Momma, Would You Make Me Some Gumbo?

A Classic, Traditional Delicacy of the South

Growing up as South Asian American girl, I was raised eating customary Indian dishes that my mother would cook to perfection without the need for a cookbook. Now as a South Asian American girl that grew up in one of the most Southern parts of Louisiana, I was persistently exposed the culture of Louisiana cooking. Somewhere along the lines between junior high and the beginning of high school, my mother decides to break old habits and experiment with classic, traditional Louisiana-style cooking. One of her most successful feats was the product of her gumbo. Ever since my mother learned how to make it, it has become one of my foods that bring me comfort when I need it most. I like to think of this recipe and dish as an impeccable taste of home.

The history of gumbo starts with it originating in West Africa. A journalist, Stanely Dry, states in an article about the origination of it, “Gumbo is often cited as an example of the melting-pot nature of Louisiana, but trying to sort out the origins and evolution of the dish is highly speculative.” The name itself, “gumbo”, derives from a West African word essentially used for “okra”. Okra is also a very popular ingredient associated with the origination of the dish, as well. It was an expected ingredient that added a very distinct flavor to gumbo itself. Gumbo first started being served and made around a pivotal point during the 19th century. Since this dish is an accumulation of various origins, there are ingredients used within this recipe that come from a variety of different cultures. Another additive used in this dish is roux. Roux is a French addition to gumbo that primarily results in the thickening of the dish and also makes gumbo appear darker in color than it actually is. There are also a plethora of different variations of the dish such as seafood gumbo and, the traditional Louisiana version, chicken and sausage gumbo. Another key element of the dish is rice. Gumbo stew is traditionally served over a bowl of white rice.

In the Old American cookbook What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc, Mrs. Fisher provides us with a very large amount of options of different styles of gumbo dish recipes. Some of these recipes include oyster gumbo soup and okra gumbo. In Mrs. Fisher’s recipe for a traditional okra gumbo dish it requires the ingredients of a beef shank, okra, salt, pepper, rice, and water. Most of the recipes that are written about in this cookbook are very simplified versions of recipes that do not include specifics. Most cookbooks, nowadays, provide us with exact measurements and time limits on the process of making a meal or recipe. To start off the recipe for a traditional okra gumbo dish from Mrs. Fisher’s cookbook we must start with a beef shank that one must crack before placing it into the pot that it must be boiled in. With the pot one is using, you must pour at least a gallon of water and place the cracked beef shank in it. Once a half of a gallon is boiled, one must strain about half of it and place it back once more on top of the fire. Before placing the okra into the pot, it must be cut into small pieces first. Once you have placed the okra in the pot, continue to stir the soup occasionally so it does not stick or burn on to the pot. Gumbo is served with a bowl of white dried rice, so when you are cooking the rice…make sure to not stir it while the water is boiling. When it comes to the seasoning of the rice, make sure to add slight flavor of salt to it while it is cooking. Another issues to keep in mind is that if you use too much water, the rice will not cook in the right amount of consistency.

Of course, Mrs. Fisher’s recipe for gumbo is not the only way that one can make a traditional dish like such. It is very evident that her recipe is her own version on how to make this class and traditional dish. The okra gumbo recipe that she goes into detail about how to make required a minimal amount of ingredients compared to a class chicken and sausage version of the dish. Most of the time, gumbo is so rich in flavor due to the high amount of different ingredients used to make it. With ingredients such as chicken, sausage, roux, a various amount of vegetables such as okra and bell peppers, and with it being served on top of some white, fluffy rice.

The background of gumbo comes from an origination of a multitude of cultures such as it originating in West Africa and Europe. This dish contains a melting-pot of West African, Native American, and European attributes. Some history of the origination of this dish begins with how the journey to the Western world for West Africans during the famous transatlantic slavery period in the America. On this journey to the Americas, West Africans had brought a plant with them along the way that had never been introduced into the Western world or Americas: okra. With okra being brought over to the Americas, this was the birth of the classic and traditional okra or chicken and sausage gumbo dish.

INGREDIENTS

The traditional ingredients used for a chicken and sausage gumbo dish proceed with:

  • 1 chicken, three to four pounds (sliced or cut)
  • salt for taste
  • 1 teaspoon of grounded black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 cup of flour
  • 2 1/2 cup of vegetable, corn, or peanut oil (all of them are optional)
  • 3/4 cup of onions (finely chopped)
  • 3/4 cup of celery (finely chopped)
  • 3/4 cup of green pepper (finely chopped)
  • 9 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic (finely minced)
  • 2 cups of cooked rice

This is a recipe that my mother follows whenever she is making a classic, traditional chicken and sausage gumbo dish. Compared to Mrs. Fisher’s list of ingredients needs for her okra gumbo, the chicken and sausage gumbo recipe required for definitely more ingredients to add the thick flavor to the broth of it. I have continued to enjoy the comfort of traditional Louisiana-styled gumbo to this day, especially since I have moved to and now reside in New Orleans for the past couple of years. With every opportunity that I get to eat it, I will always think to shoot a text or call my momma asking, “Hey Momma, could you make me some gumbo when I come home?”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Prudhomme, Paul. “Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 May 1983, https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/6341-chicken-and-sausage-gumbo.

“From West Africa to Southwest Louisiana: The Origin of Gumbo, by Phebe A. Hayes.” From West Africa to Southwest Louisiana: The Origin of Gumbo, by Phebe A. Hayes | Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, https://iberiachamber.org/news/west-africa-southwest-louisiana-origin-gumbo-phebe-hayes.

Fisher, Abby. What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. Woman’s Co-Operative Printing Office, 1881. 

“A Short History of Gumbo.” Southern Foodways Alliance, 20 Feb. 2020, https://www.southernfoodways.org/interview/a-short-history-of-gumbo/.

Nolan, James. “One Year and a Day: A Recipe for Gumbo and Mourning.” University of California Press, University of California Press, 1 Feb. 2005, https://online.ucpress.edu/gastronomica/article-abstract/5/1/47/45928/One-Year-and-a-Day-A-Recipe-for-Gumbo-and-Mourning?redirectedFrom=fulltext.

Rousseau, Madison. “Madison Rousseau’s Blog #1–Gumbo.” CHNITAL370W Noodle Narratives Summer 2019, 9 July 2019, https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/noodlenarratives/2019/07/08/gumbo/.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.