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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 5086

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Cyrillia has given me a good idea of the range and character of mangé-Créole, and I can venture to write something about it after a year's observation. By mangé-Créole I refer only to the food of the people proper, the colored population; for the cuisine of the small class of wealthy whites is chiefly European, and devoid of local interest:-I might observe, however, that the fashion of cooking is rather Proven?al than Parisian;-rather of southern than of northern France.

Meat, whether fresh or salt, enters little into the nourishment of the poorer classes. This is partly, no doubt, because of the cost of all meats; but it is also due to natural preference for fruits and fish. When fresh meat is purchased, it is usually to make a stew or daube;-probably salt meats are more popular; and native vegetables and manioc flour are preferred to bread. There are only two popular soups which are peculiar to the creole cuisine,-calalou, a gombo soup, almost precisely similar to that of Louisiana; and the soupe-d'habitant, or "country soup." It is made of yams, carrots, bananas, turnips, choux-cara?bes, pumpkins, salt pork, and pimento, all boiled together;-the salt meat being left out of the composition on Fridays.

The great staple, the true meat of the population, is salt codfish, which is prepared in a great number of ways. The most popular and the rudest preparation of it is called "Ferocious" (férocé); and it is not at all unpalatable. The codfish is simply fried, and served with vinegar, oil, pimento;-manioc flour and avocados being considered indispensable adjuncts. As manioc flour forms a part of almost every creole meal, a word of information regarding it will not be out of place here. Everybody who has heard the name probably knows that the manioc root is naturally poisonous, and that the toxic elements must be removed by pressure and desiccation before the flour can be made. Good manioc flour has an appearance like very coarse oatmeal; and is probably quite as nourishing. Even when dear as bread, it is preferred, and forms the flour of the population, by whom the word farine is only used to signify manioc flour: if wheat-flour be referred to it is always qualified as "French flour" (farine-Fouance). Although certain flours are regularly advertised as American in the local papers, they are still farine-Fouance for the population, who call everything foreign French. American beer is biè-Fouance; American canned peas, ti-pois-Fouance; any white foreigner who can talk French is yon béké-Fouance.

Usually the manioc flour is eaten uncooked: [49] merely poured into a plate, with a little water and stirred with a spoon into a thick paste or mush,-the thicker the better;-dleau passé farine (more water than manioc flour) is a saying which describes the condition of a very destitute person. When not served with fish, the flour is occasionally mixed with water and refined molasses (sirop-battrie): this preparation, which is very nice, is called cousscaye. There is also a way of boiling it with molasses and milk into a kind of pudding. This is called matêté; children are very fond of it. Both of these names, cousscaye and matêté, are alleged to be of Carib origin: the art of preparing the flour itself from manioc root is certainly an inheritance from the Caribs, who bequeathed many singular words to the creole patois of the French West Indies.

Of all the preparations of codfish with which manioc flour is eaten, I preferred the lamori-bouilli,-the fish boiled plain, after having been steeped long enough to remove the excess of salt; and then served with plenty of olive-oil and pimento. The people who have no home of their own, or at least no place to cook, can buy their food already prepared from the màchannes lapacotte, who seem to make a specialty of macadam (codfish stewed with rice) and the other two dishes already referred to. But in every colored family there are occasional feasts of lamori-au-laitt, codfish stewed with milk and potatoes; lamori-au-grattin, codfish boned, pounded with toast crumbs, and boiled with butter, onions, and pepper into a mush;-coubouyon-lamori, codfish stewed with butter and oil;-bachamelle, codfish boned and stewed with potatoes, pimentos, oil, garlic, and butter.

Pimento is an essential accompaniment to all these dishes, whether it be cooked or raw: everything is served with plenty of pimento,-en pile, en pile piment. Among the various kinds I can mention only the piment-café, or "coffee-pepper," larger but about the same shape as a grain of Liberian coffee, violet-red at one end; the piment-zouèseau, or bird-pepper, small and long and scarlet;-and the piment-capresse, very large, pointed at one end, and bag-shaped at the other. It takes a very deep red color when ripe, and is so strong that if you only break the pod in a room, the sharp perfume instantly fills the apartment. Unless you are as well-trained as any Mexican to eat pimento, you will probably regret your first encounter with the capresse.

Cyrillia told me a story about this infernal vegetable.

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