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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Off to college: educating and elevating, Cajun-style

P CoverMy neighbor’s son is off to college at Louisiana Tech, four hundred miles away from our Florida neighborhood.  And in the past three weeks on campus, his mother reports, he’s embraced the Louisiana culture, foodwise that is. He bought a container of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning because every person he met had one. And he’s learning all about gumbo and etouffeé and jambalaya. It’s just a good thing he’s a cross-country runner because in Louisiana the “freshman fifteen” can easily swell to the “freshman twenty-five.”

Just about the time he headed for college, I bought a copy of “Authentic Cajun Cooking” at an estate sale.  Still unopened in its original clear cellophane mailing package, I snatched it up when I saw the photo of the author – Chef Paul Prudhomme. Neither the Pitney-Bowes postage label or the publication has a date, I suppose because it’s bulk rate advertising. The booklet was published and distributed by McIlhenny Company (Tabasco) as a marketing gift. The guide’s text and graphic design date it somewhere between 1981 to 1983. It’s a personal history of Cajun culture and food told in the words of the late

Prudhomme funeral Advocate staff photo by Eliot Kamenitz

St. Louis Cathedral at the funeral of Paul Prudhomme. PHOTO CREDIT: Advocate staff photo by Eliot Kamenitz

“Chef Paul,” who put Louisiana cooking in every kitchen in America. Next week marks two years since  white-jacketed chefs carried his casket into St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square. After the mass, hundreds of mourners formed a “second line” and followed a brass band to K-Paul’s Kitchen, his famous restaurant.

The 14-page brochure features two gumbo recipes, along with Cajun favorites courtboullion, jambalaya, dirty rice, meat pie, sac-a-lait and corn maque choux. And then there’s candied sweet potatoes, potato salad and sweet potato-pecan pie — and more — to total seventeen recipes. Each chapter begins with a Prudhomme story about growing up in a Cajun farming family. Accompanying the stories are 1930s photographs by

F Winans

Photographer Fonville Winans filming on south shore of Lake Palourde in St. Mary Parish in the 1930s. PHOTO CREDIT: Louisiana Historical Photographs of the State Library

Fonville Winans, noted Louisiana photographer who preserved the culture of Louisiana in black and white images, along with other photos from the Historic New Orleans Collection and The Louisiana State Museum.

In the introduction, Chef Paul writes that his family descended directly from the “Acadians who emigrated from southern France to Nova Scotia in the early 1600s, then migrated to South Louisiana in the mid-1700s.” These authentic Cajun recipes are ahead of their times in the culinary world. Take, for example the latest cooking trend — television chefs “elevating” almost every dish by topping it with a fried egg. The Cajuns were elevating with boiled eggs a hundred years ago . 


For the above recipe, Prudhomme explains since his family consisted of Cajun “farmers,” fresh shrimp were not generally available so they used dried ones. The lack of refrigeration might have had something to do with that, too.  But it just goes to prove, you can enjoy Louisiana flavors wherever you live. And for an extra dash of Louisiana, sprinkle on a little Tony Chachere’s or, better yet, add a dash of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Gumbo Filé.

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Cooking Up a Storm: Art Exhibit Meets Food Truck, Rallying Rawlings Style after Hurricane Irma


The Historic Thomas Center in Gainesville opens its “Cross Creek Rising” exhibit Friday, Sept.29 in conjunction with Artwalk. Three food trucks will rally with menus inspired by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek Cookery.

“Cross Creek is Rising” and the Margaret Kinnan Rawlings Historic Site has reopened. Though I’d love to see the art show, “Cross Creek Rising: The Consciousness of Land & Water,” I’m more excited about what the chefs are cooking for the Food Truck Rally portion of the event. They’re making Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings-inspired dishes. After studying Cross Creek Cookery, I know what I’d be cooking. I’ve watched plenty of food truck shows on television and know that anything deep fried sells. And, of course, I’ve eaten at a few food trucks, too.

Hurricane Irma didn’t dampen the spirits of the Cross Creek Rising artists when the storm barreled through Central Florida.  John Moran delivered his art to the Historic Thomas Center, first by boat through the flooded streets of Gainesville, then by bicycle. The juried exhibit features photography, drawings, paintings and sculpture created to celebrate the role of North Central Florida as a muse. In other words, the artists are being inspired by their environment just as Rawlings was with her writing. And in Moran’s case, getting the work to the show meant immersing himself in this environment.

