Memoirs of Lelia Decuir Lejeune
Memoirs of Lelia Decuir Lejeune© 1963, All rights reserved
This is the story of my life as far as I can remember. . .
The Outdoor Oven . . .
Now I’ll talk about something else. The oven she used to bake bread. First she used yeast which she made herself. When she is out of yeast with the yeast she had to make the day rather or night before she’d take a small quantity and corn meal, stir this until thick enough to roll, then cut inch pieces about three inches square then dry them in the sun, then put away to make the bread when ever she wanted to. Now about the oven - to bake the bread, I didn’t see when they made ours, but saw other people making theirs. They first made four posts with bricks then put boards on them, then dug dirt, put over the thick boards until it looked like a turtle shape. I mean they piled this dirt around it then started putting bricks on it. They always have to leave about the size of one brick in order to let the smoke out when they’d heat the oven. However, when the cement was dry they’d take all of the dirt out leaving it ready to bake any thing - mostly bread and sweet potatoes.
Now at that time things did not come in boxes as they do now, all in barrels - flour, grits, cornmeal, rice - so my mother always used one barrel to heat the oven. When it was all burnt nothing but coals left - she had a long pole, she’d pull all of the coals out then pour water over them before she’d push the bread in. She also had a clean mop made with cloth, she’d wet it and wipe the oven clean before putting the bread in and she always knew when the bread and the oven would be ready about the same time.
Now to make the bread the night before, she’d make a dough, with the yeast cake, she called it “leaven”. It then was ready to make the bread dough in the morning. She used a certain quantity of water, salt and a little lard (I think), then a certain quantity of flour, just enough to handle, she’d raise it up and down, up and down The more one does such a thing the better the bread would be, then more flour, until it was ready to knead. I’m not sure this is the right way to spell “knead.” Then she’d leave this in the pan until twice its size. Cut it into pieces about the size of a dinner plate. Knead this again, flatten it then on one side she’d grease it roll it from opposite side then push it on the board which she had a purpose for that, also a woolen blanket - a certain length of yellow cotton which she kept on purpose for that. Put corn meal on the white cloth, then the bread turned the crease? Underneath, then she’d put the cloth between each loaf so they don’t touch together, when risen enough, she knew by touching it with her finger. If not risen enough it will stay down. Now the oven is hot. She had a paddle with a long handle she’d pull the cloth put the dough on it, then let it off slowly into the hot oven. She always pulled the brick back into the hole where they left for the smoke to come out while the barrel burns out. They had made a square door right in front so one can put the bread in and out, but they had a square piece made of board just to fit the hole until the bread is done. She also had a prop to put against this. When every thing is over, she’d clean the coals and ashes in the oven for the next time. This kind of bread doesn’t dry fast and she had a large basket which was made of cane by the Indians. She always covered the bread and put them on a high shelf.
The House At the Chenal . . .
There was a levee built very high to prevent the water from coming when the river was high but come time the levee would break there if the houses were not very high on the foundation they had to move out. It happened three times to us. Once I was too young to remember but twice I know about. We had to move and live with my uncle - my father’s brother that was not far ---the water did not get there. This levee was called Morganza levee. The second time we moved. Our mother had a small house built for us. There we lived until I got married. The neighbors were so nice. They all got together and built the house for nothing. I wish you could see how they made the shingles. At that time there were plenty of cypress trees. They sawed them about 2 feet or more, split them, then they had a drawing knife with two handles one on each side and they made shingles for our house. Everybody was so good to our mother. After she died I moved from my little house to live with Nan. There we had the house fixed up a kitchen, dining room, nice fence around, a corn crib, a shed for our buggy, but we lived only five years in it when we moved to New Roads.
This is something I should have written before. Well there is another paragraph that came to mind which should have been written while describing our home. One the left side we had an orchard, fig trees- black, white and brown. The brown ones were my favorites p---- of different kinds. In the morning I’d pick some off the ground and ate enough of them to take the place of my breakfast. There my mother used to plant everything she could get hold of. She had banana trees which were short bananas, they were not too good. She even had a coffee plant. At that time coffee was sold green. One had to parch and grind the seeds very often. We would find one which had not been separated. They come in two seeds together then covered with a kind of a skin. Our mother planted one of these. It came up but bore nothing. A --- was planted in a flower pot, like a flower plant. The leaves look something like orange leaves, it didn’t get very tall either.
Now in front we had a large step or two (the house was not high). We had a large plant of Hydrangea on each side. They were beautiful. At first they were pink and after a few days they turned pale blue. Then on the other side of the porch we had a rosebush (red) call Queen Henrietta. This kind ran all over the left front. On the other side she had grapes. They were so good. On the other side of the house we had two French? Olive trees. They were about ?? Feet high, almost always in bloom. One could smell their fragrance in the neighborhood. Now in front of the house on each side of the fence that started where the French Olives were on the side of the house, we had rose bushes, about 27 kinds in a row to the front gate. Also narcissus, hyacinths, jonquils, on each side of the front walk we had an apple tree which bore twice a year. I was married in January and I picked some apples off the trees and made preserves for myself. Then a white rose bush blooming almost all the time that was a climbing rose on the apple trees. On the other side of the front outside fence. Nan & I planted four trees they were small when we planted them we were quite young then, but the trees grew fast and made beautiful white blossoms in the Spring. They were called “Acacia” trees, so we called our house “Acacia cottage.”
We had wooden doors that opened on the outside, one on each side of the entrance, then glass doors that opened on the inside that made four doors on each opening, of course we had two front doors so there were eight doors.
Now in the back we had about four Willow trees each had climbing vines that had such beautiful flowers in the spring time. They were called Wisteria. They bloom on stems about 7 inches long or more. Even though our house was a cheap one we tried to make it look nice. On the west side we had a window. Our mother made some one put a shade made of shingles to keep the sitting room out of the sun.
(Signed) Lelia Decuir Lejeune, age 90 - 1963.
Lelia Decuir was born in 1872 in Pointe Coupée Parish, LA. Her parents were Leon Decuir (1821 - 1879) and Celeste Amar Decuir (1849-1899). Her siblings were Charles Arthur Decuir, Leufroy Ortaire Decuir, Ferdinand Decuir, Gustave and Mathieu Decuir (twins), Angela Decuir Gumbel, and Palmyra Decuir. This family descends from early colonial Louisiana and Pointe Coupée inhabitants: Chauvin de Beaulieu, d'Arensbourg, deCuire, Duval, Porché, Mayeux, to name a few.
Leon Decuir c1867; Celeste Amar Decuir c1873