Photo by Lucie Monk Carter
Each spring, Alexandria/Pineville looks back on its role in the 1864 Red River Campaign, a Union effort to capture Shreveport and control the north end of the river, through a battle re-enactment called “Blue and Gray on the Red.” After failure to take Shreveport, the Union forces retreated to Alexandria, where the unseasonably low river left their boats stranded. Skirmishes broke out, until the Union constructed dams and fled.
Don’t expect much improv at the re-enactment—this year, I really think the Rebs are gonna get ‘em!—but Richard Holloway, interpretive ranger at Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site, is happy to help reinvigorate other elements of the weekend-long commemoration. For the past couple of years, Thursday evening’s “A Culinary Taste of Historic Louisiana” has mined Holloway’s ongoing research for sampling menus of late nineteenth-century Alexandria/Pineville fare.
“I’ve got all these wonderful old letters from the Civil War and a lot of them talk about food,” said Holloway. “‘I miss the pies from home’ or they’ll talk about what they were eating. For instance, one of the things we had one year was baked beans that were brought in during the Civil War from guys in Boston. Same with Boston cream pie.”
This year’s feast is founded on a letter Holloway snagged on eBay, penned by Confederate major Silas T. Grisamore. As he returned from Natchitoches to Alexandria in April 1865, Grisamore wrote to his beloved about making oyster gumbo over rice for his troops. Clearly not local fare in central Louisiana, the oysters were sold to Grisamore by one of the Yankee sutlers who enjoyed free reign of trade routes as they sold provisions (at a steep profit) to both sides of the conflict.
Do you need a better reason for a big pot of gumbo? With oysters provided by the Louisiana Seafood Board, Holloway will be stirring up 150 servings of gumbo for those who wish to dine à la Silas T. Grisamore.
Other revived treats include elderberry punch, sassafras tea, and a sweet potato dish just like Great-Great-Great-Grandmother used to make. “We’ll have quite a sumptuous tasting there,” said Holloway.
6 pm on March 2 at Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site. For the full schedule, March 2—5, visit the forts’ Facebook page at bit.ly/2lojrVJ.