Friday, August 07, 2009

Café chaud de la Louisiane

My Aunt Rose made the best coffee in the world.

That's because she made it the way God intended coffee to be made -- in the kitchen of a double shotgun house, on an old stove with a whistling kettle and a little, well-used French-drip pot filled with Community coffee. If you want to better understand Louisiana, you need to know about Aunt Rose's coffee.

I'll tell you how to make real Louisiana coffee in a second -- and, mind you, I know about these things. Take Community coffee, for example. That's what just about everybody from my corner of South Louisiana grew up drinking . . . that strong and wonderful inky-black brew.

Hell, I've been drinking Community since I was . . . well, for as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, I started off with coffee milk on the weekends.

Anyway, that's what you start your pot of coffee with, some Community "Pacquet Rouge" (above), named for the red bag (or can) in which it's packaged.

THE BRAND has been around since 1919, when Henry Norman "Cap" Saurage started custom grinding dark-roast coffee for customers of his Full Weight Grocery in "Dixie," a north Baton Rouge neighborhood that was pretty much "out in the country" back then. Today, the brand covers the Gulf South like the dew. It's found in every grocery store, and there's a chain of coffeehouses and a booming mail-order business.

I guess you could call ol' Cap Saurage a coffee tycoon. We just called him Uncle Norman, being that he was my great uncle. My half of the family was the poor relations, alas.

But we knew how to enjoy our Community coffee. Which brings me back to Aunt Rose, the little pot on the old stove, a kitchen table and an old double shotgun house off Greenwell Springs Road with a yard full of pecan trees.

Oh, and get you an old French drip pot, too. The one pictured above was Mama and Daddy's, and it's probably 60 years old.

AND BOIL you some water, cher. To make hot coffee, you need you some boiling water
. But you knew that.

When I was a kid, I remember half the damn family crowded into Aunt Rose's little kitchen, all talking at the same time -- and loudly -- as everybody waited for the water to boil and then for the coffee to make.

This, realize, was an ongoing and repetitive process. Those little pots only make about five cups of coffee at a time.

Aunt Rose would be boiling water and brewing coffee as the conversation swirled around, by and through her. That's the beauty of coffee the "slow food" way. It's a great excuse to gab while you're waiting.

AS THE TALK went around and around, Aunt Rose would get out the bag of Community and fill the pot up to the ridge there.

Mama would be gossiping with her and my other aunts while Daddy complained about the world with my uncles, and all the young folk kept track of the dual streams of consciousness whizzing past each other -- and sometimes crashing into each other -- somewhere above the kitchen table.

OVER ON THE old stove, the coffee pot looked something like this. Poo yi yi, dis gonna be good, yeah!

AT SOME POINT, everybody would just have to talk a little louder, because the kettle was starting to whistle.

And when the water was boiling, Aunt Rose would turn down her fire just to that point where the kettle would stay at a slow boil. Nowadays, I find it easier to pour my boiling water into something that's easier to pour from than a big ol' kettle.

While the womenfolk were verbally separating the sots of the family from the saints, it was time to get serious about creating a pot -- OK, several pots -- of South Louisiana magic.

See, you pour you water on the grounds a little at a time so you don't make a mess, yeah. You don't want to make no mess with dem water and coffee grounds all over you burner, no.

AND WHILE the menfolk debated the relative merits of, say, Richard E. Nixon, dat communiss Hubert Humphrey -- well, Uncle Jimmy would object to that characterization of Humphrey, being the family's yellow-dog Democrat -- and George Wallace, cher, you grounds gonna start to look like this when dey foam up (above).

I could eat it like this, yeah.

WITH THE running tally being Richard E. Nixon 1, George Wallace 3 and dat communiss Hubert Humphrey 1 (God bless Uncle Jimmy, good Catholic that he is), Aunt Rose would be keepin' on keepin' on with the coffee.

See above? You keep doing it just like this until you got you a pot of good Louisiana coffee. Don't get impatient, cher. All good things -- especially coffee -- come to those what wait. They always somethin' to talk about.

AFTER YOU BEEN doing this a few times, you got to lift up the grounds holder to see how much coffee you done made, yeah.

You don't check on it, cher, and you gonna have a black-coffee fountain spoutin' all over you nice clean stove.

BY NOW, Aunt Rose would have all the coffee cups and spoons on the table. The sugar bowl would be there, too, as well as the can of Carnation or Pet milk if you wanted you some cream with your Community.

Now, ain't that one of the prettiest things you done ever seen? Hahn?

NOW THAT'S some coffee perfection, yeah. Ain't no Starbucks gonna give you no coffee like that, no.

Then again, back in Aunt Rose's day, we didn't know what Starbucks was. (Intergalactic cash money???) We didn't need it.

WHEN YOU HAVE good Community coffee, made amid your little community with care and love, every kitchen table is Starbucks -- only better. That is, if you make time to stop and smell what's brewing at Aunt Rose's.

I bet you can taste it now. Bon appetit . . . dahlin'.


Colleen said...

Hmmm...I'm on the Community stuff already, but need to look for onea these French drip thingies. They work in hurricanes, too, when the power's out. I had my grandparents' version of that but don't know where it went off to.

The Gastronomic Goddess said...

this has inspired me to buy a vintage enamel coffee pot on ebay, so thank you for a great blog post!

Unknown said...

My family drinks community for years!!! I found an old community coffee tin in Great grandma cupboard, no coffee not open, It must have been a store display. I just thought it always came in a bag? When was the can coffee stopped, do you know?

Nancy G said...

I have my momma's pot, but not the lid. It's my understanding she threw it away. Didn't need it. Well, after seeing your post looks like I may not NEED it! Thank you. You made my day. *smile*

Anonymous said...

Notice the "ring" on the bottom of the coffee pot? To keep the coffee hot while you make it, you placed a cast iron pan on a burner, then put the pot in the pan, then fill the pan with water. The ring would form, over time, because if the hot water.

The Mighty Favog said...

That's exactly right, though the pan didn't have to be cast iron. After years of doing it just that way, as did my mother and everyone I knew, I decided to ditch the water-filled pan and just turn the burner on the lowest setting about halfway through making coffee.

Then I make sure to turn it off before the coffee starts to cook down. Works just as well . . . particularly in the age of microwave ovens.