Apr 302015


On this date in 1803 France and the U.S. signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of the Louisiana territory (828,000 square miles) by the United States from France at a cost of fifty million francs ($11,250,000 USD) plus a cancellation of debts worth eighteen million francs ($3,750,000 USD), for a total of sixty-eight million francs ($15,000,000 USD), which averages to approximately four cents per acre. Adjusting for inflation, the modern financial equivalent spent for the Purchase is approximately $236 million in 2014 U.S. dollars which averages to less than forty-two cents per acre).

The Louisiana territory included land from fifteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The territory contained land that forms Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the area of Minnesota that is west of the Mississippi River; a large portion of North Dakota; a large portion of South Dakota; the northeastern section of New Mexico; the northern portion of Texas; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River (plus New Orleans); and small portions of land that form the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

France controlled the Louisiana territory from 1699 until it was ceded to Spain in 1762. In the hope of re-establishing an empire in North America, France regained control of the Louisiana territory in 1800 under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. A slave revolt in Haiti and an impending war with Great Britain led French officials to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States, who originally sought to purchase only the city of New Orleans and its adjacent lands.

The Louisiana Purchase occurred during the term of United States President Thomas Jefferson. Before the purchase was finalized, the decision faced domestic opposition as some argued that it was unconstitutional for President Jefferson to acquire the territory. Jefferson agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain provisions for acquiring territory, but decided to proceed with the acquisition, being advised that the Louisiana Purchase was within the strictest interpretation of the Constitution, which allowed the President to negotiate treaties. The purchase included an agreement to remove France’s presence in the territory and protect U.S. trade access to the port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

Throughout the second half of the 18th century, Louisiana was a pawn on the chessboard of European politics. It was originally claimed by Spain but subsequently settled by the French, who established the colony as part of New France. Following French defeat in the Seven Years’ War, Spain regained control of the territory. As the lands were being gradually settled by United States immigrants, many Americans, including Jefferson, assumed that the territory would be acquired “piece by piece.” The risk of another power taking it from a weakened Spain made a “profound reconsideration” of this policy necessary.

The city of New Orleans controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River; other ports were established, but only New Orleans had direct access from the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans was already important for shipping agricultural goods to and from the parts of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. Pinckney’s Treaty, signed with Spain on October 27, 1795, gave American merchants “right of deposit” in New Orleans, granting them use of the port to store goods for export. Americans used this right to transport products such as flour, tobacco, pork, bacon, lard, feathers, cider, butter, and cheese. The treaty also recognized American rights to navigate the entire Mississippi, which had become vital to the growing trade of the western territories.

In 1798 Spain revoked this treaty, prohibiting American use of New Orleans, and greatly upsetting the Americans. In 1801, Spanish Governor Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo took over from the Marquess of Casa Calvo, and restored the U.S. right to deposit goods. Napoleon Bonaparte had gained Louisiana for French ownership from Spain in 1800 under the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. But the treaty was kept secret.

Louisiana remained nominally under Spanish control, until a transfer of power to France on November 30, 1803, just three weeks before the formal transfer to the United States on December 20, 1803. Another ceremony was held in St. Louis a few months later, in part because during winter conditions the news of the New Orleans formalities did not reach Upper Louisiana. The March 9–10, 1804, event is remembered as Three Flags Day.

James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston had traveled to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans in 1802. Their interest was only in gaining control of New Orleans and its environs; they did not anticipate the much larger acquisition which would follow. The Louisiana Purchase was by far the largest territorial gain in U.S. history. Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, the purchase doubled the size of the United States. Before 1803, Louisiana had been under Spanish control for forty years. Although Spain aided the rebels in the American Revolutionary War, the Spanish didn’t want the Americans to settle in their territory.

