Recipes: Lost and Found After Hurricane Katrina

Katrina was a hurricane like no other one. We are used to high winds, trees down, power outages, localized flooding. This one flooded an entire city — New Orleans. Families lost everything–homes, possessions and yes, treasured recipes. This blog post is about a recipe book, “Cooking Up A Storm,” and finding lost recipes after Katrina. A post-script story gives an eclectic recollection of my Katrina memories and photos.Sweet Potato Biscque - IMG_5722_1

This is the tenth anniversary of the hurricane Katrina. Over the years the city has rebuilt and is revitalized. Here is a view of the French Quarter and Jackson Square from a new park, the Crescent Park. The park goes along the Mississippi River in what was a warehouse and dock area. The photo gives the setting for the post.French Quarter from Crescent Park - IMG_5287

“Cooking Up A Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans”

This is the story of lost treasured recipes after Katrina. As people re-built their homes and lives in the months after the hurricane, they began to miss the cuisine and foods associated with New Orleans. Cooking, recipes, restaurants and entertaining are a large part of the culture of this city.

The food staff of the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ daily newspaper, began to get requests from readers asking for lost treasured recipes. Judy Walker, food editor, got the idea of posting these requests in a weekly column, “Recipe Alley.”  A request for a recipe was published and readers searched for the recipe along with the Times-Picayune food staff. In the next weeks the answer and recipe was posted. Here is an excerpt from the book from one reader regarding “Sweet Potato, Corn, and Jalapeno Bisque”.

“In November 2005, we heard from two readers craving the exact same recipe. One wrote, ‘Funny how when life is in a turmoil, the debris pile in front of your house has been 15 feet high, and you haven’t slept in your own bed for three months, you can’t stop thinking about a soup recipe that got flooded.'”…. (from “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans”, p. 61 Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker, editors. the Times-Picayune Publishers, © 2008)

Sweet Potato and Jalapeno Bisque - 3 - IMG_5727

Readers found recipes in various places; one located a scrap of paper saved in a shoe box in an attic; one cook saved recipes in plastic covers which the family retrieved from flood waters and maticuoulsy dried out over several months. Many recipes came from the archives of the Times-Picayune. The recipe swap began to expand with readers requesting recipes from favorite restaurants and bakeries–not just ones they had lost.

Treasure Chest of Recipes

Eventually, over 225 of these recipes were compiled into a cookbook by Marcelle Bienvenu, veteran cookbook writer, and Judy Walker. The softbound book was published in 2008 and a ten-year anniversary hardback addition was published this summer in 2015.Recipe Book - IMG_5667_1I discovered the cookbook while searching the internet for a specific recipe. I purchased the cookbook. While scanning through the pages of the cookbook, I began to see what a treasure the book is. The collection represents a cross-section of the cuisine of New Orleans with recipes from well-known restaurants — Brennans, LeRuth’s, Ruth’s Chris, McKenzie’s bakeries — as well as Louisiana favorites–shrimp, gumbo, oyster dishes, eggplant and bead pudding recipes. Where else will you find The “Pontchartrain Hotel’s Mile High Pie”?

The recipes in a cookbook are part of the equation; the presentation of the recipes is the other component. This cookbook tells a story; of the people who were trying to resume their lives. The layout of the recipes is extremely easy to read–so that you want to keep turning pages. The recipes are, for the most part, straight forward and easy to prepare. Not alot of unusual ingredients or complicated steps. Just good cooking.Recipe Book Page - IMG_5741_1

Awards; Book Signings

I’m not alone in my positive judgement of the cookbook. It was nominated for a James Beard Award in the American Cookbooks category in 2009. If you are looking for holiday gift ideas–this is a good choice.

If you live in the New Orleans area, one of the cookbook editors, Judy Walker, will be on hand at an event to autograph book copies. She will be present at the German Coast Farmer’s Market on November 14, 2015. It is located at Ormond Plantation on 13786 River Road, Destrehan, Louisiana.

What recipes do I like in the cookbook?