To complement the art exhibit, the food trucks from Mayflower Cellars, Vanarchy Sandwiches and Fables Catering will be dishing out creations, part of Gainesville’s Artwalk, Friday, Sept. 29. This is one of the many cultural events scheduled commemorating the 75th anniversary of both Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery.

If I were bringing a food truck to the rally, I’d be cooking croquettes. I mean, Marjorie was passionate about croquettes. She includes nine – yes, nine — croquette recipes in Cross Creek Cookery.  She believes “there is little excuse for wearing out the patience of a family by serving left-over meat plain cold sliced, day after day, when croquettes are so simple to make, and so tasty.” Using Marjorie’s recipes, my food truck (appropriately named Marjorie’s Cross Creek Croquettes) will fry up and serve all nine types from her cookbook. And some are truly surprising. She describes a parsnip croquette as the ugly duckling transformed to a swan.

Marjorie’s Deep Fried Cross Creek Croquettes

∼ 3 for $8 ∼

Vegetable Croquettes: Potato, Sweet Potato, Parsnip

Dessert Croquette: Rice with tart Wild Plum Jelly

Meat Croquettes: Chicken, Lamb, Ham or Turkey (save the beef for hash)

Specialty of the House: Egg Croquette

Egg Croquette

The Mother’s Egg Croquettes that I made are “delicate and of pristine simplicity,”  just as Marjorie promised. I did feel like I was dining at a country club luncheon in 1954 when I bit into one. The subtle flavor, however, is worthy of any fine restaurant anytime.

I’m quite taken, in fact, with her Mother’s Egg Croquettes.  The recipe was once a closely guarded secret. That is, I guess, until her friend’s cook stole it, trying to outdo the Louisville Country Club. Marjorie herself provided the recipe for her husband’s chef at Castle Warden Hotel. Neither place made it quite right, but I’m giving it a try.

When sharing the egg croquette recipe for the first time in print, Marjorie writes “Some of the most delicate dishes in the world are of pristine simplicity, but with a subtle flavor past the most elaborate French concoctions.” And mine turned out as delicious as that sentence sounds.

If you’re in the Gainesville area, Friday night around 7, stop by the Food Truck Rally at the Historic Thomas Center, enjoy a MKR-inspired dish and check out the art selected for “Cross Creek Rising: The Consciousness of Land & Water.”

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Hurricane Irma: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park Closed “Until Further Notice”


Hurricane Irma resulted in the closure of 168 Florida parks. The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings site, located in Cross Creek, is included. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery.

In January when I visited the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Site near Gainesville, Florida, I blogged about the visit and made some wild promises about cooking my way through Cross Creek Cookery to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the cookbook.  The staff at the site had planned a year filled with celebratory cooking and cultural events, to celebrate the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Yearling.  But then came Hurricane Irma, plowing a swath right through that part of Florida.

Now I’m wondering if the hurricane left anything of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – her


Letter E marks the location of the author’s home located on Orange Lake, on an isthmus connecting two lakes. Note the size of the lakes.

lovely 1930’s writing cottage, furniture, priceless first editions, antique car, chicken coops, farm and orange grove.  The park is one of 168 closed in Florida due to Hurricane Irma, and there’s no posting of when it will reopen.  

Like the name of the novel and companion cookbook, her home is located on Cross Creek, which connects two large lakes, Orange and Lochloosa. Cross Creek (the nearest town is Hawthorne) sits on an isthmus between the two lakes. Walk down a path behind Rawlings’ house, and there’s water, lots of water, shallow swamp water, then deep lake water. 

Ironically, an upcoming event was entitled Cross Creek Rising.  Photos published by the Gainesville Sun, show plenty of high water and downed trees in Alachua County – that’s the county in which Rawlings’ farm is located. Of course, her home has survived its share of hurricanes.  When MGM’s 1947 production of The Yearling was being filmed nearby, a hurricane destroyed the set.

So, while the official historic site is on “disaster leave” I can at least keep the celebration going in a small way by sharing a few of my Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings cooking adventures. My Gulf Breeze kitchen is dry – Irma went the other way. 

In March, I tried Rawlings’ Flank Steak recipe (pages 112-113). For the first time ever, I


Flank Steak as prepared using Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ recipe in Cross Creek Cookery.

cooked flank steak that came out tender.  Following her instructions, I scored, added water, boiled, simmered, then repeated the steps. The entire time I kept thinking this is never going to be tender – but, in the last ten minutes – voila! – tender flank steak.  