While the sale of the territory by Spain back to France in 1800 went largely unnoticed, fear of an eventual French invasion spread nationwide when, in 1801, Napoleon sent a military force to secure New Orleans. Southerners feared that Napoleon would free all the slaves in Louisiana, which could trigger slave uprisings elsewhere. Though Jefferson urged moderation, Federalists sought to use this against Jefferson and called for hostilities against France. Undercutting them, Jefferson took up the banner and threatened an alliance with Britain, although relations were uneasy in that direction. In 1801 Jefferson supported France in its plan to take back Saint-Domingue, then under control of Toussaint Louverture after a slave rebellion. Jefferson sent Livingston as an envoy to Paris in 1801 after discovering the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France under the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. He was authorized to purchase New Orleans.

In January 1802, France sent General Leclerc to Saint-Domingue to re-establish slavery, which had been abolished in law and in the constitution of the French Republic of 1795—both in France and its colonies—to reduce the rights of free people of color and take back control of the island from Toussaint Louverture, who had maintained St. Domingue as French against invasion by the Spanish and British empires. Before the Revolution, France had derived enormous wealth from St. Domingue at the cost of the lives and freedom of the slaves. Napoleon wanted its revenues and productivity for France restored. Alarmed over the French actions and its intention to re-establish an empire in North America, Jefferson declared neutrality in relation to the Caribbean, refusing credit and other assistance to the French, but allowing war contraband to get through to the rebels to prevent France from regaining a foothold.

In 1803, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a French nobleman, began to help negotiate with France at the request of Jefferson. Du Pont was living in the United States at the time and had close ties to Jefferson as well as the prominent politicians in France. He engaged in back-channel diplomacy with Napoleon on Jefferson’s behalf during a visit to France and originated the idea of the much larger Louisiana Purchase as a way to defuse potential conflict between the United States and Napoleon over North America.

Jefferson disliked the idea of purchasing Louisiana from France, as that could imply that France had a right to be in Louisiana. Jefferson had concerns that a U.S. President did not have the constitutional authority to make such a deal. He also thought that to do so would erode states’ rights by increasing federal executive power. On the other hand, he was aware of the potential threat that France could be in that region and was prepared to go to war to prevent a strong French presence there.

Throughout this time, Jefferson had up-to-date intelligence on Napoleon’s military activities and intentions in North America. Part of his evolving strategy involved giving du Pont some information that was withheld from Livingston. He also gave intentionally conflicting instructions to the two. Desperate to avoid possible war with France, Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris in 1802 to negotiate a settlement, with instructions to go to London to negotiate an alliance if the talks in Paris failed. Spain procrastinated until late 1802 in executing the treaty to transfer Louisiana to France, which allowed American hostility to build. Also, Spain’s refusal to cede Florida to France meant that Louisiana would be indefensible. Monroe had been formally expelled from France on his last diplomatic mission, and the choice to send him again conveyed a sense of seriousness.

Napoleon needed peace with Great Britain to implement the Treaty of San Ildefonso and take possession of Louisiana. Otherwise, Louisiana would be an easy prey for Britain or even for the United States. But in early 1803, continuing war between France and Britain seemed unavoidable. On March 11, 1803, Napoleon began preparing to invade Britain.

A slave revolt in Saint-Domingue (present-day Republic of Haiti) had been followed by the first French general emancipation of slaves in 1793-94. This led to years of war against the Spanish and British empires, which sought to conquer St. Domingue and re-enslave the emancipated population. An expeditionary force under Napoleon’s brother-in-law Charles Leclerc in January 1802, supplemented by 20,000 troops over the next 21 months, had tried to reconquer the territory and re-establish slavery. But yellow fever and the fierce resistance of black, mulatto, and white revolutionaries destroyed the French army. This was the culmination of the only successful slave revolt in history, and Napoleon withdrew the surviving French troops in November 1803. In 1804 Haiti became the first independent black-majority state in the New World.

As Napoleon had failed to re-enslave the emancipated population of Haiti, he abandoned his plans to rebuild France’s New World empire. Without sufficient revenues from sugar colonies in the Caribbean, Louisiana had little value to him. Spain had not yet completed the transfer of Louisiana to France, and war between France and Britain was imminent. Out of anger against Spain and the unique opportunity to sell something that was useless and not truly his yet, Napoleon decided to sell the entire territory.

