Court bouillon (koor-bou-yon)
Court means short – bouillon means boiled. Fish tenderizes quickly, so it’s always best to put fish into the pot after the veggies are almost done. Large redfish (poisson rouge) and catfish (barbue) were usually stewed whole after cleaning – gutting, scaling or, for catfish – the skin scrubbed clean. Tails were always cut off, but sometimes a large catfish head also made it into the pot. Now, we fillet the flesh away from the backbone, and render the veggies, bell peppers, garlic and onions and tomatoes into a sauce rouge, that is poured over the fillets headed for the oven in a roasting pan. Everything’s seasoned to taste (never too spicy) and garnished with slices of lemon. Because this dish is served over rice, it’s best to also cut out the belly ribs if you have children. Remember, that September has always been a good month for redfish to be in shallow water.
— Maurice Lasserre
Serre ca – Put It Away
The 1930’s were hard, especially in Vacherie where no one had money. Seeking a better life, families moved to Algiers. We saved everything, from paper bags to string, and leftover food went right into the garmanger (food safe) or atop the ice in the glaciere. It was a make-do and fix-it-yourself time in our lives. We were not ashamed to wear hand-me-down clothes (linge a second main). We had to outgrow our shoes to get new ones or have the cardonnier replace the soles (les semelles) and stretch the shoes to extend shoe life for $3.00 a pair. Cars were scarce; we walked unless you had a baicique or a nickel for the bus. Cajuns found Algiers an affordable and convenient place to rent (loyer) and work (l’ouvrage) on the River Dry Docks (les cale-seche) or in the huge S.P. Railroad repair shops. There were several Mam et Pap grocery stores where we would buy dried food by the “scoop” – like rice, beans, flour, etc. or small amounts of lard or butter by the pat (spatula) from bins or tin containers. Chickens were encager outside the stores; we picked the healthy ones, had them weighed and feet bound before taking them home – alive. On certain days, sides of meat (viande de boeuf) were available to be cut into small amounts, bought only for the day – ’cause nobody had refrigeration. Coal oil (huile a lampe) was also outside in a tank. We filled containers with a handcrank that also measured volume dispensed for 5 or 6 cents a gallon. Grocers kept a ledger of purchases (livre des achats). We paid cousin Armand when he cashed dad’s check and gave us Lagniappe (candy) in appreciation.
— Maurice Lasserre
Cajun Cuisine During the Economic Depression
The Depression began in the late 1920’s and lasted at least 10 years in Louisiana. No one had any money, children wore hand-me-downs (les seconde main) went barefoot (nu pieds) well into winter – some even to school (sans souliers). Cajuns that lived near water bodies or swampland fared better than most; they fished and ate all kinds of wild game out of necessity; game laws also seemed lax during those times. Young wild herons were plentiful and easy to take from a rookery (place a niche); and a wild Grosbec never needed to be fed as did chickens. Without money to buy shot shells, Cajuns resorted to mud balls dried in the sun and thrown to knock down fledglings.
They also imitated the whistle and quock of an adult bird to lure (decoy) young flyers – methods that may have been learned from Indians? Cajuns habitually continued eating Grosbecs at home and at hunting camps long after the economy improved-until in the late 1950’s and throughout the 60’s, when Federal Game Agents reminded hunters that an International Treaty Protecting Waterfowl also included Grosbecs.