A streetcar named delicious: How NOPSI got New Orleans cooking
For years, New Orleans Public Service Inc., better known as NOPSI, provided gas and electricity to the city, as well as running its buses and streetcars. As a bit of customer outreach, it also distributed recipes in bill envelopes and in a free weekly publication, Rider’s Digest, which it handed out on buses and streetcars. Those recipes — many classic Louisiana dishes — proved so popular with customers that in 1951 NOPSI compiled some of them in the cookbook “Creole Cuisine,” the first of four such publications it would assemble over the years.
The cookbooks’ popularity endures in this food-crazed city, as the United Way learned in 2008, when Entergy, NOPSI’s successor, gave the charitable organization the rights to “From Woodstoves to Microwaves – Cooking With Entergy” (1997), the most recent compilation, as a way to raise money. More than 4,000 copies were snapped up.
- NOPSI employed home economists who not only tested the recipes but also helped document New Orleans’ culinary history.
- The free recipes, and the eventual compilations, were part of a massive NOPSI push that included cooking demonstrations at the company’s headquarters from the late 1940s through the 1960s.
- The demonstrations not only showed people how to cook but also familiarized them with appliances that saved labor and, incidentally, used electricity and gas.
- The other NOPSI cookbook was “Creole Favorites,” which was published in 1966 and reissued in 1971.
- Unlike NOPSI, Entergy doesn’t operate the buses and streetcars — that’s now the responsibility of the Regional Transit Authority — and it doesn’t employ home economists.
- “From Woodstoves to Microwaves” can be accessed online for free at entergy.com/cookbook. For cooks who prefer to hold a cookbook while they work, it’s also available via Amazon.
NOPSI’s widely read recipe giveaways constituted “the ultimate community cookbook,” said Liz Williams, president and director of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. As pointed out in the introduction to “From Woodstoves to Microwaves,” the NOPSI cookbooks ended up being more than just a collection of recipes. They’re also a chronicling of mid-century New Orleans culture. As Williams says, “It’s just the best document that there is.”