East Texas Gumbo:  Memorable Recipes from a Mellow Voice

Horace McQueen

Agricultural journalist and cookbook author, Horace McQueen was honored by Texas A & M as an outstanding alumni. This You Tube video from A & M tells his story, while the cookbook  he co-wrote with his sister brings back memories.

I’ve only known two people named Horace, and one I didn’t really know, but his mellow, deep Texas twang filled my home every morning while I corralled three boys for school and he read the Farm and Ranch News for KTVT television in Tyler, Texas.  The day Bookbub offered a cookbook written by Horace McQueen, I knew it had to be my favorite agricultural journalist.

Southern Heirloom Cooking 9781680991314

Reprinted from Southern Heirloom Cooking by Norma Jean McQueen and Horace McQueen by permission of Good Books, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

And sure enough, Southern Heirloom Cooking: 200 Treasured Feel-Good Recipes is co-authored by McQueen with his older sister Norma Jean McQueen Haydel. The book offers me a walk down memory lane with the taste of East Texas. Most folks don’t think of East Texas as having a flavor profile, but it does.  A long cry from stereotypical Texas, East Texas is piney woods, roses, rolling hills, tomato fields, pecan orchards, and black-eyed pea and sweet onion festivals. It’s country cooking, fresh vegetables, homemade jelly, BBQ, fried catfish and Albert’s Hot Sauce.  East Texas is so close to Louisiana that Cajun and Creole flavors waft over the state line and into Texas kitchens.

The recipes the two have assembled remind me of 17 years calling East Texas home. For dozens of dishes, I recall familiar faces, pot luck dinners, backyard barbecues, tomato gardens, berry picking, church bake-offs and favorite restaurants. Texas Caviar,  Black-Eyed Pea Salad, Cheese Garlic Grits, Fried Green Tomatoes, Chicken Fried Steak, Double-Dipped Fried Chicken, Boudain, Tamales, Chicken Spaghetti, King Ranch Chicken, Zucchini Bread, Texas Buttermilk Pie, Dewberry (like blackberries) Cobbler, Lemon Squares, Fig Preserves, Hot Pepper Jelly, Watermelon Rind Pickles and Venison Sausage all transport a friendship memory.

Though titled “Southern,” this is truly an East Texas recipe collection with the expected dash of Louisiana. Along with plenty of seafood recipes, they’ve included instructions on how to make a roux plus two different gumbos, all with unique East Texas ingredients. It’s the first roux I’ve ever made that specifically uses self-rising flour.  Their mother’s chicken gumbo offers a chance to add oysters, and the seafood gumbo calls for hard-cooked eggs, liquid crab boil and a jalapeño.  Now that’s real East Texas cooking.

McQueenSeafood gumbo Recipe

McQueen Chicken gumbo Recipe

Horace McQueen died in 2009, but anyone who ever listened to KTVT in the morning will well remember his wake-up call,   “A pleasant good morning to you, hope everything’s off to a fine start in your house this morning.” Thanks for the memories and the recipes, Horace.

McQueen Chicken Gumbo

The chicken gumbo is delicious, but I chose not to add the canned oysters.

 

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The Frying Pan Revolt – A New Orleans Culinary Legend

NOLANew Orleans is turning 300 this year and the travel industry is celebrating.  American Airlines featured the Crescent City’s birthday in its March issue of American Way, the slick magazine tucked in the back of the passenger seat.  Along with the crossword and ads for doggie gates and neck cushions, is a classy, nine-page illustrated timeline highlighting the city’s history. But the travel writers missed the mark on gumbo.

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American Airlines’ in-flight magazine features nine pages of New Orleans history.

When I read the entire 52-word entry, I knew something was awry. The writers sang the praises of a cook who probably never visited New Orleans. And then it  took me three-days to get the airline humor in the headline “Gumbo Jets.” Pilots and flight stewards were probably rolling in the aisles while I was scratching my head. Finally I figured it out — “Gumbo Jets” is a play on “Jumbo Jets.” Ha!

