Gilded Age New Orleans: So much more than hookers, hurricanes, and Mardi Gras!

on July 28, 2018

Although late 19th century New Orleans was renowned for the hookers of Storyville, the devastating hurricanes of the 1880s, and the elevation of Mardi Gras to a state holiday, there’s so much more to know about the Crescent City during this time!

For starters, there was an assassination that was followed by lynchings (1890), an all-out political insurrection (1874), and a riot that killed 28 people (1900). There were duels in City Park and gunfights on Canal Street. There were too many bankruptcies, lottery swindles, and drunken sailors to count. And every year there was a long, hot summer and the constant threat of yellow fever or other maladies.

With a quarter of a million citizens and ships from the mighty Mississippi river depositing strangers in the city every day, someone was always causing trouble for someone else. Truly, Gilded Age New Orleans is a dream city for a historical mystery writer!

But back to summer…when the heat truly hit in late May, New Orleanians of means retreated to breezy coastal cities in Louisiana and Mississippi. During this “dull season”, those citizens who remained in town stocked their iceboxes, lightened their wardrobes and rooms with cotton fabrics, and, as advised by the daily newspapers, stopped working by 3pm.

And into this humid, hot mess of a city I toss my heroine, Fanny Newcomb. And ask her to solve a murder. Twenty-five and learning to make a living on her own, Fanny finds herself teaching typewriting to the hard-working factory girls of the city’s Irish Channel neighborhood. It’s a grim life.

Fortunately for Fanny and her crew, in addition to the problems mentioned above, New Orleans was also the entertainment oasis of the South.

Throughout the late 19th century, New Orleanians reveled in what the city maps called Places of Amusement. For grand music, they attended the French or Grand Opera Houses or the Academy of Music. For dramatic entertainment, they visited the St. Charles, Avenue, or Faranta’s Theatres, stages where Edwin Booth and Sarah Bernhardt both made appearances. For a peak at circus curiosities or a bit of common sensationalism, they bought a ticket to Robinson’s Dime Museum.

Horse lovers and gamblers alike visited the Fair Grounds, home of the Louisiana Jockey Club and their racecourse. New Orleanians in need of a quiet place for contemplation could visit a former racecourse, because the 1830’s Metairie Race tack had been transformed into the elegant and fashionable Metairie Cemetery after the Civil War. Even in traditionally laissez-faire New Orleans, a cemetery could not be called a Place of Amusement, but because the city had above-ground burials, many of the cemeteries did become celebrated centers of beauty and relaxation.

When New Orleanians tired of the hustle of the Canal Street business district or the bustle of the Mississippi river roustabouts, they retreated to resorts on Lake Pontchartrain, only a few miles from the heart of the city. The “pleasure grounds” of Milneburg, Spanish Fort, and West End offered a variety of hotels, restaurants, casinos, theatres, shooting galleries, and bathhouses. A visit to New Orleans was never considered complete without a “trip to the lake”.

Many New Orleanians were more charitable than cultural. Like all large American cities in the late 19th century, the city was home to churches, synagogues, charity hospitals, Young Christian Associations, a Woman’s Exchange, and—most vital to Fanny Newcomb’s story—a settlement house to assist immigrants in assimilating to their strange and dangerous new city.

Fortunately for me, there is a lot more to Gilded Age New Orleans than hookers, hurricanes, and Mardi Gras. Which means that there’ll be a lot more murders for Fanny Newcomb to investigate.

This blog post was originally posted on Jenny Q’s excellent

Double your chances!

on February 6, 2018

If you’d really like to win an autographed copy of Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper…head over to Amy Bruno’s Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour. The Giveaway ends around March 19.

AND…check out my book tour schedule. Fun for all!

Additional ideas for Writing a Killer First Chapter…

on January 27, 2018

On January 28 I’ll be sharing ideas on “Writing a Killer First Chapter” with the Redwood Writers (a Branch of the California Writers Club) in Santa Rosa.

Here are some links with more info….

For novels:
10 Things Your Opening Chapter Should Do: A Check-List for Self-Editing
Finding the Perfect Place to Start Your Novel
4 Approaches for the First Chapter of Your Novel
How to write a murderously good mystery

For short stories:
Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
How to write a mystery story

Roast Turkey with Truffles from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”

on November 22, 2017

Here’s the recipe directly from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”:

And here’s the 2017 easier-to-follow version:

Roast Turkey With Truffles.

Dinde Truffle Rotie.

1 Fine Young Hen Turkey.
1 Pound of Lean Ham, Cut into Dice.
2 Pounds of Truffles.
1/4 Nutmeg.
1/4 of a Teaspoonful of Pepper.
1 Bay Leaf, Minced Fine.

1. Clean and prepare the turkey for roasting as directed in the above recipe.
2. Put a saucepan on the fire and put in the ham cut into dice.
3. When hot add two pounds of the very best truffles and the grated nutmeg, the pepper and a minced bay leaf.
4. Stir over the fire for about fifteen minutes.
5. Then take off and let cool.
6. When it is cold stuff the place at the neck of the turkey whence you take the craw, and sew up and arrange as indicated in the directions for dressing a turkey.
7. Stuff the body of the turkey with the remainder of the truffles and sew it up and truss it.
8. Set it in the oven and roast according to the above recipe, serving with a Sauce aux Truffles.
9. This is a very expensive dish.

Stuffed tomatoes from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”

on November 21, 2017

Here’s the recipe directly from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”:

And here’s a rearranged version:

Stuffed Tomatoes.
Tomates Farcies.

6 Tomatoes.
1 Tablespoonful of Butter.
1 Cup of Wet Bread, Squeezed Thoroughly.
Salt, Pepper and Cayenne to Taste.
1 Clove of Garlic (if desired.)
1 Onion.
1/4 Inch of Ham.

