Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook

Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly's New Orleans
“Canned food is a perversion,' Ignatius said. 'I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul.”
                   ― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

By Doc Lawrence

NEW ORLEANS-Stroll down Canal Street on the sidewalk that fronted on D.H. Holmes department store and you’ll be greeted by the statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by John Kennedy Toole. It’s standing near today’s Ritz-Carlton and rare is the moment when someone isn’t posing for American literature’s best-known slacker.

Like Twain’s Huckleberry, Ignatius has become part of the American scene where the lines between. fiction and fact are blurred. At last, we have an extension of the novel's exalted place in Americana: an original cookbook and a doggone good one at that.

Recall the larger-than-life, overweight Ignatius living with his mother Irene in 1960s New Orleans. Viewed by some as the Don Quixote of the French Quarter, Ignatius is the star of the farce that still attracts a global audience. The stage play of Confederacy was performed a few years back by Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit and is on the road now. Such expansiveness and longevity merits a cookbook and we are grateful that one author had the ability to do what would appear to be quite daunting.

Ms. Nobles with Ignatius
Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, a cookbook editor at the Louisiana State University Press, was asked to undertake the task of writing a Confederacy of Dunces cookbook. "When I first read the novel,” Nobles said, “the most captivating thing to me was it had all this food in the book." Author of "The Delta Queen Cookbook, and a member of the Newcomb College Culinary History Writers Group, Nobles spent a year researching and writing. The result: A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly's New Orleans (LSU Press), with over 200 recipes plus stories and photographs.
The Legendary Weenie Wagon

Ms. Nobles confirms that the research for her cookbook was fun, often delicious.” I gained 10 pounds,” she admits. Everything resulted in a highly readable, well organized work loaded with recipes and stories from Toole’s classic novel along with her interesting insights about legendary restaurants like Antoine’s in the French Quarter and descriptions of the ethnic neighborhoods of New Orleans.

Using one of the author’s original recipes, I entertained guests with her multicultural  Muscatel Braised Lamb Shanks with Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes. A bottle of Malbec from Argentina complimented the dish in the grandest tradition of New Orleans dining.

Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine's
The chapters bring the reader back to that first reading of Toole’s novel with an added lagniappe: tested and reliable recipes that include many classic cocktails. Chapter titles “Hanging Out with Burma Jones,” “In the Kitchen with Irene Reilly,” “Santa Battaglia, or How to Cook Like a Sicilian” are just a few. The French Quarter’s iconic weenie wagon stars in the chapter “Adventures with Paradise Vendors.”

Come on along with Ignatius, Irene, Claude, Burma, Lana Lee, Patrolman Mancuso, Darlene, Miss Trixie and Gus Levy. You’ll have at least three memorable meals daily, unlimited refreshing cocktails and enjoy some of the best stories found on cookbook pages in recent years.

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