Spring Chicken

Rub inside and out a roasting hen with oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place in a medium oven (325) in a covered container for at least two hours, uncover and bake at a high heat (400) until skin is crisp. Serve with new potatoes and early peas.

A Pickled Shrimp Salad

Pickled shrimp have long been a favorite dish for alfresco occasions and lend a little touch of refinement to even the most modest events. Strictly speaking, the shrimp aren’t pickled, they’re simply marinated in a tangy solution of vinegar with lemon juice, herbs and spices for such a time that they’re infused with a tart, pungent flavor that works very well on a warm afternoon or evening.

Use shrimp of almost any size for this dish, but I’d recommend a larger count, nothing smaller than a 26/30, though a 21/25 is ideal. Boil the shrimp in the usual manner, taking care not to overcook them, peel and for this recipe devein. Now, use socks of herbs and spices along with the pungent Cajun seasonings you might like; there ain’t nothin’ sissy about my shrimp salad.

For each pound of cooked shrimp, add half a cup of diced white onion, seeded ripe tomato and peeled cucumber along with a few green onions cut on the bias and at least one (two is better) cloves of crushed, finely-minced garlic. Toss with a cup of white vinegar, two tablespoons sugar, the juice of half a lemon, and season with salt, black pepper, thyme, basil and dill. (Do NOT add oil to this marinade; instead, serve with a good olive oil on the table. Add water to cover if needed and refrigerate overnight. It helps to stir the mixture at least once, and once again later is better. Serve over salad greens with crusty bread.

Louis LeFleur, Frontiersman

Surprisingly little has been written about Louis LeFleur, who gave his name to Jackson’s Pearl River bluff, became the father of the last chief of the Choctaw Nation (Greenwood LeFlore) and much of it is inaccurate, the most glaring error being that he was a French-Canadian when in fact he was born in the tiny French colony of “Mobille” surrounding Fort Condé on the Gulf of Mexico.

Louis LeFleur was born Louis LeFlau; since by custom Louis eventually came to be known as LeFleur, we’ll use that name throughout to refer to him as LeFlore will be used in reference to his son Greenwood. Louis’ father, Jean Baptiste LeFlau came from France in the early 18th century as a soldier in the Fort Condé garrison. In 1735, he married Jeanne Boissinot, a native of Mobile, who bore him three children before her death in 1752. Jean Baptiste then married Jeanne Girard in 1753 and Louis, their third child, was born on June 29, 1762. There are no records of Louis LeFlau after his baptismal entry of 1762 until around 1790, but it’s certain that during this time he began trading with Native Americans, primarily the Choctaws, and likely operated flat-boats on the Amite and Pearl Rivers as well as in the Mississippi Sound.

LeFleur epitomizes those men of the American frontier who plied their trade along the navigable rivers in a wilderness before, during and even after the advent of steamboats and the eventual dominance of rail. In Antebellum Natchez James D. Clayton writes that “L. LeFleur (sic), father of a celebrated Choctaw Chieftain of a later era, operated with handsome profits the main boat shuttle to Pensacola, carrying produce and commodities.” He brought luxury items to the prosperous city of Natchez, including “fine apparel” which “had been ordered from Panton, Leslie, and Company of St. Marks in east Florida.” The boats LeFleur and those like him used were flatboats or keelboats that were manned by a crew of up to twenty-five people. The goods LeFleur routinely carried were much less luxurious used in his trade with the Choctaw, and the pelts he secured were sold in the trading houses at St. Marks and Pensacola. Corn and other farm products were sold in the markets at both Florida towns and in Natchez as well.

Sometime around 1790, LeFleur cheerfully adopted the Choctaw system of polygamy and married both Nancy and Rebecca Cravat, the half-French nieces of the Choctaw Chief Pushmataha. LeFleur moved his growing family—three children were born by 1798—to Pass Christian, but with the establishment of the Choctaw Agency near present-day Jackson, he chose as a location for a new home a high bluff on the west side of the Pearl River, rising some twenty-five feet above the crest of the floods and extending along the river for several hundred feet. With the opening on the Natchez Trace under the treaty of Fort Adams in 1801, LeFleur opened a way station in the same location where traders, travelers and mail carriers could secure fresh horses. This station rapidly became an inn providing bed and board as well as entertainment. The actual site of this trading post is disputed. Greenwood was the first of the “LeFlau” sons to be born at LeFleur’s Bluff on June 2, 1800. He was named for the Greenwood in the firm of Greenwood and Higginson who were the London correspondents of the founder of Panton and Leslie.

