diet before European arrival. As early as 901 A.D. there were mentions of kidney beans and black-eyed peas. Broad beans, chick peas, and lentils were also eaten. All manner of green leafy vegetables were consumed, as were onions and garlic. Other foodstuffs included turnips, cabbage, pumpkins and gourds, and even cucumbers. . . . During this period West Africans are known to have eaten watermelon, tamarind, ackee, plums, dates, figs, and pomegranates. Meats included beef, lamb, goat, camel, poultry, and varieties of game and fish.1 Although some foods brought to the New World by slaves were indigenous to Africa—such as okra, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and watermelon—others were introduced to the African diet by European traders. From the mid-sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century, the eating habits of Africa were transformed. The coconut tree arrived from South Asia sometime between 1520 and 1540, while sweet potatoes and maize came from America in the same century. The seventeenth century saw the arrival of cassava and pineapple, while the eighteenth brought guavas and peanuts. The Portuguese are responsible for the transplanting to Africa of those small hot chiles, as well as corn, cassava, and white potatoes. Other chile peppers and tomatoes were also transplanted from the New World.2 Although African American, Caribbean, and some South American food staples such as beans and rice, various greens, yams, and sweet potatoes 1. Helen Mendes, The African Heritage Cookbook (New York: Macmillan, 1971), 21; Jessica B. Harris, Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons (New York: Ballantine, 1991), xiii-xiv. 2. Harris, Iron Pots, xii-xiv. 246 SYBIL KEIN form a direct link to African foodstuffs, the African link to Creole cuisine is perhaps strongest with regard to food preparation techniques and cooking methods. Mendes describes one such technique: "An important practice was to use the grating stone, which was approximately 20 inches tall, for pulverizing corn, beans, rice or cassava.By this means the cook obtained flour and meal for making cakes and breads. The most frequent practice, however, was the use of mortar and pestle for pounding dry peppers...


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