And after the headline, came mention of Chef Abby Fisher, whose name didn’t ring a bell.  I lived in New Orleans, I study their history, I know their legendary cooks and cookbooks.  Fortunately Wikipedia (move over Thomas Dewey) straightened me out. Abby Fisher was a South Carolina slave who, when freed, moved to Mobile, Alabama, and later to San Francisco where she wrote a cookbook.  The point is, why use an 1880’s San Francisco cookbook author, even if she is the first African American to write a cookbook, when New Orleans had its own Frying Pan Revolt (aka Petticoat Insurrection) and cooking school 150 years before that? Now that’s a cooking revolution! Put that on a timeline!

Bienville, who with his brother d’Iberville, founded  Pascagoula, Ocean Springs, and Biloxi, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, is best known as the Father of New Orleans. His New Orleans home was site of the Frying Pan Revolt, which led to the popularity of gumbo – so legend has it.

The story goes like this — in 1722 about fifty housewives, brandishing cooking spoons and beating frying pans, stormed the New Orleans home of the French Governor Jean-Baptise LeMoyne de Bienville protesting the lack of familiar ingredients. They were tired of cooking cornmeal mush. Bienville put the angry women under the tutelage of his housekeeper, Madame Langlois, who knew the cooking secrets of the Choctaw squaws. She taught them how to make gumbo out of local ingredients. and even opened a cooking school. She’s known as the mother of Creole cuisine. Thanks to her, gumbo “jetted” into popularity.

By 1803, Pierre Clement de Laussat, the last French governor before the Louisiana Purchase, hosted a soiree in which 24 different gumbos were prepared. Though the Frying Pan Revolt was an event much talked about, it was never documented, but Laussant’s soiree was. Now that’s a lasting revolution worthy of American Airlines’ notice. 

Sometimes legend is just better than fact – and New Orleans is filled with legends – 300 years’ worth. Book your flight today!


Mrs. Fishers cover

The PDF of Abby Fisher’s cookbook What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. — with three gumbo recipes — is free online at the University of California archives or you can buy it on Amazon.

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Now You’re Cooking: A Dozen Range-free Meals

House Fire

Last week’s house fire in my neighborhood reaffirmed my belief in calling emergency when I smell a gas leak. Though I don’t know the cause of that fire, it’s the second home in two years to burn within two miles of me.

I love the phrase “Now You’re Cooking,” a version of the advertising slogan “Now You’re Cooking with Gas.” It’s been ricocheting in my brain since midnight Saturday, February 17 when firefighters arrived at our house. Four of them, decked out in full protective, heat-resistant firefighting regalia, stomped through the house, one brandishing a gas sensing, beeping wand. The chief raised his visor to announce the gas company was on the way. The gas guy made the decision – contrary to the 1940s slogan — I am NOT cooking with gas.

My range won two of the dreaded red tags from the gas department. When the first one failed inspection, the inspector flipped it over and issued another.

My gas range earned two dreaded red tags from the gas department. When the first repair failed inspection, the inspector flipped the tag over and issued another.

It’s been three weeks since my Whirlpool oven-cooktop leaked the telling odor of gas and was cited with a “red tag” for a faulty regulator. The first repairman’s attempt resulted in a lack of confidence on my part. The second repairman’s attempt — tightening a bolt — resulted in a second red tag citation from the gas department.  No cooking with gas until the magic sniffing-wand doesn’t beep. As I awaited the new part, due to arrive via Repairman #2, I realized what a learning experience this has been.

I prefer cooking with gas even though I have a 36-inch wide cabinet laden with small electrical appliances. I rarely take one out. I detest counter clutter, and one coffeemaker is about all my patience can endure. But when the stove went out, the gadgets came out of hiding. Each time I thought I couldn’t cook dinner, Son #3 reminded me of yet another plug-in device enabling me to stay in the kitchen. The men around here don’t take to grilling outside when in it’s the thirties.

Out of the woes of desperation, I surprised myself daily when I came up with another way to cook without an oven.