LeFleur still operated his profitable boating trade, securing commissions from General William C.C. Claiborne, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the newly organized (1798) Mississippi Territory to carry “certain goods sent by the United States as presents to the Choctaw Nation of Indians.” He also carried messages to the Governor of the Province of Louisiana. In addition to being entrusted with the delivery of merchandise making up the government annuity payments to the Choctaw Nation, Louis was asked to be present at the occasions when terms of treaties were negotiated. Louis “Leflow” is listed as one of the witnesses to the Treaty of Mount Dexter on November 16, 1805, which conveyed large amounts of land in what is now southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, including much of the western portion of Clarke County, Alabama, to the United States.

By 1810, operation of the inn and raising cattle had become LeFleur’s main enterprises, and he, along with Louis Durant, was said to have introduced cattle into Mississippi. Travelers from the east and from foreign lands have mentioned the accommodations at the Bluff and at the inn he established in 1812 at the place now known as French Camp. At French Camp, LeFleur had a number of buildings erected and it was here in 1812 that Major John Donly, who held the U.S. Government contract for transporting the mail on the Nashville-Natchez route, suggested to Louis that he be allowed to take young Greenwood home to Nashville with him in order that the boy might receive an “American education”, and LeFleur consented. Louis served with Pushmataha under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and was promoted to the rank of major (brevet). He also served three months in 1814 in command of a company on Russell’s expedition to Alabama. He later served in the campaign to Pensacola in 1814-15.

With the introduction of the steamboat on the Mississippi River—the New Orleans was the first steamboat down the Mississippi in 1811—commerce along the Trace fell, but LeFleur expanded his agricultural interests and in a decade tripled their acreage in cultivation and heads of cattle. Greenwood was elected Chief of the Northwestern Division of the Choctaws, but when Jackson was elected president in 1828 he pursued a policy of negating the treaties between the U.S. and the Choctaws, and with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830) the Choctaws were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. In a survey of freeholds within the Choctaw lands is a record for “Louis LeFlau, 300 acres in cultivation in the Yazoo Valley; five in family with four males over 16”. Major LeFlau was to receive two sections of land according to the Supplement to the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty.

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was a tragedy for the Choctaws and it caused deep rifts in the LeFlau/LeFleur/LeFlore family. Details are sketchy, but Greenwood is in the fifth and last level of behests in Louis’ will, which was signed April 16, 1833. Louis LeFleur died that same year, and while his gravesite is unknown, family tradition states that he was buried in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which is very near LeFlore County, Oklahoma.

(Note: This article is a brief summation of preliminary research towards a more thorough examination of Louis LeFleur and should not be considered definitive.)

On Kale and Colcannon

According to the genius of ancient Greece, cabbages were engendered from the tears of the Thracian king Lycurgus, who was blinded and torn limb from limb by Dionysus “the raging god” for pulling up grapevines. Modern botanists have for the most part been unwilling to accept this perfectly rational explanation for the genesis of the cabbage tribe, which however widely consumed in the Greco-Roman world, probably came from the cool, moist climates of northern and central Europe, particularly the British Isles. Most botanists theorize that cabbages in their infinite variety are descended from the sea kale (Crambe maritima), and kale was probably the first variety of cabbage to come under cultivation. I’m sure there’s a line of thought that implicates Vikings in their diaspora.

All cabbages kith and kin belong to the genus Brassica: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and sum, rutabaga, turnip and of course true kale (B. oleracea acephala), which translates as “non-heading cabbage”; this scientific tag covers collards as well, but collard leaves are straighter and smoother, whereas kale foliage is curled somewhat like parsley (kale in French is chou fries: “curly cabbage”.  To be quite honest (as is my habit) kale is what we once used as a garnish on the salad bar, scattering the parti-colored leaves of the ornamental varieties artfully between the containers of vegetables, pickles and whatnot in a pathetic effort to suggest the experience of grazing in a garden or meadow, which leads me to observe that even today more kale is fed to livestock than to people, hence the moniker “cow cabbage”. But kale has made a spectacular comeback lately, particularly among hipsters and millennials who cheerfully disdain culinary precedence by tossing the leaves on a sheet pan and baking them in the oven to make “chips”, which are just as dreadful as they sound.

This dish, thankfully, is far more edible, since the Irish—and more notably the Scots—have been eating kale in enormous quantities for centuries and consequently know how to cook it. Colcannon (note the first syllable is practically synonymous with that of another cabbage dish, cole slaw) is from cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”, and the recipe is as simple as the dish is hearty. Use one large starchy potato (russet) to, say, a packed cup of raw, chopped kale for each serving. Cut potatoes into chunks and boil vigorously until very soft and whip with milk or cream and butter. These don’t have to be perfectly smooth; in fact, they’re better a little lumpy, if you ask me. Boil the kale until quite done—this is one recipe for which you don’t want to use blanched kale—drain and while still hot toss with a little butter. Mix the potatoes and kale together, season with salt and white pepper. Some people cook green onions with the kale, but I prefer them raw as a garnish. You can thin this basic recipe with milk or broth to make a soup or you can spoon it into a casserole and bake it topped with a semi-hard cheese. It is a traditional side dish with ham, though I’m certain it goes just as well with corned or stewed beef.

