Gumbo Series, Part 2
Gumbo is serious business to us here at Glover Gardens, as we noted in the first post of the Gumbo Series, Good Gumbos are Like Sunsets. The promise for Part 2 was a discussion of where it all started, and the best way to convey that is by sharing this essay, Family Recipe – Gumbo, one of a collection of family-themed essays that comprised our Musical Millennial’s 7th grade English project. The words that follow are his 12-year old take on our gumbo history.
Essay: Family Recipe – Gumbo
We cook it regularly and enjoy it every time. Gumbo is a Cajun / Creole stew that starts with a roux, which is flour cooked in oil until it is the right consistency and color. To the roux, the chef adds the “trinity” (chopped onions, celery and bell pepper), then a healthy amount of chicken or vegetable stock, along with sausage, chicken, seafood, or even leftover meat scraps. My mom’s parents, who are from Colorado and West Texas, were not raised on gumbo. They first learned to make gumbo in the 1970s at a cooking class in new Orleans while on vacation. It quickly became a family staple, although my paternal great-grandmother famously said, “YUCK!” when she tasted it while visiting in the 1980s, when she was in her late 70s.
My parents started making gumbo after they married, always serving it t their annual holiday party, which usually had over 100 guests from different backgrounds. They made four kinds: their “regular”, with pork, sausage and chicken; a vegetarian “Gumbo Z’herbes”, which sports okra and greens; a Jewish / Muslim version of the regular, which had no pork or seafood; and a seafood version with crab and shrimp. They used the Paul Prodhomme recipe as a starting point and added their own variations. My dad would make the roux, getting it almost black for the sake fo the thick, strong taste. He says, “Your mom could not relax while i cooked it, for fear I would burn it.” She did all the rest. My mom has taken the show on the road, teaching over 30 eager ladies how to make it at church, and once making it for over 300 people for a different church event.
My parents are divorced now and have a great relationship that includes a friendly rivalry about whose gumbo is better. I once made the mistake of announcing that I liked my dad’s just a bit better, which fueled the rivalry. Both of them continue to make it, and I look forward to it when it comes. Neither of them needs to use the recipe any more, but this is the one they share when asked for it. (I don’t think they share their secret variations.)
When I learn to cook, gumbo will be first on the list.”
What followed in the next pages was photos of the Paul Prudhomme cookbook and one of his classic gumbo recipes. Chef Paul provided our starting point, all those years ago. (Read more about our family’s Chef Paul crush here.)
Nicely put, don’t you think? The 7th grade English project earned the Musical Millennial an A+, and beautifully captures the essence and origins of gumbo in our family. Now 21, he still loves the gumbo made by both of his parents, and has turned into a champion chicken-picker. More to come on that…
The next installment of the gumbo series will be a treatise on the collaborative joy of making it in a group.
- Gumbo Series Part 1: Good Gumbos are Like Sunsets
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