When The Levees Broke, People Lost Family Recipes, Too


Post-Katrina, a New Orleans newspaper editor is helping people restore their memories one recipe at a time. The story, from today’s Times, makes us appreciate old wisdom and new technology.

Even before Katrina, Judy Walker, the food editor of The Times-Picayune, was concerned about the decline of local cuisine, saying, “many of the recipes that were always cooked in the homes of South Louisiana are falling by the wayside.” And Katrina, of course, decimated local cooks’ recipe collections just as it did everything else in its path. While such a concern may seem trivial – and surely was at the time – it’s sobering to realize that, sometimes, generations’ worth of recipes and family history have been irrevocably lost. Walker quickly saw that her section of the paper could be of assistance.

Almost immediately, the longstanding recipe-sharing column took on a new importance. Recipe by recipe, the newspaper was going to help people rebuild those lost collections…A survivor would write in to mourn the loss of a recipe for mirliton casserole with crab meat, and another reader would supply it. It was one small way people could help.

She did not think to compile the findings until she was contacted by a woman named Judy Laine.

Mrs. Laine, 67, and her family lost their home in New Orleans under 10 feet of water. They had evacuated to an unfinished second home in Talisheek, La. When winds sent oaks crashing into that house, Mrs. Laine tripped and broke both legs. It took two days to clear the roads to a hospital. In the meantime, her husband set her legs as best he could. Mrs. Laine lost most of her clipped recipes, along with many from her mother. When the newspaper began publishing lost recipes, she wrote a letter about her storm experience to Ms. Walker, adding a suggestion.

The result was the new cookbook Cooking Up a Storm, which not only includes the recipes compiled after Katrina, but fundamentals of New Orleans cuisine and famous dishes for Nola landmarks that were felled by the storm. While this will obviously be an amazing resource, one of the first thoughts we had when reading this story was, Thank God for the internet. After all, it’s at times like this that the unprecedented resource really comes in handy, not merely as means of contacting an unimaginably large group of people, but as a compendium of knowledge. What, once upon a time, would have meant the death of memories – to say nothing of recipes – now gives hope. Is this – or indeed, the cookbook – any substitute for a hand-written heirloom? Of course not. But it’s quite a bit.

New Orleans Salvages Recipes Stolen by a Storm [New York Times]

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