1. Wash the tomatoes, selecting fine, large, smooth ones for this purpose.
2. Either cut the tomato in two, or else cut one slice from the stem end.
3. Scoop out the inside of the tomato, and put it in a dish and save the skins.
4. Take one onion and one quarter of an inch of ham and chop very fine.
5. Put a tablespoonful of butter into a saucepan, and add the onion, letting it brown nicely.
6. Then add the ham. Let it brown.
7. Add the insides of the tomatoes, and then add, almost instantly, a cup of bread that has been wet and squeezed.
8. Beat all well together as it fries, and add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Let it cook well, and then take off, and stuff the tomatoes, cut in halves or whole. The former is the daintier way.
10. Sprinkle the tops with bread crumbs, and dot with butter.
11. Place in the oven for fifteen or twenty minutes, till brown, and serve hot with filet of beef or chicken, etc.

Pineapple fritters from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”

on November 20, 2017

Here’s the recipe directly from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”:

And here’s a rearranged version:

Pineapple Fritters.

Beignets d’Ananas.

½ a Pineapple.
Fritter Batter.
½ Cup of Sugar.
1 Gill White Wine.

1. Slice the pineapple, and cut the slices in halves.
2. Sprinkle with sugar and White Wine, and let them soak for an hour.
3. Then proceed as in Apple Fritters:

    a. Make a batter à la Créole and have ready a deep saucepan of boiling lard.
    b. Drain the pineapple.
    c. Dip the slices, one at a time, into the 
batter, lift out with a large kitchen
s poon, drop into the boiling lard, 
and fry to a golden brown.
    d. Then
 lift out with a skimmer, and set on
 brown paper, in the mouth of the
 oven, and drain.
    e. Sift powdered white
 sugar over them, and serve hot, piling high in pyramidal shape, and
 sprinkling again with powdered
 white sugar.

4. Or, simply sprinkle with sugar, let them stand one hour, add the juice to the fritter batter, and proceed as above.

Ana’s notes:
A Gill (sometimes called a “teacup”) is equal to a quarter of a pint.

Here’s the recipe for the batter à la Créole:

1 Cup Flour.
2 Eggs.
2 Tablespoonfuls Brandy.
14 Teaspoonful of Salt.
Cold Water.
1 Tablespoonful Butter, Melted.

1. Beat the yolks of the eggs well, and add the flour, beating very light.
2. Now add the melted butter and the brandy, and thin with water to the consistency of a very thick starch.
3. Add the whites of eggs, beaten to a stiff froth.


George Brookshaw (1751-1823)

From the pages of “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”

on November 19, 2017

Just in case you’re still looking for that perfect dish for your Thanksgiving table…this week, I’m going to be posting some of my favorite turn-of-the-century recipes from New Orleans!

First up, your appetizer–Cream of Asparagus Soup.

Here’s the recipe directly from “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book”:

And here’s a rearranged version:

Cream of Asparagus Soup.

Creme d’Asperges.

1 Large Bunch of Asparagus.

1 Tablespoonful of Butter.

1 Quart of Milk.

3 Tablespoonfuls of Rich Cream.

2 Even Tablespoonfuls of Flour or Corn Starch.

Salt and Pepper to Taste.

  1. Wash the Asparagus, tie it in a bunch and put in a saucepan of boiling water.
  2. Let it boil gently for about three-quarters of an hour, or until perfectly tender.
  3. Take it from the water, cut off the tips or points and put them aside until wanted.
  4. Put the milk on to boil in a farina boiler.
  5. Press the Asparagus stalks through a colander, and add them to the milk.
  6. Rub the butter and cornstarch or flour together until perfectly smooth, and add to the boiling milk, stirring constantly till it thickens.
  7. Now add the Asparagus tops, salt and pepper.
  8. Serve, without Croutons, as the Asparagus tips form a beautiful garnish.

Ana’s Notes:

STEP FOUR requires a “farina boiler”, which I think is the same as a “farina kettle” which looks like this:

Although STEP SIX might sound like you’re making a roux, a roux is always made with exactly equal parts of butter and flour.




on October 28, 2017

I’m Ana Brazil, author of Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper. How to introduce myself? Let me just say that I’m curious about many, many things.

First of all, I’m fascinated by the exploits of bold and audacious women, especially the women who followed their strong hearts to challenge and improve American society during the Gilded Age (1870s to 1900).

Women like photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and settlement house pioneer Jane Addams and “around-the-world-in-72-days” journalist Nellie Bly and Presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull.

I love the stories of courageous and clever heroines. How about you?

I also love New Orleans, a Gilded Age city beset by hurricanes, riots, lottery swindles, and yellow fever epidemics. But also a city celebrated for new educational institutions, the 1884 World Cotton Centennial, and the glow of electric lighting.

And finally, I admit to a healthy curiosity about London’s brutal butcher, Jack the Ripper.

All of my fascinations come together in Fanny Newcomb & the Irish Channel Ripper. In my Gilded Age New Orleans, the city is overrun with prostitutes, pornographers, and a malicious Jack the Ripper copycat. And there’s also Fanny Newcomb, an intelligent and ambitious typewriting teacher. But is Fanny clever and courageous enough to capture the fearful menace known as the Irish Channel Ripper?

Let’s find out here….

  • Curious about Fanny Newcomb and 1889 New Orleans? Read the first chapter here.
  • Want to know what the Gilded Age looked like? Visit my Fanny Newcomb1889 tumblr blog and pinterest pages.
  • Eager to read what I’m up to every month? Sign up for my newsletter here.

Once again, Welcome!