 

12 Range-free Meals

  1. Lamb Chops on the turbo-broiler (counter-top Galloping Gourmet Convention Oven) served with couscous prepared using the Electric Kettle
  2. Pot roast with potatoes and carrots browned in the Electric Skillet and cooked in the Crock Pot
  3. Fifteen-Bean Cajun Soup with Andouille Sausage ala’ Crock Pot
  4. Beef and Vegetable Kabobs on the grill (the temperature did get into the 70s)
  5. Shrimp Etouffee from the Electric Skillet, served with garlic bread in the Toaster Oven
  6. Red Beans (from canned beans) heated on the burner on the grill served with rice from the Rice Cooker
  7. Chicken Tortilla Soup from the Crock Pot
  8. Stir-fried Pork and Vegetables (Electric Skillet) with yellow saffron rice (Rice Cooker)
  9. Crock Pot carnitas served with tortillas (warmed on the Pancake Griddle)
  10. Spaghetti (boiled on the gas burner on the grill) and sauce (heated in Microwave)
  11. Crock Pot Chicken Curry with coconut, peanut & raisin toppings with Basmati Rice (Rice Cooker)
  12. Big-Three-Small Appliance Meal: Chinese Pepper Steak (Electric Skillet), China Doll Rice (Rice Cooker) and Vegetarian Egg Rolls (Toaster Over)

I take these red tags and the smell of gas pretty seriously, especially since three nights ago a home in our neighborhood burned down (well, the flaming roof collapsed on the pilings and melted the entire structure). I don’t know the cause of that fire, but I’m not taking any chances. Having lived in East Texas, I know the horror story of the 1937 New London School gas explosion. The tragic deaths of 295 children resulted in legislation requiring the addition of isopropyl mercaptan to natural gas. That’s why leaking gas stinks.

When Repairman #2 arrived with the parts, he amended his diagnosis. After his wise counsel, I declared my old oven “dead” and bought a new gas range, due to arrive today for a total of 26 range-free days in the kitchen. Tonight we’re having pizza – hopefully browned to perfection in my new gas oven.

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No frybread for my Thanksgiving

Fall dinnerWhen I heard The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, describing his new book about “indigenous people food” on BBC World radio, I was fascinated.  Somehow I missed the Native American indigenous food movement crisscrossing the U.S.  Even Native American restaurants are popping up. But the Native Café on Pensacola Beach is not a Native American restaurant, no matter what Google says.

The radio interview resonated with me since my latest food interest deals with genetics and food preferences. Native Americans contributed the sassafras to make filé for gumbo, so maybe the smidgen of Choctaw in my DNA predetermines my preference for gumbo.  Plus, I love Indian frybread and just about anything made with corn.

Sherman, an Ocala Lakota Sioux who grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, now lives in Minnesota where his business The Sioux Chef  is preparing indigenous foods freshly foraged from the region.  The foods he cooks are pre-colonization, before the European influence – no beef, pork, chicken, wheat flour, refined sugar or dairy products. Instead, it’s bison (buffalo), venison (deer), elk, fish, berries, herbs, ginger, flowers, pine, heirloom seeds, squash, wild grain, corn and foods native to a particular region.

Sioux ChefBut no frybread.  Sherman says it’s not genuine Native American food. Frybread evolved when Native Americans moved to reservations and the government dispensed rations of lard and wheat flour.  It was starve or figure out what to make with those ingredients. Such ration foods may have increased the rates of obesity and diabetes among Native Americans.  Sherman’s philosophy, along with others in the movement, uses regional native foods to produce a healthier, lower glycemic diet.

Sherman hopes to one day see indigenous food education and training centers, food trucks and restaurants designed for specific areas and cultures. He’s already up and running in Minnesota. I think if he wants an indigenous food revolution, however, he ought to include Pow Wows and Indian Casinos. That’s where most of us get our impressions of Native American food.

Take the 47th Annual Poarch Creek Indian Pow Wow in Atmore, Alabama during Thanksgiving. According to Festival.net, 20,000 people are expected to be there, and they’ll be chowing down as they watch the colorful parades and dancers. Plus visitors will be forming opinions about Alabama’s only federally recognized tribe. The Poarch Creek are truly indigenous. Despite the Indian Removal Act of 1830, they remained on their tribal lands and have lived together for almost 200 years in and around the Alabama reservation. But when it comes to the Pow Wow, vendors will be IMG_5420serving foods like BBQ sandwiches, hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken tenders, roasted corn, turkey dinners, ribeye steak sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, pork skins, Indian Tacos and Kona Ice. Indian Tacos are about as native to Alabama as Kona Ice is to Hawaii.  