My latest tribute to Marjorie was recreating Sour Orange Pie, popular at The Yearling Restaurant down the road from the historic site. I had given up making the pie because I couldn’t find sour oranges. That’s when my hairdresser Emilie brought me a plastic grocery bag filled 

Calamondin 1
Calamondin mixed with lemon juice provides the flavor of Sour Oranges, which grow wild in Florida thanks to the Spanish.

with green calamondin from her tree. Florida cooks recommend a recipe substituting calamondina Filipino fruit, for Florida sour oranges. Emilie brought me enough for two pies – the first from the green unripened calamondin and the second when remaining citrus ripened to orange. Both pies were delicious and the juice tastes the same, regardless of the fruit’s color. Best of all, Emilie reminded me of another benefit of the calamondin – marinating flank steak. Upcoming state park events (that may well be cancelled) are a porch party, a concert, art exhibit and Food Truck Rally. So, I’m off to research suitable recipes in Cross Creek Cookery for casual outdoor dining. While I can’t 

Calamondin 2
Sour Orange Pie made with wild sour oranges is a favorite at The Yearling Restaurant. I substituted calamondin for sour oranges, thanks to my hairdresser.

predict the weather or how a recipe turns out, maybe I can predict what the park rangers would have served.

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Making crab gumbo isn’t as easy as it used to be

Crabbing Florida State Archives

Years ago crabs were so plentiful in the Pensacola area that as a kid, author Charlie Davis and his brothers caught blue crabs in Bayou Texar in East Pensacola Heights by the dozens. They then sold the live crabs for 30 cents and 50 cents a dozen. I also heard of a man filling a galvanized wash tub with crabs when a Crab Jubilee occurred on Pensacola Beach. Whether the decline is caused by the oil spill, a virus or over-crabbing, blue crabs are no longer plentiful in the Florida Panhandle. PHOTO CREDIT: FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES.

I love estate sales. They offer a wealth of writing inspiration. I’ve got an estate sale mystery in the works, but lately I’ve been buying small cookbooks that speak to my soul – and to my blog.

When I shop an estate sale, I make a quick reconnaissance spin through the entire house, and usually end up staring at a bookshelf, most often in the kitchen.  I’m drawn to club, school and church cookbooks  — you remember, the ones with the spiral black plastic bindings that come unwound.  I’ve learned to avoid cardboard boxes filled with clipped recipes. The silverfish make me draw back my hand pretty quick.

My best find recently is The Art of Catching & Cooking Crabs by Lynette L. WaltherLynette Walther Cookbook published in 1983. Yes, a book with a black plastic binding devoted to crabs somehow made its way from a bookstore in Delaware to a kitchen in the Florida Panhandle.  And every single recipe includes crab – sautéed, deviled, stuffed, boiled, steamed, fried. Or in appetizers, salads, sandwiches, bisques, crepes, soups or gumbos.  And, yes, even a crab mold made with Lemon Jell-O.

The first part of the book is a guide to building your own crab traps (she calls them crab pots, but in the South we call ‘em traps). Photographs show how to clean and cook a hard shell crab. She even includes a photo of a “crab knife,” and sure enough, I found one on Amazon. No need to seek out a beachside knifemaker.

My biggest trouble is finding the crabs. Where I live was first known as Town Point, and it was rich in crabs, even noted for its Town Point Crab Gumbo.  Several of my neighbors “crab,” but they say it’s not like it used to be. In fact, there used to be Crab Jubilees when the crabs were so thick they made their way on shore by the droves.  I’m still waiting to see this phenomenon or even catch a single crab in Florida. We save cookbooks by the case, but have yet to realize we need to save the crabs. Nowadays they are rare – my bold assumption is based on escalating crab prices at the seafood market and the absence of jubilees.

That’s why making one of Lynette’s gumbos might take me a while. I need to find a supplier for large, live crabs – not lump crab meat in a plastic container.  I’m torn, though, whether to make one of the gumbos or a pot of her mouth-watering, glorious, creamy rich She Crab Soup.


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Hurricane Gumbo: Music, Poetry, Legend or Recipe?



A Cookbook From The Woman’s Club of Pensacola (center) features an enigmatic-titled gumbo recipe. I found the vintage cookbook at an estate sale, along with a Christmas mailing from Paul Prudhomme (top left) and a copy of Stove Pilot: Favorite Recipes from Maxwell Air Force Base. I’ve opened the copy of Stove Pilot to display the beautiful handwritten recipes and art in this “club” cookbook.

