Biography of Célestine Eustis
Célestine Eustis was born in Paris, the daughter of George and Clarisse Allain Eustis of New Orleans. Her father, nephew of Massachusetts governor William Eustis, was a prominent Louisiana attorney who became chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and was a founder of the Pontchartrain Railroad Company and Tulane University. Her mother was from a prominent French-speaking Creole family. Though little is recorded concerning Celestine Eustis, she was an influential member of a prominent family. Her brother George Eustis Jr. (1828 – 1872) was a U.S. Congressman, Confederate diplomat to Paris, and expatriate who lived in France after the Civil War with his wife, Louise Morris Corcoran (her father founded the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.), and their children. Celestine Eustis spent much of her time in France with her brother’s family, living in elegance. One account states, “The hotel of Mr. Eustis at Paris, like his villa [‘Villa Louisiana’] at Cannes, was the chosen rendezvous of the best French and foreign society.” Louise Corcoran Eustis died of tuberculosis in Cannes in 1867, the same year her youngest daughter Louise was born. Five years later, when Eustis’ brother George died in Cannes, Eustis was appointed guardian of her niece and two nephews. She was especially close to young Louise, who (later) married New York financier Thomas Hitchcock. Celestine Eustis and the Hitchcocks spent much of their time in Aiken, South Carolina. Considered the founders of the winter colony there, they helped make the town a fashionable place – it became known in the late nineteenth century as a health resort, winter retreat, and polo center for wealthy, prominent families. Eustis helped plan city parks featuring plants and trees from diverse climates, and Eustis Park was named in her honor. A member of St. Mary’s Church in Aiken, in 1878 she was instrumental in replacing the church, demolished in a hurricane, with a new, sturdier building, and commissioned French stained glass paintings to adorn the windows. Her other brother, James Biddle Eustis (1834 – 1899), an attorney, leading post-Civil War Louisiana Democrat, and ambassador to Paris under Grover Cleveland (1893) also wintered in Aiken.
In 1904, when Eustis was in her late sixties, she wrote Cooking in Old Créole Days. La cuisine créole à l’usage des petits ménages. Like the stories of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable that were popular at the time, this cookbook was part of an interest in the exotic regional culture of Louisiana and an interest in the Old South. A reflection of her Creole heritage, New Orleans background, French living, and privileged lifestyle, the recipe book celebrates the culinary traditions and dinners produced in the well-staffed kitchens of wealthy Southern society. Eustis frequently pays tribute to particular servants who once prepared the recipes. “Calf’s Liver a la Celeste Smith,” was originally prepared by “Mme. Eustis Mere’s Cook,’ and the recipe for “Pot Au Feu” was given to Eustis by “an old colored cook brought up in James Madison’s family.” Eustis also mentions Mme. Josephine Nicaud, who served in Ambassador Eustis’ family for over forty years. The introduction sets the tone for this nostalgic, “noblesse oblige” approach to cookery, recalling the old black cooks of the south, and the delicious food that appeared when they were in charge. The book includes quaint illustrations and old-time song lyrics, which bring to mind Lafcadio Hearn, author of La Cuisine Creole (1885) (included in this collection) and his fascination with the city of New Orleans and its Creole culture.
Eustis died in Aiken, South Carolina at the Hitchcock home, in 1921. Though accounts vary on her birth year, she was approximately eighty-five years old.