Café à la Créole.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Links | Monday 2 May 2011 3:45 pm

Having followed one link to another, then another (as one so often does while surfing — this time while reading up on the first episode of Treme season 2),  I stumbled upon The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book.  Published in 1901, by the local New Orleans newspaper The Picayune — which would eventually become the Times Picayune — it is a moment in time captured in amber, one that some might even consider quaint, and makes me a little homesick just reading it.  The book was reprinted a multitude of times from 1901 to 1922, then picked up by a different publisher then put into print again in 1971, and again in 2002, as an “unabridged republication”, which basically means it’s a step up from a photocopy of the original 1901 book.  I think I need to have a copy in my library (even though it is available online for free as the copyright has long since expired and it has become part of the public domain).

The book opens with a manifesto on coffee, specifically Café à la Créole (um… Creole Coffee), and won my little obsessive-compulsive, devil in the details, coffee-loving heart in an instant.   Here is the first chapter in all its coffee-worshiping glory, reformatted for ease of reading.




Café à la Créole

A good cup of Creole Coffee!

Is there anything in the whole range of food substances to be compared with it?  And is there any city in the world where coffee is so delightfully concocted as in New Orleans?  Travelers the world over unite in praise of Creole Coffee, or “Café à la Créole,” as they are fond of putting it.  The Creole cuisiniéres succeeded far beyond even the famous chefs of France in discovering the secret of good coffee-making, and they have never yielded the palm of victory.  There is no place in the world in which the use of coffee is more general than in the old Creole city of New Orleans, where, from the famous French Market, with its world-renowned coffee stands, to the olden homes on the Bayou St. John, from Lake Pontchatrain to the verge of Southport.  The cup of “Café Noir,” or “Café au Lait,” at morning, at noon and at night, has become a necessary and delightful part of the life of the people, and the wonder and the joy of visitors.

The morning cup of Café Noir is an integral part of the life of a Creole household.  The Creoles hold as a physiological fact that this custom contributes to longevity, and point, day after day, to examples of old men and women of fourscore, and over, who attest to the powerful aid they have received through life from a good, fragrant cup of coffee in the early morning.  The ancient residents hold, too, that, after a hearty meal, a cup of “Café Noir,” or black coffee, will relieve the sense of oppression so apt to he experienced, and enables the stomach to perform its functions with greater facility.  Café Noir is known, too, as one of the best preventives of infectious diseases, and the ancient Creole physicians never used any other deodorizer than passing a chafing dish with burning grains of coffee through the room.  As an antidote for poison, the uses of coffee are too well known to be dilated upon.

Coffee is also the greatest brain food and stimulant known.  Men of science, poets and scholars and journalists, have testified to its beneficial effects.  Coffee supported the old age of Voltaire, and enabled Fountenelle to reach his one hundredth birthday.  Charles Gayarre, the illustrious Louisiana historian, at the advanced age of eighty, paid tribute to the Créole cup of “Café Noir.”  Among advanced scientists it is rapidly taking the place of digitalis in the treatment of certain cardiac affections, and the basis of black coffee, “caffeine,” enters largely into medicinal compositions.  Coffee is now classed by physicians as an auxiliary food substance, as retarding the waste of nerve tissue and acting with peculiarly strengthening effect upon the nervous and vascular system.

How important, then, is the art of making good coffee, entering, as it does, so largely into the daily life of the American people. There is no reason why the secret should be confined to any section or city; but, with a little care and attention, every household in the land may enjoy its morning or after-dinner cup of coffee with as much real pleasure as the Creoles of New Orleans and the thousands of visitors who yearly migrate to this old Franco-Spanish city.

It is, therefore, with pardonable pride that the Picayune begins this Creole Cook Book by introducing its readers into a typical Creole kitchen, where “Tante Zoé,” in the early morning hour, in her quaint, guinea-blue dress and bandana “tignon,“ is carefully concocting the morning cup of…


And first she will tell you, this old Créole Négresse, as she busies herself parching to a beautiful brown the morning portion of green coffee, that the secret of good coffee lies in harvesting…

The Best Ingredients and in the Proper making.

