This article was originally published in the newspaper, in the "Entertaining with Kathi" column on May 23, 2007.
By Kathi Dameron
“Katherine, one bite won't kill you!” my dad said.
“Forget it. I'm not eating those frog legs!” I responded, with the sulky attitude of a 7-year-old. “And I'm not eating that yucky shrimp either. I want some fried chicken.”
“Honey, not all restaurants serve fried chicken,” my parents chimed together in atypical unity.
“Fine. I just won't eat then,” I said before plopping my little hands over my mouth.
I'd lost my appetite anyway as soon as I learned that the menu consisted of such items as frog legs, turtle bisque, snails and fried alligator. All I could think about was the playful frogs, toads and turtles back at home in the dusty small, Nebraska community that my family had relocated to for a portion of my formative years.
When my two older brothers got wind of the notion that I was bothered by the food being served at the pompous red-and-gold New Orleans restaurant, they grabbed hold of that opportunity to tease me, in the way siblings often do.
“Kathi, for your birthday, we are going to get you a frog legs and shrimp cake,” John blurted out as he honed his emerging skill of stirring things up even more.
Trying to impress our older brother, David leaned in and said, “We won't be able to celebrate
your birthday, Kathi, because we are going to trade you in for those alligators we saw today.”
Later, as we were all settling in for the night at an inn in the French Quarter, David, in a stroke of compassion, hugged my neck and whispered, “We wouldn't trade you in. We love you, even though you won't eat frog legs and you won't try new food.”
“Momma, why do folks in the Deep South eat such odd stuff?” I asked while kneeling with my mom beside my little cot.
“They don't think their food is odd. They probably think some of the things we like to eat are odd. Keep an open mind. There is a great big world out there, and it doesn't revolve around us,” she said as she tucked me in for the night.
Clapping his hands together in authority, Dad instructed, “Lights out in five minutes. We have a full day of activity ahead of us tomorrow.”
Ah, the family vacations and the memories that they etch upon one's memories. I don't think I remembered too many of the “educational” things I was supposed to. Yet, my recollections are well-anchored in the rocky, frolicking antics and the 1960s-style dysfunctions of my family as we jaunted to historical sites from coast to coast in mom's maroon Vista Cruiser.
Dad was a history buff, and family vacations for five often took on the flavor of battles and strategies, clashes and camaraderie, declarations of war and promises of peace, not unlike the places we visited.
But somehow we survived, and I was left with a collection of all-things-food stories. Unbeknownst to all of my family, some of these stories would later re-emerge in print. Better be careful of the memories you are making!
That mid-1960s summer vacation was my first introduction to the foods of New Orleans. Not immediately, but through the years, I developed an appreciation for the rich and varied cuisine of the Bayou.
Cajun and Creole would become popular themes at many a Canopy Rose celebration, quietly stirring for this chef a gumbo of old recollections smack-dab in the middle of whisking a roux.
Here is a vintage recipe for frog legs from the kitchen of Mrs. C.W. Schooley III of West Palm Beach as it appeared in the 1972 collection "Southern Living: The Creole Cookbook," published by Oxmoor House.
Frogs' Legs Elegante
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
Pressed garlic to taste
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup white Rhine wine
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lb. frog legs
Combine all ingredients except frog legs and flour in a skillet and heat. Dredge the frog legs with flour. Cook in the butter mixture until brown, turning frequently. Serve at once.
(c) 2007 Kathi Dameron