Category Archives: Laurence [Di Lorenzo]

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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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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1915: Family fashionista John H. Stoutner

Sepia Saturday 388: Fifth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

In the last post, I introduced my Stoutner ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. Among them was family fashionista John H. Stoutner — a ladies garment professional who had the most potential to influence the clothing style of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence.

Stoutner & Van Arnam’s Smart Shop in Gloversville, N.Y. (circa 1915). Growing up I was told that my grandmother’s Uncle John ran a “millinery shop.” Newspaper ads reveal this was a full-service women’s fashion store. Scan by Molly Charboneau

I knew little about my grandmother’s Uncle John growing up — just that he owned a “millinery shop,” according to my mother.

Born in 1870, Uncle John embarked on his career at a time when women still wore extravagant hats, so this explanation made sense.

Later I inherited a spectacular photo of his Gloversville shop (above) and sure enough, there was the profusion of ladies hats — some behind cases and others decoratively placed on the selling floor.

Stoutner & Van Arnam’s Smart Shop

Newspaper ad for The Smart Shop (1915). This ad from the March 22, 1915 issue of the Gloversville-Johnstown Morning Herald was one of many placed by Uncle John and his partner Crosby to advertise their women’s fashion store. Source: Old Fulton New York Post Cards

From the Stoutner family photo, I knew that Uncle John had a business partner, Crosby Van Arnam. I wondered whether newspaper research might tell me more — and I was pleased to discover several advertisements for their shop.

The one posted here, from the March 22, 1915 issue of the Gloversville-Johnstown Morning Herald, advertises the millinery portion of their store.

However, other Smart Shop ads on the same page featured clothing and outerwear, indicating they ran a full-service operation.

Uncle John and Crosby placed the ads to coincide with Gloversville’s Spring Style Show, giving the address of their shop as 13 West Fulton St. A Google search for a street view of this address reveals a row of charming row of storefronts right around the corner from Main Street.

Looking good a wholesale prices

The Stoutner siblings (circa 1916). From left, Andrew J., 7, Margaret C., 2 1/2,  and Elizabeth C. Stoutner, 11. My grandmother Liz, at right, was growing into a fashionable young lady. Did her Uncle John influence her style? Scan by Molly Charboneau

In the days before big-box stores, having an uncle in the fashion business meant my grandmother Liz and her siblings could be looking good at wholesale prices — and look good they did!

Here are the Stoutner siblings in a circa 1916 outdoor photo, each fashionably dressed. My grandmother Liz, at right, is nearly 11 years old and growing into a young lady.

Her outfit is hard to make out, but it appears to be a sailor-necked blouse with a tie and a matching skirt. White stockings and stylish ankle-strap shoes complete her look — and for the first time she is wearing what would become her signature collar-style necklace.

Next to her, Aunt Margaret is precious at age 2 1/2 with her long hair, little white dress, striped socks and black patent leather shoes. Rounding out the group. Uncle Andy, 7, sports an outfit that echoes my grandmother’s — with the variation of a low-slung belt and black stockings and shoes.

Did Uncle John play a part in dressing the family? Hard to know for sure. But I suspect his garment industry expertise was looked to by his relatives — and may have influenced my grandmother Liz in a stylish direction.

Up next: A bit more on family fashionista Uncle John H. Stoutner. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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