Why Margaret Mang named her gumbo “Hurricane Gumbo” I’ll never know for sure.  But I have a good guess. Her 1982 recipe appears in A Cookbook  from The Woman’s Club of Pensacola that I picked up at an estate sale over the weekend.  I never knew Margaret and can’t call.  She died seven years ago in Gulf Breeze, where I live.

HGThe name of her original recipe fascinates me.  I’ve never seen a gumbo recipe like it. I searched for others with the same name and identical ingredients, to no avail.  The research was entertaining, though. I listened to the Chicago-based eight- piece zydeco band Hurricane Gumbo. (They play for money, not gumbo — that’s a  Jimmy Buffett joke).  I looked inside a poetry collection titled Hurricane Gumbo (not my cup of soup) that features a gumbo recipe on the back cover (not as intriguing as Margaret’s).  And  I read an urban legend about folks waiting-out a storm by making gumbo and drinking hurricanes, hence Hurricane Gumbo. None could compare with Margaret’s recipe.

Her concoction could easily be a storm-brewing version of “Gotta Go Soup” or “Mustgo,” as in everything must go. You know, cook it before it wastes. From June to November, those of us living along the Coast know we’ll lose power if a hurricane’s heading our way. So we clean out the refrigerator, down to the very last ingredient, and start cooking. My biggest clue for the recipe’s name is Margaret’s last ingredient, though she lists it as optional. I’ve never seen that before!Hurricane G recipe.jpegNo doubt buying all these ingredients at once could cost a fortune, so the next time I accumulate most of them, hurricane or not, I’m making Margaret Mang’s Hurricane Gumbo – and drinking the rest of the wine, claret or not. And then I’ll invite plenty of people over because this makes enough gumbo for the neighborhood.


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Did you hear the one about the Jello-O ?

White Linen Orange

In a lively and unapologetically Southern talk at the Magnolias and White Linen gala luncheon,  James Farmer III said so many memorable one-liners that I pulled out my pocket notebook and started writing. He was talking my language. Family stories.  Southern food.  Old timey recipes.

“In a small town, you know someone in your family has died when the Jell-O salad shows up.”  I laughed because I had just created a real gelatine (not Jell-O) dessert for my grandkids like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings served her guests in Cross Creek.

The posh event was my introduction to Farmer, a Southern cook well known to Georgians,


The Magnolias & White Linen program featured a version of this photo of James Farmer III.

Floridians and even New Yorkers. The author- gardener- interior designer-cook tells great Southern-style stories, sounds like me, and writes beautiful books. Plus, his downhome humor delivered in a melodious Southern accent keeps you listening and laughing. He doesn’t apologize for that accent either, as he says, “ ’cause that’s the way I really talk.”

Like James Farmer, our family tells Jell-O stories, too. The funniest one is from our Texas friends who graphically describe a main course they were served in Arkansas – a congealed Jell-O lime casserole made with chopped green pepper, boiled eggs and corned beef hash. It took plenty of courage for them to swallow the cold green concoction while feigning approval to the hostess. And then there’s the difficult decision to add bananas that might turn black or sticking with the tried and true Fruit Cocktail.

But Marjorie’s “Orange Jelly” dessert in Cross Creek Cookery is perfection. Her gelatine (she prefers the British spelling with the “e” on the end) calls for gelatine, sugar, water, orange and lemon juice.  I try to make authentic Marjorie recreations, so I used satsumas an Optimist club member picked and brought to the Optimist Christmas tree lot. What the tree crew didn’t eat, I tucked away in my refrigerator. Two months later I squeezed them in my tribute to Marjorie’s 75th Anniversary of Cross Creek and its companion recipe book.  


Cross Creek Cookery recipe for Orange “Jelly” is top-rated by grandkids.

My grandkids had never tasted real gelatine, and it had been decades since I’d actually torn open an envelope of Knox.  Sadly, the recipe only produced four small custard cups. Since I don’t have an authentic Dora the Cow grazing in the backyard, I used Reddi-Wip for topping.  Ten-year-old Max mixed his all up and said it tastes like a Dreamscicle – his favorite flavor. Dreamscicle Jelly and Reddi-Wip is fodder for a great family story.

I think James Farmer would approve – and sigh a breath of relief that nobody died. 

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