Mrs. Perfetti’s Pizza Dough

I was married twenty-four years ago.  My friends came from far and wide and near.  Because everyone was so spread out – especially just a year after graduating from college – it was the first time I really ever had my high school and college friends together.  What was so wonderful was to see how well they got along with one another – they acted as if they’d known each other for years and it was really heart-warming.

I was given a green-themed wedding shower – my favorite color.  I was unaware that paper wedding bells and other wedding items came in green – but they were found!  A really fun thing was that they all brought recipes to write for me – family ones, ones they loved – and put them all in a recipe box.

There are a few that I have never tried for some reason or another.  In part, as newlyweds, funds were tight.  My husband was a US Coast Guard lieutenant at the time and we were stationed in New Orleans – which while less expensive then New England still made shopping at the Piggly Wiggly and Winn-Dixie difficult so some recipes were not indulged upon.  Weirdly, I never made the recipe for pizza margherita that one of my best high school friends included – her mother’s recipe.  I was pretty afraid of yeast – I still am which makes no sense as I make my Mother’s “Holey Bread”  ̶  a story for another day.  But faced with the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic, I’m finding ways to use up what’s in the pantry and finding ways to stretch things.  So, Mrs. Perfetti’s recipe came out – and boy!  What was I waiting for?  It was delicious (if I do say so myself).  I have, embarrassingly, never made pizza dough from scratch – some (50%) Italian I am!

It’s times like these – even with cooking – that I think of what Maria Mitchell and all women went through when faced with shortages on food – and cooking from the very basics with no processed food to rely on as a back-up.  In particular, when the harbor would freeze over for days and weeks on end so that ships and steamers could not bring in supplies from the mainland.  I know you do not think of Maria as a cook but she did and she had to – especially when her mother was ill and she became her main caretaker.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

March 31. {1857} We are at length in New Orleans, and up three flights of stairs at the St. Charles, in a dark room, at the pretty price of three dollars a day . . . . The peculiarities of the city dawn upon me very slowly.  I first noticed the showy dress of the children, white waists and fancy skirts – then the turbaned heads of the black women in the streets, and next the bouquet-selling boys with their French phrases.

This was Maria Mitchell’s southern trip in the spring of 1857, before she and Prudence Swift (her charge) headed to Europe.  What you need to keep in mind is that Maria Mitchell was coming from a heavily Quaker influenced island home so to see the “showy dress” of the children and the turbaned women, as well as the dazzling bouquets of flowers, added to the cacophony of color that Maria Mitchell was not used to seeing in such an extreme.  It must have been an assault to her eyes though a beautifully happy one.  When you think of New Orleans, besides the obvious of the Vieux Carré and jazz music, what always comes to me is the thick humid air, the lush of the plant life, and the fantastic explosion of color, as well as the warm, beautiful faces of New Orleanians and the drawl that only says New Orleans native.  (Can you tell I lived there for about three years?  Riverbend.)

JNLF 

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

April 2. {1857} New Orleans. This morning we went to the French market. The French character of the city was shown in the narrow streets through which we passed intended only for foot passengers, very narrow. The sidewalks meeting in the middle of the street except for the separation of the gutter . . . . The French market was not clean enough to suit us . . . We passed through Jackson Square and saw the monument and looked at the flowers, then went on to the Spanish Cathedral . . . .

Maria Mitchell’s description of the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) still seems true to what it is today. Having lived in NOLA for about three years – my husband was stationed there with the US Coast Guard – we lived Uptown in the Riverbend area– where the mighty Mississippi River makes a bend around the area know as Carrollton. That arch that the river makes and where the city of NOLA was carved out also gives the city its name of the Crescent City. The Vieux Carré was laid out very much like an old European city with the streets in a grid pattern – all right angles to one another but the rest of the city as it developed lost such a pattern which makes for confusion for some. Having worked for a flower and antique garden ornament shop I have the privilege of entering many private homes and driving streets in a delivery van. The one requisite for anyone going into the Vieux Carré for a delivery was they much return with beignets and café au lait from Café du Monde – even the NOLA natives requested that. But NOLA still resembles the place that Maria once visited as a young woman’s chaperone – just as her home of Nantucket still looks like it once did. There are of course all manner of new buildings, signage, risqué clubs and more that did not exist in her time. But the sidewalk street with gutter – those still exist – such as Pirate Alley. Jackson Square and the monument – still filled with flowers. The French market – still there too. And she comments on dirtiness – yes, that exists too. In fact, early in the morning they still come through to hose out the streets. And trash pick-up? Don’t be surprised if you see a garbage truck at 9PM – and don’t be surprised if you cannot find a garbage can! Somehow though, they keep it relatively clean.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria MitchellMarch 31 {1857}. We are at length in New Orleans, and up three flights at the Saint Charles, in a dark room, at the pretty price of three dollars a day . . . .The peculiarities of the city dawn upon me very slowly. I first noticed the showy dress of the children, white waists and fancy skirts – then the turbaned heads of the black women in the streets, and next the bouquet-selling boys with their French phrases.

Maria and her charge, Prudence Smith, arrived in New Orleans after a seven day trip down the mighty Mississippi River; they had embarked at St. Louis. This was the American leg of their tour, Maria serving as Prudie’s chaperone in the Southern United States before they would journey to Europe several months later. I have posted Maria’s journal entries before concerning these trips. Having lived in New Orleans for a few years myself, it is fun to read her comments about the city – from the people, to the French market, to the streets themselves.

JNLF