Maize grew better in Lower Louisiana than in French Canada, although it wasn’t unknown in the latter. Paul le Jeune, Jesuit missionary, did comment on the Montagnais Indians northeast of Quebec making sagamite made from bled d’Inde, or maize.
Francois-Rene Chateaubriand described sagamite as, “a sort of paste, made of Indian corn”, while another writer evidently was more impressed saying it contained corn meal, pork or bear meat, and beans flavored with salt or sugar. – Atala: Or, The Love and Constancy of Two Savages in the Desert. 1814. Boston. First trans. 1802. 2. Bulletin, I 144. New York State Museum. Nov. 1910. NY.
Some writers, including the Jesuits in North America, described it either as a thin pottage or as a thicker stew, one going so far as to compare it to wallpaper paste. – Parkman, Francis. The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century. 1867. Boston.
Succotash was a mixture of green corn and beans, sometimes with the addition of other tidbits, cooked into a mush that in some instances may have been similar to sagamite.
Whether by choice or necessity, more often the latter, the French colonists were known to consume maize which they obtained from the Indians. The men adjusted to cornbread faster than the French women who considered it coarse fare. In 1704, Governor Bienville said in Mobile, “the men who are in Louisiana are accustoming themselves to maize, but the women, who for the most part are natives of Paris, are very reluctant to consume it.”
Even those who like cornbread will admit that the texture is much coarser than wheat bread, even whole wheat bread, and it was that texture the French women objected to. At some point, it was discovered that the finer the corn was ground for the meal the softer the loaf, and if the meal was slowly boiled into a mush before being mixed with a third the amount of wheat flour, yeast, and other ingredients it produced a much better bread. – The Farmer’s Magazine. April 1858.
Shannon Lee Dawdy reported on an archaeological survey saying that maize was found at all of the early French colonial sites that have thus far been analyzed. That seems to indicate that the lower classes probably ate it regularly and I suspect fared much better than they had in France.
Le Page du Pratz commented on maize consumption by the French.
The parched meal is the best preparation of this corn; the French like it extremely well, no less than the Indians themselves: I can affirm that it is a very good food…it is refreshing and extremely nourishing.
Marie Madeleine Hachard, a nun in New Orleans, noted eating sagamite, saying, “we eat it often [rice] along with sagamite, which is made from Indian corn that has been ground in a mortar and then boiled in water with butter or bacon fat. Everyone in Louisiana considers this an excellent dish”.
Dumont wrote of colonial bread made from maize and cooked rice.
…pound them [corn kernels soaked overnight] into flour using a pestle and sift the flour in basket sieves made by local Indian women…
He wrote of a mixture of corn and French flour, approximately half of each, when wheat was available to mix with the maize meal.
John Reynolds did document the French in Illinois cultivating maize. “I presume for more than one hundred years the French plowed in their corn about the 1st of June, and turned under the weeds and not many grew until the corn was up out of the reach of them. They planted the seed corn in the furrows as they broke the ground, and turned the furrow on the corn planted; plowed a few furrows more and planted another row of corn; and so on, until the field was all planted”. – Agricultural Resources of Southern Illinois. Reprinted from Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Soc. 1856-57.
Although this has been a brief look at maize and its uses in colonial Louisiana, it will prove useful information in interpreting the foodways of the French and natives at Ft. Toulouse and provide information interested visitors can look into afterward.