Bouillabaisse: Another ancestral clue

Sepia Saturday 400: First post of the New Year!

The winter holiday season brings to mind memories of time spent with family and the importance of paying attention to those small family history clues that emerge in the most unlikely ways this time of year.

Buouillabaisse. Not until this year did I realized that this French seafood stew might also be linked to my mom’s Italian heritage. Her recipe calls for oysters, but I often substitute mussels as shown here. By: Blue moon in her eyes

Whether sitting before a fireplace or gathered around a dinner table, many of us feel nostalgia for winter-season family traditions — and taking the time to examine them can enrich our family story.

An ethnic blend

Recipe for Peg (Laurence) Charboneau’s Bouillabaisse

Ingredients: 1 package frozen shrimp (shelled and cleaned), 1/2 cup salad oil, 1 large onion (thinly sliced), 1 clove garlic (finely cut), a large 1-pound can of peeled tomatoes, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 3 strips lemon peel, 2 bay leaves, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (coarsely ground), 8 whole cloves, 1.5 teaspoons salt, 3 cups fish broth, 2 pounds fish filets (fresh or frozen), 12 oysters, 1 can Maine lobster (6 oz.), 1/4 sherry, 1 fresh lemon (thinly sliced).

Preparation: Cook shrimp according to directions on package. To make fish broth, save cooking water from shrimp, add liquid from oysters, add water to make 3 cups. Heat oil in saucepan, and sauté onion and garlic until tender. Stir in tomatoes, lemon juice, lemon peel, bay leaves, pepper, cloves, salt, fish broth and simmer about 30 minutes. Cut fish filets in 2-inch pieces and add to soup mixture. Simmer 8 minutes. Drop in oysters and simmer 3 min, or until edges curl. Add and blend in lobster, shrimp and sherry.

Serve: Garnish with sliced lemon and serve hot with crusty French bread and green salad.

In my case, the tradition was my mother serving bouillabaisse on Christmas Eve.

I’m not sure when she began to annually prepare the lucious seafood stew — but I think it was during the 1960s when we lived in the suburbs near Binghamton, N.Y.

My mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau was a basic meat-and-potatoes cook.

Despite her German-Italian heritage, her closest brush with ethnic dinner cuisine was making spaghetti and meatballs — though pretty much everyone on our block ate that too, regardless of cultural background.

As Catholics, we did not eat meat on Friday — which often meant an easy-to-prepare fish sticks dinner that we children loved!

Christmas Eve was also a meatless day — and one year my mom decided to make bouillabaisse and serve our family dinner on the good china.

The meal was a hit —  but consuming the fascinating fish stew with it’s surprise ingredients seemed more connected to my dad Norm Charboneau’s French heritage than my mom’s.

Or so I thought until recently.

An Italian tradition

While holiday food shopping this year, I stopped at an in-store popup where the staff was serving little samples of fish stew.

“Pretty good,” I thought and took the recipe card. Imagine my surprise when I read that eating fish stew on meatless days was an Italian tradition!

I immediately recalled my mom’s bouillabaisse dinners and realized she may have been reprising a tradition passed on by her Italian-American extended family when she was growing up.

Where my mom got the recipe I don’t know, but one year I asked her for a copy — which I hand wrote on a blank staff pad that Mom, a school music educator, used to compose music.

I have prepared my mom’s recipe many times since — never imagining an Italian heritage connection until now. Her recipe is reproduced here for you to enjoy with family and loved ones.

May the heady seafood aromas remind you of those subtle but precious ancestral clues that may come wafting up during the holiday season and in the New Year.

Stop back for another new post next week. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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2017: Happy Holidays from Molly’s Canopy

Click to enlarge. Artwork:

The holiday season is upon us — and that’s when Molly’s Canopy traditionally takes a break for the festive month of December so I can relax, kick back and recharge.

This year has brought newfound cousins, new avenues of family history exploration, new blogging friends (among them the Sepia Saturday regulars) — and renewed hope that the New Year will be just as fulfilling. 

Happy Holidays to you and yours from Molly’s Canopy — and please stop back in January 2018 when regular blogging resumes!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1948: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence as mother of the bride

Sepia Saturday 394: Eleventh and last in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Mother of the Bride (1948). My maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence (c.) was eye-catching as Mother of the Bride at my parents’ wedding. With her are  (l.) my dad’s brother and Best Man William Francis Charboneau (Uncle Frannie) and (r.) my maternal grandfather Tony W. Laurence, the Father of the Bride. Scan by Molly Charboneau

In November 1948, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, 43, appeared at my parents’ wedding as Mother of the Bride in a dress to die for.

Liz never had a bridal gown of her own, since she and my grandfather eloped — so she seems to have compensated by pulling out all the stops for my mom Peg’s wedding with an eye-catching outfit that made her a standout in the wedding party.

My grandmother looked pretty good as a Maid of Honor at her younger sister’s wedding, but Aunt Margaret would have chosen Liz’s dress for that occasion.

This time, the choice was up to Liz — and clearly, she aimed to dazzle from head to toe. She wore a black feathered fascinator hat at a jaunty angle and sported stylish eyeglasses that could be worn today. Subdued accessories — tiny watch, small drop earrings, wedding ring and corsage — meant her dress took center stage.

Stunning in copper and black

Parents of the bride and groom at my Mom and Dad’s wedding (1948). From left: William Ray and Mary (Owen) Charboneau; Norm Charboneau and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau; Liz (Stoutner) and Tony W. Laurence. Scan by Molly Charboneau

And what a dress! Shiny copper-colored stripes alternated with black matte at a bias angle on the sleeves and skirt and horizontally across the torso — so whenever Liz moved, the dress would pick up the light.