Although the foreign minister Talleyrand opposed the plan, on April 10, 1803, Napoleon told the Treasury Minister François de Barbé-Marbois that he was considering selling the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States. On April 11, 1803, just days before Monroe’s arrival, Barbé-Marbois offered Livingston all of Louisiana for $15 million, equivalent to about $233 million in current dollars. The American representatives were prepared to pay up to $10 million for New Orleans and its environs, but were dumbfounded when the vastly larger territory was offered for $15 million. Jefferson had authorized Livingston only to purchase New Orleans. However, Livingston was certain that the United States would accept the offer.


The Americans thought that Napoleon might withdraw the offer at any time, preventing the United States from acquiring New Orleans, so they agreed and On Saturday, April 30, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed by Robert Livingston, James Monroe, and Barbé Marbois in Paris. President Jefferson announced the treaty to the American people on July 4. After the signing of the Louisiana Purchase agreement Livingston made this famous statement, “We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives…From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.” The Louisiana Territory was vast, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to Rupert’s Land in the north, and from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Acquiring the territory would double the size of the United States, at a sum of less than 3 cents per acre.


The United States Senate ratified the treaty with a vote of twenty-four to seven on October 20. On the following day, October 21, 1803, the Senate authorized President Jefferson to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government. In legislation enacted on October 31, Congress made temporary provisions for local civil government to continue as it had under French and Spanish rule and authorized the President to use military forces to maintain order. Plans were also set forth for several missions to explore and chart the territory, the most famous being the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The United States claimed Louisiana included the entire western portion of the Mississippi River drainage basin to the crest of the Rocky Mountains and land extending southeast to the Rio Grande and West Florida. Spain insisted that Louisiana comprised no more than the western bank of the Mississippi River and the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis. The dispute was ultimately resolved by the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, with the United States gaining most of what it had claimed in the west.


Because the western boundary was contested at the time of the Purchase, President Jefferson immediately began to organize three missions to explore and map the new territory. All three started from the Mississippi River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804) traveled up the Missouri River; the Red River Expedition (1806) explored the Red River basin; the Pike Expedition (1806) also started up the Missouri, but turned south to explore the Arkansas River watershed. The maps and journals of the explorers helped to define the boundaries during the negotiations leading to the Adams–Onís Treaty, which set the western boundary as follows: north up the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico to its intersection with the 32nd parallel, due north to the Red River, up the Red River to the 100th meridian, north to the Arkansas River, up the Arkansas River to its headwaters, due north to the 42nd parallel and due west to its previous boundary.


Louisiana Creole cuisine is a style of cooking originating in Louisiana, United States. It blends French, West African, Amerindian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian influences, as well as general Southern cuisine. The Cajuns (descendants of French immigrants originally from Canada) largely assimilated and adopted Creole cuisine for their own. Although the Creole cuisine is closely identified with New Orleans culture today, much of it evolved in the country plantation estates of southern Louisiana. Despite its aristocratic French roots, Creole cuisine does not include Garde Manger or other extremely lavish styles of the Classical Paris cuisine.

There are two types of Creole cuisine: Urban Creole and Rural Creole. Urban Creole is prepared mainly for New Orleans tourists. Rural Creole cuisine is often hidden in the bayous and swamps of the Old Creole Parishes although you can get it in New Orleans if you know what you are looking for. Since the 1980s, Rural Creole cuisine has largely been mistakenly labeled as Cajun cuisine.

The African influences, which are extensive, came about because many of the plantation cooks were African or Creole of African descent. They brought with them the use of hot peppers and okra, which is called “gombo” in some West African languages. The importance of rice with many creole dishes was also influenced by African cooks as well as the layers of flavors in Creole cooking techniques. The indigenous people of Louisiana introduced powdered sassafras leaves, also known as filé, a thickening agent used in gumbo, along with corn dishes like maque choux. The Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian influences on Creole cuisine were the wide usage of citrus juice marinades. The Portuguese, Spaniards and the Italians also used tomatoes extensively, which had not been a frequent ingredient in the earlier French era. Pasta and tomato sauces arrived during the period when New Orleans was a popular destination for Italian settlers (roughly, 1815 to 1925). Many of them became grocers, bakers, cheese makers and orchard farmers, and so influenced the Creole cuisine in New Orleans and its suburbs.

