By Joanna Prisco
Like many survivors of Hurricane Katrina, Judy Laine was met with a mountain of loss after the storm lifted in 2005: Her home near the University of New Orleans and the lakefront, her husband Julian’s dog-grooming business, more than 260 beehives he had kept off of Chef Menteur Highway, not to mention countless personal belongings that had been destroyed.
Laine had even temporarily lost the ability to walk, after breaking both ankles in a fall at her second home in Talisheek, to where she and her family had evacuated.
“There were many things I had loved that I lost during the storm, religious statues, pictures of my life. It was a mess,” she told Yahoo Food. “I was so depressed at that time. But I thought if I could do three things that maybe I would make myself feel better: I could pray, cook, and plant things in the garden.”
So in that moment of epic sadness, she decided to reach out to The Times-Picayune for help in retrieving some of the many beloved New Orleans recipes that she had clipped over the years.
“I ran the recipe exchange column and had been a food editor at the Times-Picayune for a year before Katrina,” recalled editor Judy Walker. “We came back to publishing in October and right away it was apparent that many people’s recipes and cookbooks were a major problem for them.”
Like losing photographs, recipes weren’t something that residents could go to the store and buy to recreate for their families.
“Judy Laine wrote to us, and shared what had happened to her,” said Walker. “And then she told us she thought that we should put together a cookbook of all the recipes that other people were requesting.”
Like Laine, many other readers were writing in to the Times-Picayune and hoping to refill the kitchen binders that had been swept away. Still others were looking for a way to chip in with rebuilding their neighbors’ lives.
“It’s hard to understand unless you were on the ground here when it happened,” said Walker. “But there was all of this tremendous energy around the restoration. There were a group of people from the newspaper who would actually go out with a wrecking crew to take down and resurrect homes for people.”
“But there were others who couldn’t do that,” Walker continued. “And if you were a little old lady from Metairie who had survived and still had your recipe collection in tact, it was a way you could help out your fellow citizens. So when we couldn’t find things at the newspaper, we would ask the readers and sometimes they would find them for us.”
From blue cheese puffs to white beans and shrimp to renowned dishes served at restaurants long since shuttered, the recipe collection gathered in the resulting tome, Cooking Up a Storm, is less a culinary history book than a sacred family album of joyful favorites.
“Family recipes were usually the best because they really cooked up a storm in those days and made dishes from things that you just don’t find anymore,” said Laine.
In the 10 years that have passed since the storm, both women say that the cookbook continues to inspire them in different ways.
“I still love cooking and I’ve collected a whole lot more recipes,” said Laine. “I have at least 20 recipe binders and cookbooks in my kitchen. People from church and friends of mine would share them, so I got started back collecting them.”
Meanwhile, Walker considers the book, “the pinnacle of my career, by far,” she said. “It’s great to me to hear that people have to come buy the hardback because they’ve worn out the soft cover version.”
If anyone is still searching for an elusive dish, Walker continues to track down and catalogue recipes at the Times-Picayune, only now in a different format.
“We have an archive online with more than 4,000 recipes on it that we launched in 2006 that I maintain,” she said. “So, in fact, the recipes are easier to find than ever.”
More New Orleans coverage from Yahoo Food: