Tricentennial Reading List (Cookbooks): Food Scholarships and Memoirs

Jul 3, 2018

Susan Larson sits down with Judy Walker to discuss food scholarship and memoirs.

Food scholarship and memoir:

  • New Orleans: A Food Biography, by Elizabeth Williams
  • Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, by Sara Roahen
  • Lost Restaurants of New Orleans, by Peggy Scott Laborde, which conjures some wonderful ghosts from the past.
  • High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, by Jessica Harris, who held the first 
  • The first New Orleans cookbook, La Cuisine Creole, by Lafcadio Hearn 
  • New Orleans: 14 Signature Dishes, edited by Susan Tucker
  • Louisiana Eats: The People, The Food, and Their Stories, by Poppy Tooker
  • The Plantation Cookbook, by the Junior League of New Orleans


Larson: Some of the great books about New Orleans food aren't necessarily cookbooks.There's Liz Williams' Food Biography.

Walker: Right. There's so much great scholarship in that book. Oh my God. She's got all the stuff that, all the threads of the history and how they go back and tie together on that end, tie together in contemporary times. It's really a great book to understand.

Larson: Her own story is so compelling. To have been a lawyer, to have been here at UNO, and then to found the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. It's a story of an obsession. That's great.

Walker: It really is. She was in on the founding of The World War II Museum, and that's how she knew how to put together a museum.

Larson: Another one that's my favorite, well, both these books have been One Book One New Orleans selections, but I'm so fond of Sara Roahen's book, Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place At The New Orleans Table.

Walker: Isn't that a great book? A lot of times when people recommend one really good book to understand New Orleans cuisine, that is the book that they will recommend because Sara is such a beautiful writer. Plus, she, from her outsider perspective of coming into New Orleans and understanding it, and because of all her work writing about food for so many years for Gumbo Weekly and the other publications that she worked for, she really got it and she was able to explain it so precisely and beautifully. She has so many great haunting images in that book.

Larson: I know. I love the way she was always having to lie down. I just have to lie down after having eating all of this. When she was making the turducken, I think she had to lie down in the middle of that. She describes that process of Creolization. How do you become a part of something. How you become larger than yourself through learning these food ways, which is so important here.

Walker: That's a wonderful book. I would recommend that to anybody.

Larson: Then, I love Peggy Scott Laborde's Lost Restaurants of New Orleans.

Walker: Yes.

Larson: Because it's full of the nostalgia we have for places.

Walker: Which is so extensive here. The first thing you learn when you move to New Orleans is people are like still thinking about the past in every way.

Larson: Past food.

Walker: Past food is a huge part of that, and they did a great, great job of documenting all that and the great photos.

Larson: Places you wished you could have eaten.

Walker: Yes, places I still regret.

Larson: Yes. Then we have such an important African-American presence in our food. It permeates everything.

Walker: Yes.

Larson: Jessica Harris is one of the people who’s been doing so much with this.

Walker: Yes.

Larson: She was the first director of the Ray Charles Program in Material Culture at Dillard. The book I picked was High on Hog: A Culinary journey from Africa to America.

Walker: I think that’s another very important book for understanding so much about not just New Orleans culinary history, but American culinary history, which explains a part about the caterers, the Africa-American caterers. That’s another really important book for understanding. Her other cook books are really good too.

Larson: Beyond Gumbo, yes.

Walker: Great recipes, yes, and her memoir. Her memoir, oh, my gosh she is just a wonderful person and a wonderful writer.

Larson: We’re lucky to have her as a part time New Orleanean.

Walker: Yes.

Larson: Then, of course, there’s the first New Orleans cookbook, La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn.

Walker: Who wrote everything.

Larson: He did. He wrote everything.

Walker: That says something about how important cuisine was from the very beginning. It is beginning right with this writer…

Larson: He had to write a cookbook. I know I love him. He’s one of my favorite literary figures. He was once the equivalent of the book editor at the paper.

Walker: Right.

Larson: It's like, oh, Lafcadio!