Ignatius Reilly and Lucky Dogs – Rediscovering A Confederacy of Dunces

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I can’t look at that photo of a hot dog posted on Ann’s Chewy blog (or for that matter, any other hot dog) without thinking about those iconic push carts found in the New Orleans French Quarter selling “Lucky Dogs.”  And, I can’t think of those carts without imagining one being pushed down those narrow streets by Ignatius Reilly, the main character in John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning farce, A Confederacy of Dunces.  If you’re embarrassed to admit that you haven’t read the book, it’s easy to fake it by taking a few minutes with Wikipedia – the online CliffsNotes for superficial knowledge on all subjects.

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Fortuna, as interpreted by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy, was a favorite subject of Ignatius.  Given that I blogged about Fortuna in an earlier Andy’s corner, I couldn’t resist including this image.

The backstory of how Toole’s book came to be published is almost as interesting as the novel itself.   Toole committed suicide 11 years before his manuscript was accepted for publication.  Due to the tenacious efforts of his mother and the intervention of the renowned southern author Walker Percy, LSU Press agreed to publish the book in 1980. In 1981 Toole was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 

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 A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook by Cynthia LeJeune Nobles (published by LSU Press in 2015).

To be honest, I hadn’t given that much thought to the many culinary references in the novel until I came across  A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius Reilly’s New Orleans by Cynthia LeJeune Nobles (published by LSU Press in 2015). Not only is her book a treasure trove of wonderful recipes for classic New Orleans’ dishes, it offers a fascinating interpretation of the novel.  I love her description of Ignatius:

“The book’s unsympathetic protagonist is an overweight, buffoonish, overeducated savant…  The thirty-year-old is also an enthusiastic student of the medieval philosopher Boethius and, therefore, abhors anything modern, including canned food.  Yet throughout his fight against the contemporary world, the enigmatic Ignatius gorges on pastries, candy, and, of course, hot dogs.”

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Ignatius voraciously consumed  Dr. Nut, an almond-flavored soft drink popular until the 1970s.

The reference to hot dogs is based on one of Ignatius’s brief forays into gainful employment –  manning a “Lucky Dogs” cart in the French Quarter.  As it turns out, Ignatius gobbles down more of the hot dogs himself than he sells.  And, of course, he has a sequence of outlandish adventures along the way.

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Travis (our son) and Hannah have this print hanging in their Brooklyn apartment.  You can take the boy out of Louisiana, but evidently you can’t take Louisiana out of the boy – or something like that.

Nobles claims that her book was meant to “memorialize the foods, both the nutritious and the wickedly unwholesome, that are important to the book’s characters…”  She certainly does that and more.

As it turns out,  we have already posted a number of the recipes for dishes that Nobles refers to in her cook book.  So, as a tribute to John Kennedy Toole and his bigger-than-life fictional character, Ignatius Reilly, I have hand selected some of our recipes to share, even if they may vary somewhat from Nobles’ recipes.

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

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#1 – The Sazerac.

In that it is five o’clock somewhere, the first recipe is for the Sazerac, a classic New Orleans cocktail which is supposedly the oldest known in America.  It was a favorite of Tooles at the Sazerac Bar in Canal Street’s old Roosevelt Hotel.  If that’s not enough to convince you to try one, consider that the Louisiana Legislature designated the Sazerac as the official cocktail of the City of New Orleans.  Here is our version of the Sazerac.

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#2 – Basic Red Beans and Rice

Any list of signature dishes from New Orleans would be incomplete without red beans and rice.  It was known as the Monday meal because the beans were cooking on the stove all day while typically the laundry was being done that day  (obviously, prior to electric washing machines).   Ignatius’s mother claimed it gave her gas, but don’t let that prevent you from trying our recipe for Basic Red Beans and Rice.

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#3 – Italian Cream Cake

Nobles writes, “Ignatius would surely take comfort in this special-occasion confection, also commonly know as Italian Wedding Cake, and one of the most popular desserts at Piccadilly.” Piccadilly was a popular Louisiana cafeteria chain.  Although she may be stretching it a bit to link this cake to the novel, to my mind by including it Nobles is doing us all a great service.  It is truly delicious.  Here is our rendition of this delectable cake.

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#4 – Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

Supposedly, at one point in the novel, Ignatius “belched the gas of a dozen brownies.” In honor of this gastronomic achievement, Nobles includes a recipe for “Triple-Chocolate Belchless Brownies.” We haven’t tried this recipe yet, but it looks delicious.  Our favorite brownie recipe, Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies, is simple and, to our knowledge, also belchless .

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#5 – Super Simple Brioche Bread Pudding

According to Cynthia Nobles, “Creole cooks actually get excited about stale bread, the key ingredient to bread pudding.”  Her recipe for Caramel and Vanilla Bourbon Sauce to serve over bread pudding looks so good that it should be illegal.  Our own super simple Brioche Bread Pudding recipe is fantastic.  Add Nobles’ caramel and bourbon sauce to kick it up a few notches, as Emeril Lagasse would say.

These five recipe suggestions are just tiny sampling of the dozens that are in Nobles’ A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook.  If you get the book, be sure to go beyond the recipes and discover – or, rediscover – the quirky world of Ignatius Reilly.  If you do, I would wager that hot dogs will never be the same for you again.

 

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