Normally, my grandmother wore flats when out with my grandfather since she was several inches taller — but she went ahead and wore strapped heels for this special occasion, which nicely complemented her dress. Long black gloves completed her stunning look.

Not to take away from anyone else in the wedding party. Everyone looked wonderful befitting their own personal styles — and it was my parents’ special day after all. But even among family, my maternal grandmother displayed a certain unique style that was all her own.

A shimmering dream

You may wonder how I know that my grandmother’s dress was copper and black, since the photos are black and white.

The explanation is simple — I actually saw the dress hanging in an attic closet during a visit to her house when I was in my twenties.

I may have asked her about it or recalled the dress from seeing my folks’ wedding photos — but what stays with me is the beautiful iridescence of the copper and the garment’s clean, tailored lines.

Years later, when my family closed out my maternal grandparents’ house after they both passed, I checked in the closet for the dress — but it was gone.

Yet its image still lingers like a shimmering dream — a beloved reminder of my maternal grandmother Liz who set a high bar for family style and lived by it all her life.

Up next: A family holiday get together. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1962: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence the fashionable photographer

Sepia Saturday 393: Tenth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Perfectly dressed for a picture or a picnic (1962). My fashionable maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — in a crisp tailored dress, pumps, patterned apron and jewelry –adjusts her camera at an outdoor family picnic. Scan by Molly Charboneau

I am proud to descend from a long line of remarkable women. Among them was my maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence — who at age 57 decided to take up photography.

Until I was six years old, my family — Mom, Dad, two younger brothers and me — lived with my maternal grandparents in a large farmhouse called Whispering Chimneys in Altamont, Albany Co., New York.

When we first moved there, my grandmother Liz operated an antique shop down near Route 20, the busy highway that ran past our 10-acre farm. She also helped my mother out with us children.

A new midlife journey

But in the mid-1950s we relocated to the suburbs of Binghamton, N.Y., after my dad got a job transfer. Around the same time, my mom’s only sibling Aunt Rita made a similar career move to San Diego, Calif.

With her children getting on with their lives, Liz may have been at loose ends in the big farmhouse. She learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting in her studio at the farm — and created pieces for sale as gifts for weddings and other occasions.

Photo Class (Sept. 1963). At age 57, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence decided to take up photography — an unusual pursuit for a woman judging by this picture of her in photo class. Scan by Molly Charboneau

However, Liz apparently wanted an additional creative outlet — because at midlife she enrolled in photography classes. And from the looks of her class, this was an unusual pursuit for women at the time.

Moving with the times

The Kodak Instamatic camera was introduced in 1962, and I remember having one of those little cameras as a teenager. But my grandmother set her sights on more sophisticated photo taking.

Liz started with an SLR and later used a square format camera that required looking down through the lens from the top. With these she took umpteen family and still-life photos using color slide film to perfect her craft. Slides became her metier and I inherited several boxes of her work.

Naturally, Liz kept up appearances with crisp, tailored clothing — as shown here — whether in class or hosting a family picnic at the farm. In fact, she may have viewed her clothing as another form of artist expression — one she had cultivated since childhood that complemented the other art forms she learned as an adult.

Up next: My maternal grandmother in a dress to die for as mother of the bride at my parents’ wedding. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1920s: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence’s job at The Boston Store

Sepia Saturday 392: Ninth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Recent posts have focused on my fashionable maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence and her family’s influence on her style. However, Liz’s own retail experience in the 1920s likely also played a part.

She appears below, third from left, next to her friend Lib Handy and her other co-workers at The Boston Store in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

The Boston Store and staff (circa 1920). My grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence, third from left, likely picked up fashion ideas when she worked at this Gloversville, N.Y. department store. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Retail sales

The Boston Store — a retail shop located at once-bustling 22 South Main Street — sold quality infants wear, corsets, hosiery and undergarments, along with dry goods judging by the plaid blankets in the window.

If this photo is any indication, Gloversville was a town filled with people who liked to dress well. Or maybe these retail workers were expected to dress the part in the interest of sales.

Either way, my grandmother stands out even in this well-appointed crowd — wearing contemporary clothing with just a hint of bangs accenting her dark, sleeked-back hair. Liz was also statuesque at 5 feet 11 inches — taller than many of the men.

Liz’s wide-lapelled coat, possibly camel’s hair, shows interesting button details at the belt and cuff and reveals a satin sailor-sashed neckline on her dark dress. A slouch purse, with metal clasp and chain handle, and strapped shoes accessorize her look.

Learning on the job

Boston Store ad from the Gloversville Morning Herald (8 June 1917). Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

My grandmother Liz may have worked at The Boston Store part-time or summers in high school. She eloped with my grandfather Tony Laurence in 1924, when she was 18, so her retail work would have been prior to that — possibly summers while she was attending teachers college in Oneonta, N.Y.

Judging by the Boston Store ads in the Gloversville Morning Herald, Liz would have had loads of garments and styles to choose from at work.

The prices weren’t bad either — plus they gave trading stamps for future purchases! An ideal place for a young woman to learn what she did and didn’t like — right down to long underwear for those chilly Mohawk Valley winters.

Silk stockings

A memory of my grandmother comes to mind reading the ad’s description of fibre silk hose.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, panty-hose had just come into fashion although stockings were still around, too. Snags and runs could easily ruin either style, but my grandmother had a solution.

“Always wear gloves when you put on your hose,” my grandmother instructed during one of my visits. “That way, they won’t snag and will last longer.”

With that, she donned a pair of white gloves and demonstrated how to carefully roll a stocking up the leg — the smooth, practiced move of a true fashionista.

More photos of my maternal grandmother Liz in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time