You are fortunate indeed if you are lucky enough to have inherited your grandmother or great-grandmother’s stained, annotated, and lovingly worn recipe cards. Those heritage recipes are often staples of your family’s kitchens for generations. You may not know who first introduced authentic Mexican tamales or Greek spanakopita to your familial table, but you’re certainly glad they did.
What Do “Heirloom” and “Heritage” Actually Mean in Food
Heritage and Heirloom are often used interchangeably. In the context of ingredients, most people think of heirloom tomatoes. But it refers more broadly to produce and farm animals that have not been crossbred or genetically modified. In the context of recipes, Heritage often refers to the practice of highlighting a culture through food. They’re recipes that have stood the test of time and often feature simple, whole ingredients and traditional, old-fashioned techniques and tools. For many, they may hold a special meaning or remind us of home; a loved one, or a moment in time.
A Tribute to the Past
Heritage produce is an excellent example of how foods from Africa became an important part of the American South, particularly New Orleans. Okra, hot peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, muskmelon, rice, and sorghum are all essential staples in the diets of early New Orleans residents and still have a place in residential kitchens and on commercial catering menus today. For instance, at Messina’s Catering and Events, we source local heritage produce and protein whenever possible, as evidenced by some of our more popular, timeworn recipes like our Corn and Crab Bisque, Seafood Gumbo, and Crawfish pie.
More than 200 Heirloom and Heritage Foods are Produced Today in the USA
Many of them can be found in dishes featured on Messina’s catering menus. These include Apalachicola oysters, native pecans, Creole cream cheese, Louisiana Satsuma oranges, the Louisiana Mirliton, and the Perfection pimento pepper–a signature ingredient in pimento cheese.
What’s the Difference Between Heritage and Heirloom and Modern Produce and Meats
Most chefs agree that heritage and heirloom foods have better flavor by their very nature. Wild-caught shrimp is more flavorful than farm-raised. The same goes for the crawfish from the bayous that you enjoy in Étoufée. Heirloom ingredients such as beets and corn and heritage proteins such as chicken and pork taste much like they did when our ancestors served them. Over the generations, farmers took great care in preserving those seeds and bloodlines with the most desirable, distinctive qualities. While an heirloom tomato might not look as perfect as the one mass-produced and genetically altered to withstand a cross-country truck ride, their flavor makes them a thing of beauty.
Likewise, heritage pork and poultry are often richer and more flavorful than their feedlot counterparts because they are hardier and more autonomous in their environment. They live off the land and are not inundated with additives and antibiotics during their development. Heritage chickens are often called “free-range” for this reason. Heritage pork has a higher fat content, making it harder to overcook and much juicier than farm-raised pigs. Heritage chickens are different genetically from those you buy from the grocery store because they’re not eating processed meal or feed to fatten them up faster. They are leaner, live longer, and offer a more intense flavor.
Let Messina’s Infuse Some Heritage into Your Next Catered Event
Whether it’s the natural bounties from the waters surrounding us or locally sourced heritage produce from one of New Orleans’ many farmer’s markets, we can infuse your catering menu with the ingredients our ancestors used, just as we’ve been doing since 1961. Learn more by visiting MessinasCatering.com.