Casino restaurants could be another moving force for an indigenous food revolution. The National Indian Gaming Commission reported a Gross Gaming Revenue totaling $31.2 billion in 2016. According to 500nations.com, 474 Indian gaming centers operate in the U.S. Thanks to the Florida Seminoles who established the first Native American casino in 1979, casinos now operate in 28 of the 50 states.

But when I close my eyes and remember food choices at a casino in Oklahoma, I remember an all-you-can-eat buffet – followed by a bad stomach ache.

Despite my experience, casinos have a reputation for fabulous holiday buffets. And while they’ve got the nomenclature down, like Talking Stick Resort or Wandering Horse Buffet, the horse wandered pretty far off the Arizona reservation to cook cheesy enchiladas and fresh sushi. Casino diners could have a much more authentic experience savoring recipes like The Sioux Chef’s  Maple Glazed Roasted Acorn Squash with Pepitas served with a glass of Cedar-Maple iced tea.

At least the menu at the posh Poarch Creek Wind Creek Casino in Alabama hints at indigenous food. They offer fried oyster salad, seafood gumbo (with filé) and sweet corn chowder. I just refuse to count the Buffalo Wings.


Eater.com posted this Facebook video of Sean Sherman cooking with native ingredients.

 

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Gumbo Science & 23 and Me : Do we eat what we are?

IMG_0523“So, how much Italian do you have?” the man at the Sons of Italy membership table asked.  My husband and I were browsing the booths at the Festa Italiana in Pensacola, trying to walk off lasagna and sausage and peppers. Since my husband is still awaiting his 23 and Me genetic report, he was off the hook.  He honestly doesn’t know his ancestry. Me, I have zero, absolutely none, not one single drop of Italian blood. But I didn’t want to dampen the recruiter’s moment, so I changed the subject.

Italian meatballsHours later, suffering from extreme indigestion, I vaguely remembered some article I’d read — something about foods rebelling because they are out of our ancestry realm. That’s why, the writer suggested, some people are lactose intolerant. They lack the gene to tolerate lactose. I’ve never handled Italian foods well, especially those heavy with tomato sauce or “Italian gravy” as the Sons of Italy spokesman described it over the loudspeaker. (I don’t count spumoni and tiramisu because the creamy calories ease them smoothly to the stomach).

What if we “eat what we are” rather than “are what we eat”? In other words, what if the downloaddiet that settles best with our digestive tract is determined by our genes?  Not simply, I love gumbo because my family has always cooked it, but gumbo settles well with me because my genetic makeup includes Native American and French.  Seems reasonable since my 23 and Me reports already tell me that I am likely lactose tolerant, am likely to taste certain bitter compounds, like cilantro, prefer sweet snacks, and can detect the odor of asparagus in my pee. Now that’s pretty personal.

In 2012, Italian medical geneticists concluded a three-year scientific study named Marco Polo.  For it, researchers traveled the ancient Silk Road and collected more than 1000 volunteer DNA saliva samples. The volunteers also participated in studies of sound, taste and smell, and selected food type preferences from photographs. The results aren’t yet published, but data indicates tastes for certain types of food  “are shaped by each and every one of our senses.”  For example, I like salty food but don’t like salty, slimy oysters. I prefer the crunchy food like fried fish or fried shrimp. (As for fried oysters, I eat the crunch and throw away the oyster.) Marco Polo may prove our genes determine what we like to eat.

But Marco Polo doesn’t address digestion issues.  According to the online text Genetics and the Universe Within, “Along with other factors, such as the health of our gastrointestinal tract, our genetic makeup can affect which foods we digest well, and which ones we don’t.” That’s called food tolerance and food intolerance. But as of 2015, the Irish Medical Journal reports there is no widely acknowledged scientific evidence to suggest that food intolerances can be detected in DNA from a person’s saliva. And most currently in 2016, apart from lactose intolerance and celiac disease, Medical News Today reports “there is no accurate, reliable, and validated test to identify food intolerance.”

