Jewell Parker Rhodes:
As a junior in college, I took my first creative writing course. The professor said, “Write about what you know.” I wanted to write about what I could imagine! So, naturally, loving food, I went home and read my Time-Life Cookbook on Creole and Acadian Cooking. (It was a gorgeous set with a spiral bound recipe book with a lovely companion text about the region and culture.) Reading, I became transfixed by the history, culture and atmosphere of Louisiana and the story of Marie Laveau, a nineteenth-century voodoo queen.
Since I was a native Pittsburgher, there was absolutely no reason why I should be drawn to Marie Laveau – or so I thought – but fourteen years later, I published my first novel, Voodoo Dreams, a 1993 Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Authors” selection. In the intervening years, I cooked every recipe in my cookbook, visited New Orleans regularly – drinking and eating marvelous food! The odyssey of writing about Laveau and embracing the “mixed-blood stew” of Louisiana culture turned out to be deeply spiritual. As a first generation college student, abandoned by my mother as an infant, I was starving for self-knowledge, how best to live my life, how to become a novelist, and how to be a good wife and mother.
I discovered, in writing Voodoo Dreams, how to celebrate myself and my voice, my womanist strength! I also discovered the spiritual and southern folklore roots of my family. My grandmother, it turns out, was a “conjure woman” – but that’s another story! Still, I remain firmly convinced that I was “called” to write about Marie and that food was the magic that drew me to her and stirred my imagination.
Now, I’m writing a mystery trilogy about a Laveau descendent that uses spirituality and science to heal and solve crimes. Voodoo Season, Yellow Moon, and the upcoming Hurricane Levee Blues, all involve the glory of New Orleans, as well as its tragedies of hurricanes and historic racism and sexism.
For Yellow Moon, I recommend you mix yourself a strong Hurricane (New Orleans’s native brew) and let me entice you with a tale of a sexy, brilliant doctor who sees ghosts, is loyal to her friends, and fiercely defends her child, as she battles an ancient evil – a wazimamoto – a vampire from African folklore, born in response to colonial oppression.
Also serve this fantastic Shrimp and Ham Jambalaya (from the Time-Life cookbook I read and cooked from decades ago). For good measure, have another Hurricane! Though New Orleans has its sorrows, it also has the uplifting spirit of its music, its defiant Hurricane drink, and soul-sustaining, one pot jambalaya. And it has St. Louis Cemetery, where folks still leave food offerings at Laveau’s tomb. If you feel the presence of spirits – get up, dance and sing, eat more food! It’s probably Laveau telling you, like she told me, “Life be a celebration! Being a woman is just fine.”
A recipe for the popular, fruity New Orleans cocktail, named after the hurricane lamp-shaped glasses the first drinks were served in.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Adapted from gumbopages.com
1 ounce light rum
1 ounce dark rum
1/4 cup passion fruit juice, or 1 tablespoon
passion fruit syrup
2 ounces orange juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 teaspoon grenadine
Maraschino cherries with stems, and orange slices to garnish
In a cocktail shaker, mix the rums, passion fruit juice or syrup, orange juice, lime juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add the grenadine, and stir to combine. Add ice and shake. Fill a tall glass halfway with ice, then strain drink into glass. Add ice to fill. Garnish with cherries and orange slices.
Yield: 1 drink