Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kicking It Old School with Jesse

I have recently came across an old cookbook published in 1954 about a very fascinating man who was an important part of the deep south and Creole cooking history. A good friend of mine found this book at a thrift store. It is packed with lots of recipes that were, and still are famous favorites in our Southern Food culture. Now I'm not saying that all of us eat everything in this book, but it is like reading a history lesson in Creole and Southern cooking.  This man is Jesse Willis Lewis. I had never heard of him. He was born in 1895 and became a prominent cook in the New Orleans area back in his day. He worked for the Ballard Family and stayed with them for 40 years. 
I can't think of a better way to celebrate Black History Month than to highlight this very talented man. I cannot find much info about him. The only facts I know are the ones stated in this interesting and delightful book. Considering the year this book was published, before the civil rights movement, I would assume that Jesse made his mark on many people in the New Orleans area and had a culinary gift like no other to stir enough attention for this book to be possible. This book was written by a Ballard daughter and her husband.
It is more of a description of how Jesse does things, written while observing and Jesse's tips are clearly quoted.  He was the favorite of many elite people visiting New Orleans back in his day, actors, musicians, arch bishops, governors and the like. 
Some of the recipes are very similar to what my mother used to cook. His fried chicken technique is one example. Others are things I have never heard of, or will ever have the nerve to try, although, I was exposed to some of these dishes as a child, I never had the nerve to actually taste turtle soup, my mom prepared it once. My dad and brothers liked to hunt so she worked her magic in her kitchen, just like Jesse did in his, less elaborate of course. That is what makes a great cook, versatility.

I will be featuring some of Jesse’s famous and creative recipes and techniques this month in honor of Black History Month.  Even if you don’t try these techniques, it makes for fascinating reading, and an appreciation for some more modern conveniences. I hope you enjoy Jesse’s offerings as much as I have. Join me in revisiting Jesse Willis Lewis and his famous and delectable dishes. One cannot forget those who kept the inspiration going and shared his talents with us, even if it is almost 60 years since his book was written and he was born 117 years ago.  

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