Tomatoes & Gumbo

This week I offer for your edification two culinary tidbits.

Throughout this whole research/writing project beginning back in 2010, one guiding principle in presenting this culinary history of eighteenth century Louisiana has been to establish through research only those foodstuffs and ingredients that were available and being used in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast during the 1700’s. As it turns out, pretty much ALL the same stuff we use to cook with today – when we cook authentic Creole dishes – could have been found in the region. All the meats, all of the grains (especially rice and maize), all of the herbs and spices, all of the garden vegetables EXCEPT for the tomato. Yes, the good old tomato. But, you ask, isn’t the tomato native to the Americas? Didn’t the Spanish explorers bring the tomato back home to Europe? Wasn’t the tomato being planted and used in Spain, Italy, and Africa along with the ever-present peppers by the 1700’s? The answer is yes, but. In the realms of his Most Catholic Majesty north of the Alps as well as among those heathen heretic Protestant princes in Germany and England, the “love apple” had a bad reputation. After all what good could possibly come from consuming this aphrodisiac that was probably poisonous as well? Anyway, the long and the short of it is that at least before 1740, there is no evidence that the tomato was grown or consumed. After 1740, Spanish culinary influence had begun to creep along the trade route, in the 1750’s and ‘60’s, the Cajuns began to arrive and adopt the tomato into their gardens, and by the end of the century, the tomato was alive and flourishing in this truly Creole environment.*

* This info can be substantiated by:

Smith, Andrew F. The Tomato in America. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994. (Paperback Ed., 2001)

Now, moving on beyond the tomato question, this past weekend we had a houseguest from the Northwest. Showing off like any true gregarious Creole, I decided to ply this unfortunate with nothing but traditional New Orleans fare. We had lots of French bread, red beans & rice, homemade Nectar snowballs, pots of Community coffee (both chicory and New Orleans blend), and bowls of gumbo unlike any I had ever made before. Shrimp, crabmeat, andouille, and alligator. This was some of the best gumbo that I have ever made. and I do not “say so myself”. My life partner and most severe critic actually stated, “This is what seafood gumbo is supposed to taste like!” I was totally blown away. So I decided to share this recipe with my dear readers. And YES, I used NO tomatoes 😉 Enjoy:

Seafood Gumbo

First you make a roux (duh!!). Begin by chopping or pureeing the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and the pope (cloves of garlic) in quantities to suit the amount of gumbo you plan to make. For a “normal” pot of homemade gumbo for the family of 3 to 5, we recommend one medium onion, a large bell pepper, 3 or 4 four stalks of celery, and 5 to 10 cloves of garlic, set aside the chopped vegetables in a bowl. Fry off the water from one 15 oz. can of cut okra or use fresh okra to taste. Now in the gumbo pot heat up ¾ cup of oil (canola, vegetable, etc.) and slowly add ¾ cup of flour – mixing or whisking constantly. After all the flour has been added, continue to stir the roux until the desired color is reached. Gumbo usually is dark brown, the color of hot cocoa, and the color will be picked up from the roux.

After the desired color is reached, immediately remove from heat and stir in the chopped vegetables and okra. This will stop the cooking process of the roux – which is what you want to happen.

FOR THE ROUX:

the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and the pope (cloves of garlic)

one medium onion

a large bell pepper

3 or 4 four stalks of celery

5 to 10 cloves of garlic

15 oz. can cut okra

salt & pepper

FOR THE GUMBO:

2 or 3 bay leaves

1 lb. Andouille, sliced into discs

1 lb. pkg. of gumbo crabs

12 oz. to 1 lb. Crab meat

{ 1 pt. oysters w/ water}

1 lb. Alligator meat

1 lb. 31-40 shrimp

1 tbsp. Crab Boil seasoning

Water

1 cup of rice, steamed or boiled, makes about 3 cups cooked rice.

Put the roux and vegetables back onto the fire, and begin slicing the andouille. When the roux sizzles, add a 2 qt.pot of water and the bay leaves ( you don’t have to be exact here, you will be adding water several times). After the sausage has been sliced , add to the gumbo mix as it heats up. Bring to a boil and cook the mixture for 15 minutes. Next add the gumbo crabs and the crab meat, add some more water and boil again for 15 or 20 minutes. Cube the alligator meat and fry it off for about 15 minutes. Add the the alligator and oysters to the gumbo. Add the Crab Boil seasoning, and boil the gumbo for another 15 to 20 minutes. Correct the seasoning now by adding more water to the boil. Finally bring the gumbo to a boil again and add the shrimp. Seafood in general, and especially shrimp, cook fast, when the gumbo boils again, cook the shrimp for about 5 minutes. Remove the gumbo off the fire and let it all settle down. Serve over a large-spoon of rice with hot French Bread.

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Filed under NEW ORLEANS TRI-CENTENNIAL 1718 TO 2018

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