Archivist comes to Picayune

Published 2:14 pm Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gerald Patout has been the curator for Library Collections since 1997. His enthusiasm for the subject of history is only surpassed by his relentless pursuit of accuracy in recording historical events. His most recent project is the Culinary Traditions of the Crescent City. It is an exhibition of culinary arts from the very first cookbook published in the United States to what kinds of seasonings were used, and dishes were served in previous centuries.

Patout has documented the earliest use of a 1769 cookbook published in France which was found in the archives of Jean Baptiste Prevost who had a 400-book collection. The first cookbook published in the U.S. was in 1796 called “The Complete Housewife”. Influences of this cookbook have been found in other cookbooks.

“This shows the influence of the north coming to the south just like the Mississippi River drains to the south,” Patout said.

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Newspapers also served as a research tool to document social changes, and traditions.

“Creole food such as jambalaya began as a Spanish rice dish, then it was adapted for French palates, then different spices were added by the African American cooks and the Germans added the sausages. It was first spelled, ‘jumbalya’,” Patout told the group.

The Collection receives visitors from all around the world. Some authors come to just read the newspapers, page after page of them, to get a solid feel for the speech patterns, traditions, and social changes of the region, Patout said.

On ongoing project is the digitizing of 650,000 obituary cards. Some amazing facts have been found from the obituaries dating back to the 1700s.

“Joseph Allbite died from lockjaw,” Patout said. “James Alexander was the Voodoo Doctor. This fact has been documented in other books, too.

The Historic New Orleans Collection is funded by the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation. The major areas of research are colonial Louisiana, Louisiana Purchase, Battle of New Orleans, Civil War, Mississippi River life, cartography (maps), Mardi Gras and numerous other subjects of the Gulf South. Patout invites you to come visit the center Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and on Sunday 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and the History Galleries and Williams Residence Tuesday – Saturday 10, 11 a.m., 2, 3 p.m. $5 each. Reservations required for groups.