On this week’s episode, we sit down with Loyola University history professor Justin Nystrom to explore the influence that Sicilian Americans have had on New Orleans foodways. Surprisingly, that influence didn’tbegin with the heavy influx of Sicilians who populated the city in great numbers during the late 1880’s. Those rural Sicilians made their mark on the French Market and created the sandwich we know as the muffalatta. Actually, the first wave of Italian immigrants were urban dwellers who arrived on our shores in the 1830’s and became wealthy importers and restaurateurs. Who knew that Commander’s Palace was actually founded by the son of an immigrant from Ustica whose father had Americanized his surname from Camarda to Commander? Or that those same Ustican immigrants were important members of the Southern Yacht Club – taking their leisure racing sloops on Lake Pontchartrain? Not exactly the image you might have in your mind of our Sicilian immigrants.
The recent publication of Justin’s book – Creole Italian – Sicilian Immigrants and The Shaping of New Orleans Food Culture is particularly timely. My new book, the Pascal’s Manale Cookbook will also be published this fall. It focuses on the story of two Sicilian immigrant families, the Manales and the Radostas, forbearers of today’s Defelice clan, who continue the Manale tradition today at their century-old establishment on Napoleon Avenue. And – there’s over one hundred classic Manale recipes included in the book too!