When she was in her late sixties, Célestine Eustis wrote a cookbook: Cooking In Old Créole Days (1904). Miss Eustis came from a prominent New Orleans family…Her father helped found a railroad and Tulane University. Before the Civil War, one of her brothers served in the U.S. Congress and then became a Confederate diplomat to Paris. He and his wife, Louise Corcoran Eustis (whose father founded the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.), continued living there as expats after the war and Celestine Eustis appears to have spent a good deal of her time with them in Paris and at their Cannes villa. Another brother was U.S. Ambassador to France under Grover Cleveland.
These random bits of Miss Eustis’ family history are suggestive of what sort of recipes and what sort of ‘Old Créole Days’ Miss Eustis remembered. Her book evokes a spirit of open-handed hospitality. Here are homes that set about ‘setting a good table’ with a will…and with substantial means to do it.
The hostess presiding over one of these good tables was not doing much, if any, of the actual cooking. Many of the recipes in Old Créole Days come from the cooks who served with these families–including Mme. Josephine Nicaud who worked for Ambassador Eustis’ family for over 40 years.
But Miss Eustis’ remarks and recipe notes show that she wasn’t a stranger in her own kitchen. “I have only to look at the cook’s fire, “she wrote in her Introduction, ” To know what sort of a ‘cordon bleu’ she is.” (Probably in this regard Célestine Eustis was a reflection of a long-standing, generally held rule that a mistress of the house was its manager. A century earlier Mary Randolph advised readers of The Virginia Housewife “that the mistress of a kitchen must actively manage it. It is an immoral act,” said she, ” To place subordinates in a situation we pray to be exempt from ourselves.”)
Miss Eustis expresses her kitchen competence more concretely when speaking of seasoning: “The great secret to good cuisine is to leave to every dish its own particular taste and not to put indiscreetly mace, cloves, and aromatic herbs in everything or they will all taste alike.”
This recipe for Shrimp Pâté with Gin follows Miss Eustis’ good advice and doesn’t overburden the primary ingredient with spice and liquor. The shrimp are only partially ground and lightly bound together with butter holding traces of juniper (from the gin) and spices. The finished coarse-textured pâté tastes primarily of fresh shrimp.
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- 3/4 pound of raw Shrimp, in the shell
- 1/2 of a Lemon
- 2 Tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon of Gin
- 1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
- 1/2 teaspoon of coarse-grained Dijon Mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon of Mace
- 1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne
- 4 Tablespoons of Butter, softened
- freshly ground Black Pepper and Salt
- chopped Parsley for garnish, plus 1 or 2 of the Shrimp saved to garnish the ramekins or crocks of pâté
- a medium-sized Saucepan for boiling the shrimp
- a Colander
- a Food Processor
- a large Mixing Bowl and Wooden Spoon
- small Ramekins or Crocks: The number depends on their size–but for this amount of pâté, a couple of small ones will probably be enough.
1. Put the shrimp and the lemon half in the saucepan, cover the shrimp with water and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and let the shrimp sit for 1 minute, then drain them into the colander…
When they are cool enough to touch, peel and clean them. For anyone new to cleaning shrimp, here is an explanation of how to do it: First, take up a shrimp, holding it legs-up between your thumbs and forefingers. Pull apart back the shell and slide it back over the shrimp’s curved back ….
….and remove it with the end of the knife or by rinsing the shrimp under cool water and pulling it away…
3. Put the shrimp, gin, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, mace, and cayenne in the food processor and pulse to chop the shrimp coarsely, leaving little bits of shrimp in the mixture. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and beat in the butter and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and salt with a wooden spoon.
5. Take it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving and just before serving, hook a reserved shrimp over the edge of each ramekin and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the pâté. Serve with crackers or toasted rounds of baguette:
A Note: Shrimp Pâté with Gin is good with the diplomatickitchen’s Benne (Sesame) Seed Cocktail Crackers…
A Second Note: Shrimp Pâté with Gin is an hors d’oeuvre in the Dinner Menu: A Lowcountry Dinner, along with Benne (Sesame) Seed Cocktail Crackers and ‘Plantation Eggplant’ Pizza Chips with Capers. The pâté is adapted from a recipe in James Villas’ The Town & Country Cookbook (1985).
A Final Note: The complete text of Célestine Eustis’ Cooking In Old Créole Days may be read online here at ‘Feeding America: the historical American cookbook project. A brief biography of Miss Eustis is available at ‘Onfoodandhistory.com‘.
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© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012