But I do think there’s a future when medical geneticists will confirm that I enjoyed and tolerated the German food at the Oktoberfest last week because, mixed in with my French DNA, is some German. Together they make up 10.3 percent of me. That’s why I’m considering trying this recipe for French German Gumbo. Bring on the bratwurst and wiener schnitzel.

gumbosign

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Why the Greeks didn’t invent gumbo

Greek spinach pieRather than dining at the 28th World Championship  Gumbo  Cookoff in New Iberia, Louisiana, last weekend,  I found myself at the 58th Annual Greek Festival in Pensacola, Florida. Pondering the two events, I wondered  “Why Didn’t the Greeks Invent Gumbo.” There’s a running shtick in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding as actor Michael Constantine continually points out words and inventions from the Greeks.  According to historians, Ancient Greeks brought us sliding doors, urban planning, plumbing, central heat, robots, cranes, showers, lighthouses, alarm clocks, weather stations, vending machines to mention a few. Of course we all enjoy theatre, the Olympics and our democracy, thanks to the Greeks. But when it comes to food there’s nothing Greek comparable to gumbo. To solve this puzzle I’ll apply logic (thanks to the Greeks) and deductive reasoning (more thanks to the Greeks).

Did they have what it took? When I taught World History to sixth graders, I learned Olives and olive oilAncient Greeks dined on olives, olive oil, feta, wheat, grapes, grape leaves, figs, honey, eggplant, cucumbers,  lamb and seafood.  Combining ingredients, they created dishes like baklava, gyro, dolmathes, moussaka and spanakopita. Italians (dare I say Romans?) lent influences like pasta and tomatoes. Research tells me Ancient Greeks had garlic, onions, crayfish and oysters – ideal ingredients for seafood gumbo.  The word “oyster” even comes from the Greek word ostreon. Ancient Greeks only had “wild celery” which is more of a grass (Clue #1) and lacked bell pepper (Clue #2) and okra (Clue #3). Spices were abundant, though, including oregano, thyme and basil (from the Greek meaning “royal”). But no filé from the sassafras tree (Clue #4).

Did they have the technique? Gumbo starts with a roux, which probably evolves from a French technique. Ancient Greeks cooked with olive oil, and, believe me, olive oil makes a foul tasting roux (Clue #5).  I once substituted ¼ cup when I ran out of Crisco, and the olive oil ruined the roux. Greeks primarily used flour made with barley, rather than wheat which the French preferred. Doesn’t calculate, though because the oldest city in modern France, Marseille, was founded around 600 BC by the Greeks.  So it’s probably safe to say Greek cuisine influenced the French, rather than vice versa. Hence, no wheat flour for roux for the Greeks.

Did they have the need? The Greeks believed having a happy life meant leading a productive one. Let’s face it, they were pretty productive and kept busy inventing spectacular architectural and mechanical devices.  They probably weren’t hungry enough to crack open a crab; they had plenty of squid.

To the Greeks, it wasn’t about what you had, but what you did with it. The Greek restaurant in Gulf Breeze, where I live, serves Gumbolaya (a hybrid jambalaya-gumbo-stew made with shrimp, crayfish and fish). When creating the dish, Chef Stavros took what he had and did something with it. In Memphis, Tennessee, Rocky Kasaftes, the owner of Alex’s  Pub, serves Greek gumbo.  After describing it as filled with black olives, spanakopita and feta cheese and topped with baklava, he laughs at his own joke and explains  “It’s Greek gumbo. It’s Greek because I’m Greek and I cook it.

MCDMYBI EC001

Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine as the proud parents at their daughter’s wedding in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I credit gumbo’s invention to a blend of cultures:  Acadian-French-Creole-Spanish-African American and Native American.  Nary a Greek in sight.  But as Michael Constantine explains in his wedding speech in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “. . . I-I was thinking last night, um, the night before my-my daughter was gonna marry, uh, I-an Miller, that, um, you know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word Milo, which is mean apple, there you go. As many of you know, our name Portokalos is come from the Greek word Portokali, which means orange. So, okay, here tonight we have, uh, apple and orange… we all different, but, in the end, we all fruit.”

