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About the Project

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The cookbook as a textual object offers many possibilities for its reading and interpretation beyond instruction of how to make meals. Instead, the cookbook speaks to the formation and sustaining of domesticity and its players. This digital edition is an attempt to model a way to “read cookbooks strange”—that is, as non-neutral texts that reveal more than one narrative. In The Picayune, we can see, on the one hand, the dominant narrative espoused by the introductory headnotes: the call to preserve Creole dishes for posterity and, in a post-slavery era where domestic servitude was becoming scare, to teach white women how to return to the kitchen.

The first edition’s introduction declares that “good cooking operates to the greatest extent in the preservation of the domestic peace and happiness of a family.” But there is something else being “preserved” within the pages of these cookbooks: the mammy figure. The book’s attempts to collect and recreate old Creole dishes is predicated on very recent memories of labor and production, and the textual and culinary performance of those memories. We see this most easily via the textual references to characters named “Zoe” and “Zizi” (and in later editions, “Chloe” and “Matilda.”) Research still needs to be done on who these women may have been: they appear in the text alongside historical allusions (to William Thackaray, for instance) and who would have been well-known chefs to contemporary readers (Mme. Begue and Charles Rhodes). But Zoe and Zizi, alternately called “Tante Zoe” and “Tante Zizi,” seem to stand in for a racialized archetype or caricature. An illustration of “Tante Zoe” is found in the frontispiece to the fourth edition, and depicted as making coffee in “her quaint, guinea-blue dress and bandana “tignon,” in the Creole kitchen.

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The cookbook is motivated by the loss of the mammy figure as much as it is inspired by her culinary skills. Read this way, the cookbook isn’t just a set of instructions, and it isn’t just a narrative: it’s an attempt to reproduce history by tracking down and appropriating an era of human bondage and enslavement. This digital edition is an attempt to highlight these moments where Zoe and Zizi appear—whether referenced directly or indirectly—and, in “finding” them, seeing how the legacies and cultures of Creole domestic life shift throughout the texts.

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About the Picayune Creole Cookbook

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In 1900, an anonymous staff member of the Daily Picayune newspaper of New Orleans visited Louisiana households and estates to interview black domestic workers and write down “from their lips the exact formulae by which the famous Creole dishes are prepared.” From there, recipes were tested for authenticity and practicality before being printed and published as The Picayune Creole Cookbook (early editions are called The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook. The Picayune Creole Cookbook announces its stakes and intentions early and often: although, the introduction explains, a cookbook of this type would have once been a “useless addition” to one’s kitchen, the increasing loss of black cooks has made the preservation and publication of Creole recipes “a necessity” (1). Each edition is over 300 pages long, and includes recipes for Creole specialities like calas, gumbos, and jambalayas, and making coffee “à la Créole.”

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Following the popularity of the first edition, subsequent editions were published throughout the twentieth century, in 1901, 1906, 1916, 1922, 1928, 1936, 1938, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1954, 1966 and 1971. Several editions have been digitized, including the fourth edition (published 1910), fifth edition (1916), and sixth edition (1922).

Project Development

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Currently this project has multiple phases. The first is to develop a sandbox space of collecting, digitizing, and marking up the texts. I am doing this using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), an extensible set of XML standards. My TEI markup is invested in locating segments of analysis related to my argument: moments where racialized labor is erased, moments where the knowledge and practices of black Creole cooks is appropriated, moments where the text indicates a temporal and spatial shift from the romanticized era of slavery and a post-bellum moment of domestic servitude, to moments when new figures begin to enter the kitchen and the public spaces of New Orleans.

My TEI documentation and XML files will be made available on the site and I will begin to design an interface for searching people and places across texts and for highlighting the analyses that the markup helps reveal.

I’ve digitized and marked up the Introductions of five of the editions: the first edition (1900), second edition (1901), fourth edition (1906), fifth edition (1916), and sixth edition (1922). I begin with the Introductions because I see them as interesting “home screens” that frame the reading and understanding of each edition. Each construct a sense of “home” and “place” differently, shaping one’s experience of the text and recipes that follow.

Read the TEI edition to…

First Edition

(coming soon!)

  • Second Edition
  • Third Edition
  • Fourth Edition
  • Fifth Edition
  • Sixth Edition