I love to try new recipes and my list from this cookbook is getting quite long. There is “Warm Spicy Potato Salad” that looks promising–potato salad is traditionally served with gumbo. The cookbook has several recipes using oysters–something that you don’t see very often; recipes of interest are “Oysters Bienville” and “Elmwood Oysters Mosca”. For desserts I’m trying to decide between “Browines to Die For”, “Praline Cheesecake” (from the shoebox in the attic),  “Carol Klein’s Turtle Cookies” and  “Bon Ton’s Bread Pudding.” And I’m excited to find the recipe for Kolb’s “Sauerbraten”– the German restaurant on St. Charles Street that is now closed. This restaurant was the inspiration for my post last year on Cabbage Borscht. There are several sweet potato recipes that I like including restaurateur Ruth’s Chris recipe (shown here) for “Special Sweet Potato Casserole.”

Ruth Chris Sweet Potato Casserole - IMG_5115_1

Sweet Potato, Corn, and Jalapeno Bisque

I was fascinated by the story of the sweet potato bisque and decided to make it. Fresh sweet potatoes are plentiful in the fall; this is harvest season. Sweet potatoes are healthy, nutritious. The soup is a blend of sweet potatoes, corn, jalapeno peppers and molasses. Cayenne pepper adds a touch of “hot.” The flavors blend together well; my husband loved the soup. It makes a huge pot; it tasted good the next day as a chilled soup.Ingredients - 2 - IMG_5673

The soup is quick and easy to prepare. The sweet potatoes are peeled and diced and cooked in chicken broth. Then they are pureed; the other ingredients are added. That’s it.

A bisque is a highly spiced, thick and creamy soup of French origin. Usually it includes seafood. Although this recipe includes only vegetables and chicken broth, it would taste great with shrimp added.

Sweet Potato, Corn, and Jalapeno Bisque

  • Servings: 12 servings
  • Print


  • 1 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6 medium sweet potatoes (about 5 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • Finely chopped green onions (green part only) for garnish

Method and Steps:

  1. Heat the oil for about 1 minute in a 6-quart sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and stock, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, and use an immersion blender to puree the mixture in the pot, or puree the soup in batches in a food processor and return the mixture to the pan. Add the jalapenos, corn and molasses, stirring well. Season with the salt, cayenne, and black pepper, and add the cinnamon. Bring the soup to a simmer and serve immediately, garnished with green onions.

Reprinted from “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans”,  p. 81. Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker, editors. the Times-Picayune Publishers, © 2008.

This recipe exemplifies Louisiana cuisine, it is a great tasting healthy and low-fat soup!

Post-Script: Ten Years After Katrina

This is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. Everyone experienced the hurricane differently. I decided to tell some of my eclectic recollections of the hurricane. If anything, I want to make the point that in the future we need to be able to “think outside the box”; so we are able to respond to unexpected events in a more timely fashion.

As a state we were largely unprepared for this storm. For example, here is (left to right) Senator Mary Landrieu, Governor Kathleen Blanco, FEMA director Mike Brown and Senator David Vitter in October after the storm trying to explain why it took so long to get aid to the city.Advocate October 2015 - IMG_5739_1

The storm, which made landfall early Monday morning, caught many people off guard. It was sunny on Friday and calm. So calm, in fact, that life went on as usual–“just another hurricane coming.” My son and husband left on a boy scout camping trip to Mississippi (in the direct path of the storm) on Friday afternoon. As the weekend progressed, storm warnings increased. By Sunday the urgency increased of the impending huge storm. Families left with little time to gather valued possessions; it is doubtful that recipes would be on anyone’s top evacuation list. Still, the front page of our local Sunday’s paper does not depict the gravity of the situation that would ensue.Advocate-August 28-2015- IMG_5742_1This hurricane was different from all other ones that have hit southern Louisiana. This one came to the east of New Orleans causing the water in the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain to back up. The backwater flooded the canals. On Wednesday after the storm there were breaks in the levees throughout the city. The water spit over the levees and breaks flooding neighborhoods and the city.Advocate - Aug 31-2005 - IMG_5738_1

