A great find

When you consider the many tragedies caused by Hurricane Katrina, lost recipes may seem insignificant. But, as Judy Walker and Marcelle Bienvenu write in their new cookbook: “Food is family. Food is culture. Food is life.” Especially in a city like New Orleans.

Their cookbook, “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans,” is filled with celebration and love amid the devastation of the hurricane. The fascinating story behind the book begins with people of the city seeking those foods they loved and lost. Floods took cookbook collections. Families were scattered to places that knew nothing of etouffee or crawfish. A few weeks after the storm, food editor Walker began getting letters. People craved the spaghetti recipe from a fondly remembered restaurant. A mirliton casserole recipe like Grandmother’s. A favorite oyster recipe from a long-gone plantation.

About two months after Katrina, Walker started a project in the TImes-Picayune: “Rebuilding New Orleans, Recipe by Recipe.” She asked readers not only to ask for missing recipes but also to share ones they had through a column called “Exchange Alley.” People asked for everything from replacements for old family recipes to dishes from well-known restaurants. And stories came with the requests. One reader wrote that she broke both legs during the storm and could not reach the hospital for two days. Her concern in the letter: Persuading Walker to produce a cookbook of these beloved recipes for residents who lost all of theirs.

The result is 250 classic New Orleans recipes. More than that, this book is a tribute to the healing power of food, its place in our lives, and to the determined residents of the shattered city.

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