And in the end, we all eat gumbo.

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Treat yourself to a good book: It’s National Gumbo Day

peace love gumbo

Celebrate! It’s October 12 and that means it’s National Gumbo Day. I’ve been celebrating this day for years and even launched my book The Gumbo Diaries on National Gumbo Day 2015. But, this year I’m celebrating by buying someone else’s book, and, of course, cooking gumbo.  I’ve narrowed my book choices to three – each celebrating gumbo in a unique way.

Fresh off the LSU Press is The Fonville Winans Cookbook: Recipes and Photographs from a Book CoverLouisiana Artist. You might remember his black and white Cajun images from my last post.  Along with fame as a photographer, Winans also acquired an excellent reputation as a cook. Baton Rouge’s WBRZ-TV aired regular cooking segments with him on “Today in Louisiana.” Published just ten days ago, the 284-page book  is compiled by his daughter-in-law Melinda Risch Winans.  After his death in 1992, she discovered two journals filled with recipes he had invented or collected in the 1950s and 1960s. I haven’t seen a copy of the book yet, but considering Winans was Louisiana’s official photographer and spent years documenting life in Cajun country, I expect captivating images and surprising recipes. Booksellers promise me never-before-seen Winans’ photos, a biography compiled from family memories, and hundreds of recipes, some with personal success notes.  The foreword is by Chef John Folse, who showcased a parody photo of Winans’ famous photo “The Oysterman” as the cover of his 842-page tome. Folse’s book is second on my list.

FolseFellow writer Charlie Davis loaned me his autographed copy of Chef Folse’s The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine (2004). It is truly a comprehensive encyclopedia of culture and cooking. The compilation covers Louisiana history describing its blend of Native American, African American and Acadian influences; lore and legend (a stone that cures snake venom); festivals; plantations; culinary terms; historic and food photos; maps; a two-page spread on the history of gumbo; a roux color chart; and, of course, wonderful recipes. I could read this book for hours, but dare not leave it in the kitchen (for fear of spills) or on my coffee table (for fear of collapse). The book weighs a hefty 9.6 pounds and my coffee table has a glass top. Folse’s recipes sing to my soul – buttermilk pie, Creole tomato grits, spinach madeleine, marinated crab claws, corn and crab bisque, stuffed eggplant with shrimp. The first recipe I’m going to try, however, is a gumbo I’ve never made — Red Beans and Rice Gumbo. I usually freeze my leftover red beans, but thanks to Chef John Folse, they have a new destiny.

Lucy Buffett, Jimmy’s sister and owner of popular LuLu’s restaurants in Gulf Shores, Gumbo LoveAlabama, and Destin, Florida, released her third cookbook in May. She’s titled it with her catch phrase “Gumbo Love.”  According to reviewers, the 336-page book incorporates Caribbean, Cajun, Cuban, Mexican, Old Florida, and Creole influences in more than 100 recipes intertwined with stories of her life. Best of all, it begins with dessert. She explains the title Gumbo Love in this You Tube video, while wearing a great Peace, Love, Gumbo shirt.  She’ll be at Jewelers Trade Shop in Pensacola on Friday, Oct.13, 6 p.m., for a “Meet and Eat” where she’ll sign copies of Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life. And, yes, she’s sampling the recipes in the book.         

Selecting my National Gumbo Day gift is tough because each book contains more than recipes. Each offers love for everyday of the year. I was surprised to learn The BuzzFeed Quiz “Which Weird National Day Falls On Your Birthday?” designates October 12 as National Farmers Day. I could understand Columbus Day, the date’s original holiday or even Indigenous Peoples Day, which occasionally falls on October 12. No matter. Every day is in harmony in a gumbo love world — farmers grow the Trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper) for gumbo and Native Americans shared sassafras leaves for filé with Columbus. You see, everybody puts down the roux spoon and holds hands in a gumbo love world.  Peace, Love, Gumbo.

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