Cooking with Cajun Heritage: ‘My Louisiana’ Cookbook unites recipes with family tales
Published 3:08 pm Thursday, September 14, 2023
Decades in the making, Karen Clausen Becnel’s “My Louisiana” Cookbook infuses tried and true Cajun recipes with a treasure trove of family stories that have been passed down through the generations.
Becnel first tried her hand at writing a cookbook when she got married. Through the years, she put it down and picked it up again while tending to the daily responsibilities of raising a family. The final push to publish the cookbook didn’t come until much later, after her children were married and had children of their own.
“All of my children married people who are not from here. They are from Scotland, Canada, St. Louis, New York…It got to the point where I had 22 grandchildren, and they come to my house and love my food, but their parents don’t cook that way,” Becnel said. “I thought about how once I’m gone, this will all be lost, and they’ll never get the stews and the gumbo again, so I have to finish my book. I went on a mission and worked on it nonstop until I got it finished. Now, they will have the recipes and so many family stories.”
Becnel realized the foods that shaped her upbringing were tied to memories of family members, many who lived to be more than 100 years old. Some of the stories in the “My Louisiana” Cookbook are humorous – like the time Great Uncle Buck found a flock of drunken chickens staggering all over the yard. Others have a more somber tone, such as the account of how a brother who worked as a caterer suddenly passed away, bringing the rest of the family together to fulfill orders for receptions scheduled that weekend.
Becnel aimed to keep the recipes simple so new chefs can follow along. Recipes are in large print, and the spiral-bound format allows it to stay open.
“I’ve had brides call me and say they’ve gotten one for a wedding present and that they’ve actually learned how to cook with this book,” Becnel said. “It’s been good for everyone of all ages.”
Becnel is particularly fond of the recipes for stews and slow-cooked pork roast. There’s also a special place in her heart for the recipes that call back childhood memories, from popcorn balls and divinity fudge to her grandmother’s signature pound cakes.
Through her desire to preserve the recipes, Becnel initially feared having the book professionally edited. It was important to her that her grandchildren could read the book and picture her speaking the words on the page. After working closely with an editor from Lake Charles, Becnel was able to finalize the cookbook without compromising the tone or style.
A review from Carol Zembower described the book as “articulate, humorous, authentic, and genuinely pure ‘Cajun heart-warming’ goodness.”
“Her stories capture the soul of the Cajun pride in family, heritage, friendships, and, of course, the influences of the Cajun culture on food,” Zembower said. “Not only every Louisiana household, but everyone who enjoys the art of good cooking should own a copy of her treasured recipes.”
The cover of the “My Louisiana” Cookbook, designed by Becnel’s son, also speaks to their family’s Cajun heritage.
“He said, ‘This book is as Louisiana as it can be.’ It’s old recipes; everything is made from scratch. It needed to have a Louisiana theme, and the simplest them he could come up with was to design a cover in the style of Clementine Hunter’s art,” Becnel said.
To date, “My Louisiana” Cookbook has sold approximately 1,000 copies. It is currently sold in plantation stores such as Oak Alley, Houmas House and St. Joseph, and copies will soon arrive at Destrehan Plantation. Becnel also markets the cookbook at festivals and farmers markets across the region, including in St. James Parish.
To obtain a copy, email Becnel at firstname.lastname@example.org.