Nancy Tregre Wilson’s new cookbook offers the German-French experience
For the true Cajun-Creole experience, Nancy Tregre Wilson’s new book,“Memere’s Country Creole Cookbook,” brings everyone to her table with memories of tantalizing meals with her loving family.
Although the recipes are all tantalizing, Wilson suggested a sample menu that is sure to take one back in time to the German Coast that includes homemade eggnog, crawfish bisque, crab stuffed shrimp, summer squash with bacon and onions, and a German potato salad. Dessert can be a choice of a blackberry jellyroll, bread pudding with meringue or her Memere’s coconut pies.
The feast began in the family kitchen in Hahnville, where Wilson and her husband, Charles, live today.
“My grandmother was a very unpretentious lady and my grandfather was a loving and accepting person,” she said. “My mother told me they were always helping people. The house was always open. You could stop for coffee.”
In addition to the backstory of her own French-German family, the book showcases regional dishes and cooking styles from the German Coast, a part of southeastern Louisiana along the Mississippi River.
“We visited all the time,” she said of her family. “We’d cook crepes in the morning. We’d sing together.”
It was this loving, supportive family life where Wilson learned the connection between knowing food literally from its roots to elevating its essence into a meal that bridged cultures and heritage.
“Everything happened in the backyard,” she said. “As kids growing up, milk was in the backyard. Shallots were in the backyard. We were close to the earth and to the food – and that’s how we ate. We didn’t have a grocery store down the street. There was a milkman and we made bread pudding and rice pudding, as well as butter, to make the most of that milk.”
Wilson didn’t consider it work even at a young age.
“If you had to stir for the roux, you stirred the pot,” she said. “We didn’t see it as a hardship … that’s the way everybody lived.”
Her longtime interest in baking came from her German heritage.
Wilson’s mother loved baking and decorating cakes, which she passed on to the following generations. Wilson’s daughter is a pastry chef who has been all over the world: her youngest daughter can cook just about anything, her middle daughter is adding another dimension to cooking and her son is a cook, too, who loves to bake cookies.
A retired schoolteacher, historian and author, Wilson also was president of Louisiana Gourmet Enterprises, a food manufacturing company headquartered in Hahnville that introduced Cajun foods to the grocery market as convenience foods under the brand Mam Papaul.
The business has since been sold, but Wilson stayed in the food business.
She went on to write several books including Mam Papaul’s Country Creole Basket, Louisiana’s Italians, Food, and Folkways, and Lorraine Gendron: Louisiana Folk Artist.
In her latest book, Wilson, now 76 years old, said she wanted to include a bit of genealogy and includes family stories and photos along with the recipes in a line of books being published by LSU Press on southern heritage.
“One of the things that I always try to make clear when I do a book talk is that many Germans came to the area and many of them spoke French, too,” she said. “It was possible to have people speaking the languages and knowing both languages. I was brought up thinking I was French, but we’re as much German as we are French.”