I read an interesting article of yours from April 2003 about the history of the East Riverside neighborhood. What can you tell me about the history of the area north of that, say from Magazine to Freret streets between Louisiana and Napoleon avenues?
The area directly north of East Riverside is known as Touro Neighborhood. And it encompasses the property between Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue, Napoleon Avenue and Toledano Street. Like the East Riverside area, this was once part of large, wedge-shaped plantations that were eventually subdivided and turned into faubourgs. And on the other side of this neighborhood, continuing to the point of the wedge, is Milan Neighborhood that goes from St. Charles Avenue to Claiborne Avenue, still bound by Napoleon and Toledano and some of Louisiana Avenue. It, too, was once part of the same plantations that extended from the river. Faubourg Bouligny covered portions of present-day Milan, Touro and East Riverside neighborhoods.
Of course, all of this was initially part of the vast east bank plantation that was granted to our city's founder, Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, by the Superior Council of Louisiana on March 27, 1719.
I've been eating Russian Cake my whole life. I assume you know how it's made. Where do they get the name 'Russian Cake'?
The Russian Cake -- also known as Creole Trifle -- we know and love here in New Orleans is actually made of leftovers. Creators of this delightful concoction -- whether at home or in a bakery -- use surplus, stale, or damaged bits of pound cake, birthday cake, end slices of sweet bread, broken pieces of coffee cake, crumbled bits of pie crusts. Anything of this sort is good as long as it is sweet and crumbly. Everything is mixed together and moistened with a sweet liquid such as pineapple juice or fruit cocktail syrup and some red wine. Then the cake is packed into a loaf pan or a square pan and refrigerated for about four hours to let the liquid soak in. When it is sliced, the beautiful array of colors and textures are revealed. Some people like to serve it topped with ice cream or whipped cream. Others glaze it and top it with colorful sprinkles.
Today, you can buy it at a number of bakeries including Haydel's, which will ship one to someone special in your life. Their version combines gold cake, devil's food cake, and almond cake all mixed with raspberry jelly, rum flavor, and anise. Then the cake is topped with butter cream icing.
There's a recipe for Russian Cake in Rima and Richard Collin's The New Orleans Cookbook that is a pretty good start if you want to try your hand.
Now, for the name. Legend has it that it was named in honor of the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia who visited New Orleans in 1872 at Mardi Gras for the first Rex parade. But others say that the name probably comes from the exotic appearance of the cake with its intricate patterns.
I have recently inherited a dining room set which has stamped on the bottom 'Max Barnett Furniture Company, New Orleans, La.' The history behind the set after its purchase is known to me. It was shipped to Thibodeaux, then to Cuba, then to Baton Rouge, and finally back home at last. I'm curious about the company. Do you remember it? Where was it? Who owned it?
Of course, I remember it. The store opened originally on Poydras Street in 1899. Then in 1928, the main store moved to Carondelet Street. I also remember 1962 when Barnett's Furniture Stores of New Orleans celebrated their 63rd anniversary. At the time the president and general manager was Henry M. Barnett, and there were three stores. In addition to the one at 600 Carondelet St., the company opened a store at 4803 Chef Menteur Hwy. in 1957 and another at 6303 Airline Hwy. in 1960. Lots of folks got furniture from one of these locations until Barnett's finally went out of business in the mid-1970s.