I was triggered but I was proud of myself. I said my peace and disengaged. I recognized that anything I might say would make no difference. I think most arguments these days are best left…unargued. There was an upside, my “triggering” sent me down a pig trail to Alice’s rabbit hole. I found the Mad Hatter, but he wasn’t drinking tea, he was offering me a bowl of gumbo and an Abita instead.
The tiff was over a “Fun Fact” I had posted about Black History Month. I share “Daily Doses” of witticisms or “Fun Facts” about the world we live in. Anything to cut the greasy derision abounding today. Since we celebrate Black History Month in February, I decided to avail myself of the subject although I am sure there will be fun facts about Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras thrown in for good measure.
A comment made about my “Fun Fact” ruffled my feathers. I felt the response was inappropriate and told the responder so. He didn’t take it well…or maybe I didn’t take it well. I opted to say my peace and disengage. Instead, I punched up a playlist that included Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play for Gumbo.” One of the choruses goes….
“A piece of French bread
With which to wipe my bowl,
Good for the body.
Good for the soul.
It’s a little like religion
And a lot like sex.
You should never know
When you’re gonna get it next.
At midnight in the quarter or noon in Thibodeaux
I will play for gumbo
Yes, I will play for gumbo.”
It’s a fun song and it had me seat dancing in my recliner, forgetting about my triggered self. I might have had a Pavlovian response to boot. The ditty made me think about diversity…also a good subject for Black History Month. I know of no other bowls of goodness that are more diverse in ingredients, origin…and full of tasty joy. If I had to come up with the last meal it would probably include gumbo with a side of shrimp and grits.
The word gumbo derives from West Africa, ki ngombo or quingombo, from the Niger-Congo language spoken by many of the West African slaves who survived the Middle Passage and were forced to settle and perform back-breaking labor. The words mean okra, a plant the slaves brought with them.
Gumbo can be served without okra but why would one want it without okra? It was also Africans who introduced serving okra with rice, and rice is generally served with gumbo.
Sometime later, it was the Louisiana French, some who came by way of Canada, who probably shortened the African words to gumbo.
The Choctaw, who gave the dish filé, ground sassafras leaves, called the tasty dish, kombo.
The dish is most closely associated with Nawlins, Loo-see-Anna but can be found in bowls across the United States.
Like gumbo, New Orleans is about as diverse as one place can be. The Spanish conquistadores wrestled the area from the Natives in the middle 1760s while fighting off the French before secretly giving it to Napoleon’s France in 1800. The area was heavily explored and settled by both the French and Spanish lending to the diversity. Napoleon, feeling a money pinch from his many wars, sold New Orleans and a bunch more to the United States in 1803. All the while, African slaves and Native Americans added to the diversity whether they wanted to or not.
Gumbo varies according to the Cajun style or Creole style…or your style. All make use of a dark roux (French, although darker than most French styles), some use okra (African) to thicken, others use filé powder, (Choctaw). Still, others use both. Seafood or chicken, both or none, can be combined with Andouille sausage (French but with a heavy German influence). Gumbo’s first cousins, Jambalaya and red beans and rice, are probably Spanish introductions and akin to the Spanish rice dish, paella, so I must believe there are Spanish influences in gumbo too.
What I like about gumbo, besides its taste, is its diversity. It is made with diverse ingredients that vary, of course, depending on who’s making it. It can be made with table scraps, shrimp, sausage, chicken or alligator, I guess.
Gumbo in a wide mouth bowl crosses lines of class, rich or poor. It crosses race and ethnicity and probably religion too. Louisiana cooks call the combination of celery, bell pepper and onion the “Holy Trinity” after all. As tasty as it is, I’m sure there might be a bit of West African Voodoo involved. Gumbo is truly a melding of ingredients, tastes, and people.
Gumbo is both labor and love intensive. You just can’t put it all together and then walk away. There is much stirring before you can cut the temperature down to low and let those flavors get to know each other. People should cut the temperature down and get to know each other too.
Sometimes I wonder if it is the sweat off the chief’s brow that adds to the spice as much as that “Loo-see-Anna” hot sauce…Its gotta be love that makes it so tasty.
“Maybe it’s the sausage or those pretty pink shrimp
Or that popcorn rice that makes me blow up like a blimp.
Maybe it’s that voodoo from Marie Leveaux,
But I will play for gumbo
Yeah, I will play for gumbo
The sauce boss does his cookin’ on the stage,
Stirrin’ and a singing for his nightly wage.
Sweating and frettin’ from his head to his toe,
Playin’ and swayin’ with the gumbo
Prayin’ and buffetin’ with the gumbo.”
Lyrics courtesy of AZlyrics.com, Jimmy Buffett, I Will Play For Gumbo, written and performed by Jimmy Buffett. From the 1999 album Beach House on the Moon. Video courtesy of YouTube
Featured Image of New Orleans Creole Gumbo from Big Oven https://www.bigoven.com/recipe/new-orleans-creole-gumbo/170608
My favorite Gumbo Recipe from Emeril Lagasse, Gumbo Ya-Ya https://parade.com/27003/emerillagasse/gumbo-ya-ya/
Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM