My grandmother, Bertie (pictured above), grew up in coastal North Carolina, where hush puppies made a regular appearance on local menus. I’m not sure where she found this recipe for shrimp Creole. The word Creole refers to the cooking of New Orleans, variously influenced by settlers from Spain, France, and Africa. Some popular recipes from that region migrated around the United States long before Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse made celebrity chefs of themselves. This must be one of them.
As the Shrimp Creole recipe traveled, everyone adapted it for different tastes and local ingredients. Traditional Creole food relies on the so-called “holy trinity” of chopped bell peppers, onions and celery. Just two out of three made it into my grandmother’s recipe. The half teaspoon of sugar might come from the once common advice to add a bit of sugar to balance the acidity of stewed tomatoes.
The unsolved mystery is whether the handwritten word that looks like curry is really sherry. I looked at quite a few other shrimp creole recipes, and couldn’t find curry listed in any of them, though many do call for Tabasco sauce. I played it safe and used cooking sherry. Who knows what my grandmother had in mind? What I do remember is eating her Shrimp Creole from one of her hand-painted china serving plates. I used to visit her apartment on my way to and from college, stopping overnight so she could feed me and then send me back to cafeteria fare with a couple of her snickerdoodle cookies packed up for the road. The Shrimp Creole may not be traditional, but it reminded me of her. Too bad I never got her cookie recipe.
Shrimp Creole (circa 1920)
3 tablespoons butter
2 sliced onions
1 chopped green pepper [I used red]
1 pound tomatoes, peeled and sliced [I used a 14.5-ounce can of chopped tomatoes]
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound cooked shrimp
- In a saute pan, melt the butter. Saute the onions and pepper over low heat for 10 minutes or until thoroughly soft.
- Add the tomatoes, salt, mustard, sherry, sugar, and pepper. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.
- Add the shrimp and heat thoroughly over low heat. Serve over rice with lemon wedges on the side.