Among Central Louisiana historical and preservation groups, Flora Luquette is well renown as both a role model and an inspiration to many beginning in these fields. It is my privilege to tell her story here.
Flora is actually from Alexandria, but that city of Alexandria is in Virginia. She was one of five children, the daughter of a service station owner and a homemaker. Flora became interested in history early in life at school. She wanted to pursue a career in history, but her family had no money to pay for college. So, she joined the Air Force and served as a “Still Photographer.” She took photos of official Air Force presentations, portraits, and even passport photos. She served for four years in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972, first at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, then at Misawa in northern Japan. While in the Air Force, she met and married her husband Michael. Michael continued serving in the Air Force, honorably discharged in 1987 at our then-England Air Force Base here in Alexandria. During this time, using military resources, Flora obtained her B.A. degree in history and philosophy and her Masters in general business in 1978. Flora and Michael Luquette are the parents of two sons—Jason and Christopher.
Flora always wanted to give back to her community. She started volunteering at Alexandria Country Day School. In 1983, she saw an opening for a tour guide at Kent House and took the job. In 1991, she became an official unpaid volunteer at Kent House and has never stopped volunteering in Alexandria. Flora says, “I always enjoyed cooking and was able to join a docent cooking group doing 19th century cooking at Kent House.” She is now the senior volunteer docent at Kent House. After 27 years of cooking over an open hearth fireplace, Flora still enjoys cooking for visitors. She says, “I like trying to find different 19th century recipes and seeing the reactions of visitors to eating these foods for the first time.”
On the day I visited with Flora in the 19th century kitchen at Kent House, she was preparing a meal for local journalists. Flora’s menu featured steamed cabbage jambalaya, carrots in orange juice, ginger roots, and corn bread (back then called “cake pudding”). Her recipes focus on the period of 1800-1850. “I love interacting with our guests,” she explains, which is one of the benefits of preparing these meals.
The meals themselves take many hours to prepare, starting with building an early morning fire in the often-cold fireplace. Using freshly grown foods and herbs, many from the large Kent House garden, she feeds invited guests, many from around the world, a unique meal that is only prepared in all of north Louisiana at Kent House. “A lot of people say they wouldn’t like some of my old recipes, such as buttered radishes, but once they taste it, they often love it and ask for some of the recipes to take home with them.” Flora’s favorite recipes include: sausage cooked in cider, buttered radishes, ginger beets, her unique corn bread recipe, and “Fruit-Fool”, a type of cobbler.
Flora’s biggest challenge is controlling the heat of the fire when cooking as well as getting good dry wood to cook with all day with. Flora also uses a Dutch oven, which cooks with coals on the top and on the bottom of the closed pot. She also uses a “tin kitchen” which is the equivalent of a 19th century barbecue pit hand-cranked rotisserie.
When asked about why she feels that her cooking is important, she says, “This meal preparation gives visitors an idea of how the first settlers of Alexandria lived. They had to do all of the hunting, fishing, and the growing of their food in order just to eat and live. Visiting school children often do not know this and how difficult it was to live back then.” Well, thanks to great people like Flora Luquette, our history continues to “live” for Central Louisiana and for visitors from around the world. People like Flora, who also is a long-serving volunteer at the Alexandria Zoo, need to be recognized and applauded by our Central Louisiana community.
If you have a great preservationist or museum in Central Louisiana that you wish to be considered for inclusion in this column, please write me and tell me why. You can write me, Michael Wynne, in care of Cenla Focus, P.O. Box 12774, Alexandria, LA 71315. I look forward to featuring other unsung heroes and organizations relating to history and preservation that continue to highlight our unique Central Louisiana history!