This post is from research I’m doing for the historic foodways program at Ft. Toulouse, Lower Louisiana, today Wetumpka, AL. I’ll be doing a series of posts on what was available in the first half of the 18th century and how it got there. Source: The History of Louisiana: Or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina…Le Page du Pratz. 1776. London.
Louisiana produces several kinds of Maiz, namely Flour-maiz, which is white, with a flat and shriveled surface, and is the softest of all the kinds; Homony corn, which is round, hard, and shining; of this there are four sorts, the white, the yellow, the red, and the blue; the Maiz of these two last colours is more common in the high lands than in the Lower Louisiana. We have besides small corn, or small Maiz, so called because it is smaller than the other kinds. New settlers sow this corn upon their first arrival, in order to have whereon to subsist as soon as possible; for it rises very fast, and ripens in so short a time, that from the same field they may have two crops of it in one year. Besides this, it has the advantage of being more agreeable to the taste than the large kind.
Maiz, which in France is called Turkey Corn, (and in England Indian Corn) is the natural product of this country; for upon our arrival we found it cultivated by the natives. It grows upon a stalk six, seven, or eight feet high; the ear is large, and about two inches diameter, containing sometimes seven hundred grains and upwards; and each stalk bears sometimes six or seven ears, according to the goodness of the ground. ..
This corn, it is well known, is very wholesome both for man and other animals, especially for poultry. The natives, that they may have change of dishes, dress it in various ways. The best is to make it into what is called Parched Meal…As there is nobody who does not eat of this with pleasure, even though not very hungry, I will give the manner of preparing it, that our provinces of France, which reap this grain, may draw the same advantage from it.
The corn is first parboiled in water; then drained and well dried. When it is perfectly dry, it is then roasted in a plate made for that purpose, ashes being mixed with it to hinder it from burning; and they keep continually stirring it, that it may take only the red colour which they want. When it has taken that colour, they remove the ashes, rub it well, and then put it in a mortar with the ashes of dried stalks of kidney beans, and a little water; they then beat it gently, which quickly breaks the husk, and turns the whole into meal. This meal, after being pounded, is dried in the sun, and after this last operation it may be carried any where, and will keep six months, if care be taken from time to time to expose it to the sun. When they want to eat of it, they mix in a vessel two thirds water with one third meal, and in a few minutes the mixture swells greatly in bulk, and is fit to eat. It is a very nourishing food, and is an excellent provision for travelers, and those who go to any distance to trade.
This parched meal, mixed with milk and a little sugar, may be served up at the best tables. When mixed with milk-chocolate it makes a very lasting nourishment. From Maiz they make a strong and agreeable beer; and they likewise distil brandy from it.
Wheat, rye, barley, and oats grow extremely well in Louisiana; but I must add one precaution in regard to wheat; when it is sown by itself, as in France, it grows at first wonderfully; but when it is in flower, a great number of drops of red water may be observed at the bottom of the stalk within six inches of the ground, which are collected during the night, and disappear at sun-rising. This water is of such an acrid nature, that in a short time it consumes the stalk, and the ear falls before the grain is formed. To prevent this misfortune, which is owing to the too great richness of the soil, the method I have taken, and which has succeeded extremely well, is to mix with the wheat you intend to sow, some rye and dry mould, in such a proportion that the mould shall be equal to the rye and wheat together. ..[land recently cleared and prejudicial to wheat – had seen the method in France also]
The rice which is cultivated in that country was brought from Carolina. It succeeds surprisingly well, and experience has there proved, contrary to the common notion, that it does not want to have its foot always in the water. It has been sown in the flat country without being flooded and the grain that was reaped was full grown, and of a very delicate taste…
The first settlers found in the country French-beans of various colors, particularly red and black, and they have been called beans of forty days, because they require no longer time to grow and to be fit to eat green. The Apalachean beans are so called because we received them from a nation of the natives of that name. They probably had them from the English of Carolina, whither they had been brought from Guinea. Their stalks spread upon the ground to the length of four or five feet. They are like the other beans, but much smaller, and of a brown colour, having a black ring round the eye, by which they are joined to the shell. These beans boil tender, and have a tolerable relish, but they are sweetish and somewhat insipid.
The potatoes are roots more commonly long than thick; their form is various, and their fine skin is like that of the Topinambous (Irish Potatoes.) In their substance and taste they very much resemble sweet chestnuts. They are cultivated in the following manner; the earth is raised in little hills or high furrows about a foot and a half broad that by draining the moisture, the roots may have a better relish. The small potatoes being cut in little pieces with an eye in each, four or five of those pieces are planted on the head of the hills. In a short time they push out shoots, and these shoots being cut off about the middle of August within seven or eight inches of the ground, are planted double, cross-ways, in the crown of other hills. The roots of the last are the most esteemed, not only on account of their fine relish, but because they are easier kept during the winter. In order to preserve them during that season, they dry them in the sun as soon as they are dug up, and then lay them up in a close and dry place, covering them first with ashes, over which they lay dry mould. They boil them, bake them, or roast them on hot coals like chestnuts; but they have the finest relish when baked or roasted. They are eat dry, or cut into small slices in milk without sugar, for they are sweet of themselves. Good sweetmeats are also made of them, and some Frenchmen have drawn brandy from them.
The cushaws are a kind of pompion. There are two sorts of them, the one round, and the other in the shape of a hunting horn. These last are the best being of a more firm substance, which makes them keep much better than the others; their sweetness is not so insipid, and they have fewer seeds. They make sweetmeats of these last, and use both kinds in soup; they make fritters of them, fry them, bake them, and roast them on the coals, and in all ways of cooking they are good and palatable.
Boris Kustodiev’s The Merchant’s Wife
All kinds of melons grow admirably well in Louisiana. Those of Spain, of France, of England, which last are called white melons, are there infinitely finer than in the countries from whence they have their name; but the best of all are the water melons. As they are hardly known in France, except in Provence, where a few of the small kind grow, I fancy a description of them will not be disagreeable to the reader…the fruit is either round like a pompion, or long. There are some good melons of this last kind, but the first sort are most esteemed and deservedly so. The weight of the largest rarely exceeds thirty pounds, but that of the smallest is always above ten pounds. Their rind is of a pale green colour, interspersed with large white spots. The substance that adheres to the rind is white, crude, and of a disagreeable tartness, and is therefore never eaten. The space within that is filled with a light and sparkling substance, that may be called for its properties a rose-coloured snow. It melts in the mouth as if it were actually snow, and leaves a relish like that of the water prepared for sick people from gooseberry jelly…The watermelons of Africa are not near so relishing as those of Louisiana…
All kinds of greens and roots which have been brought from Europe into that colony succeed better there than in France, provided they be planted in a soil suited to them; for it is certainly absurd to think that onions and other bulbous plants should thrive there in a soft and watery soil, when every where else they require a light and dry earth.