The first French, Spanish and Portuguese Creole cookbooks date back to the era before the Louisiana Purchase. The first Creole cookbook in English was La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous For Its Cuisine, written by Lafcadio Hearn and published in 1885. By that time Creole was already an identifiable regional cuisine recognized outside Louisiana: for example, an 1882 Florida hotel menu now in the New York Public Library’s collection offered “Chicken Saute, á la Creole.”

Starting in the 1980s, Creole cuisine began to be relabeled Cajun cuisine. An example of this relabeling is by Chef Paul Prudhomme. A national interest in Creole cooking developed, and many tourists went to New Orleans expecting to find “true” Creole food there (being unaware that the city was culturally and geographically separate from the Old Creole Parishes/Acadiana). The “New New Orleans Cooking” of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse includes Creole dishes, both rural and urban. In his writings and TV shows, Lagasse draws the distinction between the misnomer “Cajun” for rural Creole and urban Creole – not bad for a chef from Massachusetts of Portuguese origin.

I visited New Orleans and southern Louisiana quite often for several years some years ago. First stop was always for a dozen (or two) oysters on the half shell, fresh shucked at the bar at a local oyster joint; then on to somewhere for jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, crawfish and crab boil, or what have you. One relatively modern (i.e urban creole) dish I liked for breakfast/brunch was Eggs Sardou. Eggs Sardou is poached eggs, artichoke bottoms, creamed spinach and Hollandaise sauce. It is on the menu of many Creole restaurants in New Orleans, including Antoine’s, where Eggs Sardou was invented. Eggs Sardou is named for Victorien Sardou, a famous French dramatist of the 19th century, who was a guest in New Orleans when the dish was invented. The Eggs Sardou served at Antoine’s Restaurant nowadays include truffles, ham, and anchovies topping the hollandaise. The dish requires both béchamel and hollandaise sauces, recipes for which you can find in the HINTS section here (tab top left).


Eggs Sardou

Place a layer of chopped poached spinach creamed with béchamel on a warmed plate. Place two heated artichoke hearts (use a slow oven) on the spinach, and place a poached egg in each (runny yolk). Smother with hollandaise and garnish with what you will – truffles, diced ham, crawfish. These eggs must be made to order, piping hot. Antoine’s usually serves the eggs with grits for a full meal. As an appetizer you can omit them. Some buttered toast is all I need.

Aug 042013


Today is the birthday (1901) of Louis Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, legendary jazz trumpet and cornet player, and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Armstrong often stated that he was born on July 4, 1900, a date that has been noted in many biographies. Although he died in 1971, it was not until the mid-1980s that his true birth date of August 4, 1901 was discovered by researcher Tad Jones through the examination of baptismal records. Armstrong had no middle name, but a 1949 Time magazine profile gave him the middle name of Daniel. The census and baptismal records confirm he had no middle name. He generally preferred that his first name be pronounced in the French manner – Lou-ie, but in recordings of the song “Hello Dolly” he pronounces it in the English style – Lewis.

Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an “inventive” trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity in improvisation, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also skilled at scat singing.  He is occasionally credited with inventing scat, but there were others before him.


Because of his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong’s influence extends well beyond jazz music. By the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general. Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to “cross over,” being accepted into white society in a country that was severely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis.


I could give you a long and informative history of Armstrong’s life, but I’m not going to.  We all know he was one of the greatest trumpet and cornet players of all time, bringing the trumpet to the fore as a solo jazz instrument, hitting flawless high notes, singing like gravel, and pleasing countless millions with something as simple as a pearly white smile. The rest you can look up for yourself.  Instead here are some quotes from Satchmo (the first being my favorite), followed by some tributes.



“If they act too hip, you know they can’t play shit!”

“Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t never heard no horse sing a song, have you?”

“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.”

“Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.”