By the best ingredients, she means those delightful coffees grown on well watered mountain slopes, such as the famous Java and Mocha coffees.  It must be of the best quality, the Mocha and Java mixed producing a concoction of a most delightful aroma and stimulating effect.  She will tell you, too, that one of the first essentials is to “Parch the Coffee Grains Just Before Making the Coffee,” because coffee that has been long parched and left standing loses its flavor and strength.  The coffee grains should “Be Roasted to a Rich Brown,” and never allowed to scorch or burn, otherwise the flavor of the coffee is at once affected or destroyed.  Good coffee should never he boiled.  Bear this in mind, that the GOOD CREOLE COOK NEVER BOILS COFFEE; but insists on dripping it, in a covered strainer, slowly, slowly-DRIP, DRIP, DRIP – till all the flavor is extracted.

To reach this desired end, immediately after the coffee has been roasted and allowed to cool in a covered dish, so that none of the flavor will escape, the coffee is ground – neither too fine, for that will make the coffee dreggy; nor too coarse, for that prevents the escape of the full strength of the coffee juice – but a careful medium proportion, which will not allow the hot water pouring to run rapidly through, but which will admit of the water percolating slowly through and through the grounds, extracting every bit of the strength and aroma, and falling steadily with “a drip! drip!”into the coffee pot.

To make good coffee, the water must be “freshly boiled,” and must never be poured upon the grounds until it has reached the good boiling point, otherwise the flavor is destroyed, and subsequent pourings of boiling water can never quite succeed in extracting the superb strength and aroma which distinguish the good cup of coffee.

It is of the greatest importance that “The Coffee Pot Be Kept Perfectly Clean,” and the good cook will bear in mind that absolute cleanliness is as necessary for the “interior” of the coffee pot as for the shining “exterior.”  This fact is one too commonly overlooked, and yet the coffee pot requires more than ordinary care, for the reason that the chemical action of the coffee upon the tin or agate tends to create a substance which collects and clings to every crevice and seam, and, naturally, in the course of time will affect the flavor of the coffee most peculiarly and unpleasantly.  Very often the fact that the coffee tastes bitter or muddy arises from this fact.  The “inside” of the coffee pot should, therefore, be washed as carefully “every day” as the outside.

Having observed these conditions, proceed to make the coffee according to the following unfailing…

Creole Rule.

Have the water heated to a good boil.  Set the coffee pot in front of the stove; never on top, as the coffee will boil, and then the taste is destroyed.

Allow one cup, or the ordinary mill, of coffee to make four good cups of the liquid, ground and put in the strainer, being careful to keep both the strainer and the spout of the coffee pot covered, to prevent the flavor from escaping.  Pour, first, about two tablespoonfuls of the boiling water on the coffee grounds, or, according to the quantity of coffee used, just sufficient to settle the grounds.  Walt about five minutes; then pour a little more water, and allow it to drip slowly through, but never pour water the second time until the grounds have ceased to puff or bubble, as this is an indication that the grounds have settled.  Keep pouring slowly, at intervals, a little boiling water at a time, until the delightful aroma of the coffee begins to escape from the closed spout of the coffee pot.  If the coffee dyes the cup, it is a little too strong; but do not go far beyond this, or the coffee will be too weak.  When you have produced a rich, fragrant concoction, whose delightful aroma, filling the room, is a constant, tempting invitation to taste it, serve in fine china cups, using in preference loaf sugar for sweetening.  You have then a real cup of the famous Creole Café Noir, so extensively used at morning dawn, at breakfast, and as the “after-dinner cup.”

If the coffee appears muddy, or not clear, some of the old Creoles drop a piece of charcoal an inch thick into the water, which settles it and at once makes it clear. Demonstrations prove that strength remains in the coffee grounds.  A matter of economy in making coffee is to save the grounds from the meal or day before, and boil these in a half gallon of water.  Settle the grounds by dropping two or three drops of cold water in, and pour the water over the fresh grounds.  This is a suggestion that rich and poor might heed with profit.


Proceed in the same manner as in the making of “Café Noir,” allowing the usual quantity of boiling water to the amount of coffee used.  When made, pour the coffee into delicate china cups, allowing a half cup of coffee to each cup.  Serve, at the same time, a small pitcher of very sweet and fresh cream, allowing a half cup of cream to a half cup of coffee.  The milk should always be boiled, and the cream very hot.  If the cream is not fresh and sweet, it will curdle the coffee, by reason of the heat.  Café au Lait is a great breakfast drink in New Orleans, while Café Noir is more generally the early morning and the afternoon drink.

Having thus bid its readers “Good morning,” and drank with them a cup of Café Noir, the Picayune will proceed to discuss Creole Cookery in all its forms, from soup “à la Créole” to “pacandes amandes” and “pralines.”


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