 

Crechale’s Oysters Bienville

Nowadays most discussions—more often polemics—about culinary authenticity involve terms such as “the salience of ethnic identity” and “aligning broader socio-political representations”. These investigations certainly have their place in this global franchise we call a world, but when it comes to a specific restaurant recipe, we’re on less esoteric footing. We know that at some point in time, at this particular place, a recipe was formulated, prepared and served, a recipe that became an archetype for any that followed, and our best means of replicating such dishes is to find recipes written by people who are thoroughly familiar with the original and have the wherewithal to replicate it with authority. Such is the case with Arnaud’s signature recipe for oysters Bienville in Bayou Cuisine that’s credited to Jackson restaurateur Paul Crechale, which rings with authenticity in the use of a beige roux to thicken, cream and egg yolks to enrich, mushrooms, shrimp and a hard dry cheese for substance.

Prepare the sauce by browning lightly in 3 tablespoons butter 2 minced onions. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is lightly browned. Be sure not to let it burn. Add gradually 1 ½ cups chicken consommé, ½ cup white wine, 1 cup minced raw mushrooms and 1 ½ cups chopped cooked shrimp. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Open 3 dozen oysters and put them in their deep shells (my italics, jly) on individual baking dishes. Bake the oysters in their own juices in a moderate oven (350) for about 6 minutes. Thicken sauce with 2 egg yolks beaten with 2 tablespoons heavy cream and heat the sauce without boiling. Cover each oyster with some of the sauce and sprinkle lightly with equal parts of dry bread crumbs and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Return the oysters to the oven for about 10 minutes, until the topping is browned.

Shrimp Creole: Back to Basics

Without a doubt, the most maltreated recipe to come out of New Orleans cookery is shrimp Creole. The reason for this is that most people simply don’t have an understanding of how the roux functions as a basis for such a complex dish. Much more often than not the roux is simply disregarded as a component altogether, and what you’ll find served as shrimp Creole is little more than a handful of mealy shrimp drenched in a cayenne-infused Italian-style tomato sauce loaded with bell peppers and ladled over a pile of gummy Minute rice. Yes, tomatoes are an essential component to a shrimp Creole, but not a tomato sauce as such. The tomatoes give flavor to a much more complex stew that includes (of course) onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic and liquids. And sure, à la Creole to most people means piquant, but this does not mean hot; spicy, yes, but not hot.

Shrimp Creole is not a difficult dish to make; as with any recipe, you simply have to follow the proper procedure and proceed apace. First make a roux with a quarter cup each of flour and oil—not butter, not olive oil, just a light vegetable oil will do fine—cooking it to a rusty brown; some people will tell you to use a very dark roux for a Creole, but I prefer one a bit lighter (sue me). To this, while still hot, add two cups finely chopped white onion, one cup finely chopped celery and a half cup finely diced bell pepper. Do not over-do the bell pepper! I firmly concur with Justin Wilson who said time and time again that bell pepper is “a taste killah”, and we both agree that you can never use too much onion. Many of  you will recognize this combination as a platform for any number of Creole/Cajun dishes.

For a basic shrimp Creole to feed six people, sauté two pounds peeled shrimp–I recommend a 26-30 count–in a light oil with plenty of garlic, about four cloves crushed and minced, and a little pepper (do not salt). Add the shrimp (with the liquid) to the roux/vegetable mix, then immediately add two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes with juice. (In a perfect world, you’d use four cups of home-canned tomatoes, but I do not live in a perfect world, and chances are you don’t, either.) Add a little water to this if needed to give it the consistency of a thick soup, season with a two tablespoons dried basil, two teaspoons thyme and a teaspoon each of oregano and ground cumin. Understand please that these are relative ratios that you can adjust with neither guilt nor effort. As to pepper, some cayenne, yes, and yes to some black pepper, too, but when it comes to pepper, the best rule of thumb is to add just enough to make a statement and provide a good Louisiana hot sauce on the table. Let this stew for at least an hour (I put it in the oven uncovered and stir it two or three times), then adjust your seasonings, particularly the salt and pepper. Serve over cooked long-grain rice; let me recommend Zatarain’s, and no, I’m not getting paid for that.

Mississippi Statehood: A Timeline

1540
Hernando de Soto and his remaining troops crossed the Tombigbee near present-day Columbus and spent the winter near Tupelo, reaching he Mississippi River on May 8, 1541.

1682
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explored the Ohio River Valley and the Mississippi River Valley, and he claimed the entire territory for France as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans) was founded May 7, 1718, by the French Mississippi Company, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville.