I remember leaving work in Baton Rouge (after working a night shift) early Monday morning after the storm came ashore east of New Orleans. I watched as rows and rows of power utility trucks from around the country pulled out of a shopping mall where they had been stationed heading into the fog and rain towards New Orleans. Surreal is my only description. But in the days after the storm; it wasn’t about resuming power; but of rescuing an entire city of people stranded there. We watch on the television as people searched for water, food and shelter in the Superdome and Convention center over the next week. No one could have imagined that scenario. I flipped through newspapers I’ve saved–the evacuation of the city didn’t start officially until Saturday after the storm.

Everyone was affected in some manner by the storm. Families in Baton Rouge took in relatives; our family volunteered in a shelter housing refugees, I volunteered at the LSU Field House taking refugees coming from the Superdome, my son’s high school stretched to accommodate students who had moved here temporarily. In the hospital where I work, we took in many patients from the storm. The state Police Headquarters is only several blocks away from our home; helicopters flying just over our roof for months to come was a constant reminder of the storm relief efforts.

At the LSU Field House I remember caring for a patient with Alzheimers disease who had been evacuated from a nursing home in New Orleans. She was being moving to a temporary nursing home here. At the last minute I realized she had no identification on her; so I slipped the nursing home face sheet under her arm. I still think about what a nightmare it could have been if she had arrived at her new location unable to tell who she was.


A forgotten story is of the pets of families in New Orleans. Many left without their pets for various reasons expecting to be gone only overnight. A friend’s mother had to leave her beloved cat behind. Her home flooded and she was distraught. It was five days before our friend was finally able to get back into the city–by driving towards Mississippi going totally around the city and entering from the east–to try to rescue the cat for his mother. He waded in waist high water back to the family home. The house was still flooded. The friend found the leather sofa floating in water in living room. There perched on the couch was the family’s cat! The cat survived for five days on the floating sofa!

Our family visited the Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit areas, on January 1, 2006, a few months after the hurricane. This is directly by the levee break. Here’s what we saw.



I think that we, along with everyone else, were shocked by the massive extent of the destruction. It is hard to describe. Harder for those whose homes were lost.



The water came over the levee (in the background) and destroyed anything in the way.



In the 10 years after Katrina, much of New Orleans has rebuilt. People have returned and the city is revitalized. Even some new additions. I visited the city recently and my son took me to a park close to the French Quarter in the Bywater area of town. It was refreshing to walk along the Mississippi River through the Crescent Park which is only a year old. Crescent City Park - 2 - IMG_5296

Face in one direction and you see the city.Paddle Boat by River - IMG_5288

Here is the view from the top of the pedestrian bridge. Look carefully to see the crescent curve in the Mississippi River.Crescent Bend in River and French Quarter - IMG_5270

In the other direction, down river, are ships and docks.

Ships docked along the Mississippi RiverIMG_5286

Here is the paddle boat steaming along in the river. The park is a quiet respite in this city.

Paddle Boat along river - IMG_5299

Returning to the Nineth Ward

On my visit to New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to return to the neighborhood that we visited a few months after the storm.  The Ninth Ward, a low income area, was hit hard. I found that the neighborhood has rebounded more slowly than the rest of the city. Many of the homes have been grazed and turned into grassy lots. Some have rebuilt– like the house on the left; the one on the right is still boarded up with the same National Guard inventory markings written on the walls.Nineth Ward - Oct 2015 - IMG_5304

What a contrast. It is a reminder than many people did not return home. The levees in this area have been reinforced, but still the houses are below water level. Is it risky to rebuild here? You decide.

Memories. And life goes on. The city is great place to visit and to live. Come and enjoy our food and culture!


1 thought on “Recipes: Lost and Found After Hurricane Katrina

  1. Pingback: Preserving cultural heritage in times of crisis: the role of social media – Ronin Institute

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