“Making money ain’t nothing exciting to me. You might be able to buy a little better booze than the wino on the corner. But you get sick just like the next cat and when you die you’re just as graveyard dead as he is.”

“The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago.”

“You blows who you is.”


“He left an undying testimony to the human condition in the America of his time”

Wynton Marsalis

“You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t played”

Miles Davis

“Jazz is not – never has been – a one man show. But if I had to vote for one representative for jazz, that one would have to be Louis Armstrong”

Art Hodes

“I’m proud to acknowledge my debt to the ‘Reverend Satchelmouth’ … He is the beginning and the end f music in America”

Bing Crosby

“Americans, unknowingly, live part of every day in the house that Satch built”

(critic) Leonard Feather

“If you don’t like Louis Armstrong, you don’t know how to love”

Mahalia Jackson

There are so many great Louisiana recipes to choose from but I have to go with my favorite – gumbo. There are as many recipes for gumbo as there are cooks in Louisiana. This one is taken directly from Paul Proudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (with a few minor changes). The secret of all great gumbos is the rich, dark roux that is the foundation. File is used in some gumbos because of its earthy flavor, and as a thickener. In this version it is not necessary but can be added if desired.


Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun-Style Gumbo


1 cup melted pork lard, or  vegetable oil
¾ cup flour
2 cups finely chopped onions
1½ cups finely chopped green peppers
1 cup finely chopped celery
10 small or 5 large bay leaves
1¾ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. finely minced fresh garlic
6 cups (about 1½ lb.) fresh, tender young okra cut crosswise into one-quarter-inch-thick rounds, or 3 packages frozen, cut okra
3 cups smoked ham cut into “sticks” about 1-inch long and ½ inch wide (a ham known as tasso, a New Orleans specialty, is best for this. If you wish to make a Creole gumbo, do not use a heavily-smoked ham).
¾ tsp garlic powder
salt to taste (if desired)
4 cups (about 2 lbs) fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped, or chopped, imported canned tomatoes
6 cups fish stock
1 lb. peeled, blanched crayfish tails
file powder to be added as desired (optional)


1.  A heavy, black, iron skillet is almost essential for the preparation of this dish. It is also strongly recommended that all the ingredients be chopped and assembled before starting to cook. Combine and assemble them in the order in which they will be used so they may be added without hesitation.

2. Heat one-half cup of the melted lard or oil in the skillet until it is barely smoking.

3. Add the flour and stir vigorously and constantly with a wire whisk about three minutes or until the mixture is the color of dark chocolate. Take care that it does not burn.

4. Quickly add half of the onions, one-half cup of the green peppers and one-half cup of the celery. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring, about three minutes. Add four small bay leaves or two large bay leaves, one teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one teaspoon white pepper, one-half teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, about one minute. Add one teaspoon of the minced garlic and cook briefly, stirring. Remove from the heat. Scrape the mixture into a large casserole and set aside. There should be about one-and-one-half cups.

5. Heat the remaining one-half cup of melted lard or oil in a black iron skillet over very high heat. When it is hot and almost smoking, add the okra. Cook, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Frozen okra may require a shorter cooking time.

6. Add the remaining onions, green peppers, celery and minced garlic, one cup of the ham and the remaining bay leaves. Continue cooking over high heat, stirring occasionally, for five minutes and add the remaining cayenne pepper, white pepper and black pepper, and the garlic powder. Add salt, if desired (the ham adds salt).

7. Cook until the mixture is quite dry, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes. Stir and cook over high heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Stir carefully and often all over the bottom to prevent sticking and burning. Pour and scrape this mixture into the large casserole containing the browned flour.

8. Add the fish stock and the remaining ham. Cook over moderately high heat for about one hour. Stir often all over the bottom. Add the crayfish tails or shrimp and bring to the boil. Let simmer about five minutes.


The base of this gumbo before the seafood is added may be made several days in advance and refrigerated. It also may be frozen. When ready to serve, remove the bay leaves. Serve the file powder separately to be added by each guest according to taste. Serve with plain boiled or steamed rice.

Yield: 10 servings