1699
The first permanent settlement in French Louisiana was founded at Fort Maurepas, now in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and referred to as Old Biloxi, in 1699 under the direction of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, with Louisiana separated from Spanish Florida at the Perdido River near Pensacola (founded 1559 and again in 1698).

1712
New Biloxi was founded across the bay from Fort Maurepas.

1716
Fort Rosalie—the site of modern-day Natchez—was established by the French. Natchez was to become the most important European settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley up until the Civil War.

1736
The Chickasaw Campaign of 1736 consisted of two pitched battles by the French and allies against Chickasaw fortified villages in present-day northeast Mississippi. Under the overall direction of the governor of Louisiana, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, a force from Upper Louisiana attacked Ogoula Tchetoka on March 25, 1736. A second force from Lower Louisiana attacked Ackia on May 26, 1736. Both attacks were bloodily repulsed, and French domination of the Mississippi Valley fell into decline.

1763
The Treaty of Paris, also known as the Treaty of 1763, was signed on 10 February 1763 by the kingdoms of Great Britain, France and Spain, with Portugal in agreement, after Great Britain’s victory over France and Spain during the Seven Years’ War. By the terms of the treaty, Britain wrested the area east of the Mississippi River from the French.

1774
Phineas Lyman led a group of New England veterans of the French and Indian War to settle in the new colony of West Florida (then a territory of Great Britain) near Natchez on the Big Black River where he died shortly before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

1783-1795
Under the terms of the Peace of Paris (1783), a series of treaties between Great Britain, France and Spain, what is now Mississippi above 31° north latitude parallel passed to the United States of America, but a separate Anglo-Spanish agreement, which ceded both Florida provinces back to Spain, did not specify a northern boundary for Florida, and the Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain. Spain claimed the expanded 1764 boundary, while the United States claimed that the boundary was at the 31° parallel. Negotiations in 1785–1786 between John Jay and Don Diego de Gardoqui failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The border was finally resolved in 1795 by the Treaty of San Lorenzo, in which Spain recognized the 31° parallel as the boundary, and British troops were withdrawn in 1798.

April 7, 1798
The Mississippi Territory was organized. The territory’s original boundaries consisted of the region bounded by the Mississippi and Chattahoochee rivers in the west and east, the 31st parallel in the south, and the point where the Yazoo River emptied into the Mississippi River in the north. Government was patterned after the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which established a governor, secretary and three judges to serve as a ruling council. After the territory’s population reached 5,000 free adult males, an assembly could be elected and a delegate sent to Congress. Winthrop Sargent, a New England Federalist, was appointed governor.

1799
Chafing under Sargent’s autocratic “Codes”, his opponents presented their grievances to the federal government, which granted the second stage of territorial status to Mississippi, including the popular election of officials. In 1801 Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson removed Sargent from office. The new administration repealed all of Sargent’s laws and moved the territory’s capital from Federalist-dominated Natchez to nearby Washington.

1804
The northern boundary of the Mississippi Territory was extended to the Tennessee state line,

1812
President James Madison annexed additional land along the Gulf of Mexico Coast. By 1813, the Mississippi Territory encompassed the boundaries of present-day Alabama and Mississippi.

March 27, 1814
General Andrew Jackson won the Battle of Horseshoe Bend which destroyed the Red Stick Creeks as a military power. The subsequent Treaty of Fort Jackson forced the devastated Creeks to cede over 23 million acres of land to the United States and cleared the way for an influx of immigration into the Mississippi Territory.

October, 1816
Prominent residents from throughout the Territory met at the home of John Ford, south of Columbia, to discuss statehood. In what became known as the “Pearl River Convention,” the attendees—the majority overwhelmingly eastern section residents—decided to send leading territorial official Harry Toulmin to the nation’s capital to request admission of the Mississippi Territory as a single state.

March 1, 1817
President James Madison signed the Enabling Act that granted admission of the western section of the Territory as the state of Mississippi on; the eastern section was organized as the Alabama Territory at the same time. The line of division, which still serves as the boundary between Mississippi and Alabama today, was designed to be a compromise between the wishes of western and eastern residents of the Territory.

July, 1817
Forty-eight delegates from Mississippi’s fourteen counties met at Washington to draft the new state’s constitution. The constitution established Mississippi’s government and recognized Natchez as the state’s capital.

August 15, 1817
The Alabama Territory was carved from the Mississippi Territory.

December 10, 1817
President James Monroe signed the resolution that admitted Mississippi as the nation’s twentieth state. Territorial governor David Holmes won election as the state’s first governor. Electors also chose George Poindexter as its only congressman and Walter Leake and Thomas H. Williams as its first senators. Alabama entered the Union on December 14, 1819.