“How much pepper! What highly seasoned food! But especially how much pepper! Real fire, this food of Louisiana.” —Pierre Clement de Laussat, French Colonial Prefect, 1803
Gumbo is one of the best examples of creolization or cultural blending in Louisiana. It embodies the true essence and flavor of Louisiana’s unique Creole heritage. The imprint of many cultures made possible this favorite and renowned Louisiana dish.
The word gumbo, a roux-based soup, derived its name from the Bantu word, nkombo (okra). Some cooks enjoy using it as a thickening agent, along with filé made from sassafras leaves. The German Coast families enjoyed an abundance of wildlife and seafood in addition to the standard chicken so often used. To the roux-based “soup” some added rabbit, squirrel, alligator, duck, and other indigenous animal meats, as well as shrimp, crabmeat, oysters, and fish. As if this weren’t enough, they also added smoked meats, sausage, and a locally created pork sausage named andouille, in addition to generous measurements of red pepper.
The culinary evolution also produced dishes such as jambalaya, crawfish bisque, courtbuillon, etouffé, beans and rice, pain perdue, galettes, pralines, and more. The meals were usually followed by lots of coffee. The mild climate offered German Coast residents a great advantage in producing crops and helped to provide a broader range of vegetables and fruit than most Americans were able to enjoy. Other supplies were brought in from other states and finer products were imported from Europe. Cistern water was used for cooking. Yes, Prefect Laussat was correct. This assimilation of the many ethnic groups resulted in a fascinating cultural landscape and the cuisine was one of the most interesting outcomes.
The first cold spell of autumn to hit the river
parishes was quickly followed by the culinary
ritual of a boucherie. The slaughtering of a pig
and serving it, as a local delicacy, was a favorite
event for many. Entire families and their friends
would gather for the three-day ritual, which
included the process of slaughtering and slow-
roasting the animal; cleaning the intestines for
sausage casing and making the “gratons” or
crackling (rendering the fat); making sausage,
preparing the organs, and other meats; and
making hogshead cheese. The food prepared was
usually shared by many and in early days used up
gradually to provide as many meals as possible.
(Sketch courtesy of Lorraine Gendron)