Writing a travel book in a pandemic, from quarantine

Traveling by ferry to Fort Morgan during COVID-19. The seagull traveled free — in more ways than one.

A Literary Traveler’s Guide

When the pandemic began, I started writing my latest book, a literary traveler’s guide. Crazy idea? Write a travel guide when no one is traveling –when parks, campsites, museums, galleries, libraries are closed?  COVID has halted almost all my first-hand travel experiences, but it’s stimulated serious road-trip research from the confines of my home.

I have escaped quarantine three times in the past year, twice for literary day trips. Each time I sneaked out was an exciting, genuine getaway – mostly from the confines of my car. It was as if I had fresh eyes and every sight was marvelous, memorable and masked. I gained a deep appreciation of things nearby.

Now that I’ve had both doses of the Moderna vaccine, I’m a card-carrying traveler and plan to visit every location in my book. My first draft for the manuscript, The Literary Traveler’s Guide to the Gulf South: From Bay St. Louis to Apalachicola, is complete, sans index and photos. My mission is to provide the reader glimpses into the quaint downtowns where authors walked, see the historic oaks where writers penned a page or two, and walk the beaches that inspired lines of romance, poetry and mystery. From Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner to contemporary best-selling authors, this book takes you – and me – to places I never knew were so interesting.

The yearlong writing adventure has introduced me to new writers, reacquainted me with old favorites, and surprised me with interesting facts. I knew yellow fever converged upon the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But I never thought about interstate travel and quarantines. But sure enough, history has repeated itself with a slight twist. In the early days of coronavirus, Florida placed troopers at the Florida state line stopping incoming vehicles from Mississippi and states with higher virus rates.  In fellow fever times, Mississippians along the Coast, fearing a New Orleans yellow fever outbreak might spread “announced a quarantine against interstate travel – enforceable by bayonet.” (Hidden History of the Mississippi Sound, p. 81) A quick search on newspaper.com reveals scores of regional articles about yellow fever quarantines, including shotgun and musket enforcement. The hardships families faced were similar to what we face today – but they did it without air conditioning, television, internet, streaming services, Grub Hub or Zoom.

My Literary Traveler’s Guide to the Gulf South spans 335 miles from Bay. St. Louis, Mississippi, to Apalachicola, Florida. Interstate 10 is the northern limit, while the waters of the Gulf are as far South as it goes with a few barrier islands included. This blog will travel along with my research. The Gumbo Diaries will post fewer gumbo recipes, review more seafood restaurants (if they’re open) and focus on the Gulf Coast as a literary destination. It will become more of a “literary” gumbo diary. Most of all, I hope to share some lively literary travel stories and encourage readers to discover their own backyards via day trips.

My manuscript includes at least a hundred writers, more than thirty-five towns plus four islands. Most of the authors write popular fiction, poetry, plays or screen plays. Many of the characters and authors are household names, like Forrest Gump or Jimmy Buffett. Few scholarly works are included since this book is for travelers not necessarily scholars – but I do acknowledge environmental works since my book’s setting is “the Coast.”

If you know of a writer inspired by this area, born or raised in the area, or have a favorite book set along this stretch, please leave a comment or email me. I particularly like to include places where writers have visited, like John Grisham’s favorite restaurant in Biloxi or Dawn Lee McKenna’s favorite coffee shop in Apalachicola. Of course, I respect the writers’ privacy, but readers and literary travelers are a respectful lot and driving by where a writer used to live rarely causes a traffic jam. Please send me your ideas and writing and author trivia — from Bay St. Louis to Apalachicola.

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Stories of community, told around a pot of gumbo

On Christmas Eve I make our family’s traditional Christmas Eve meal — gumbo. Seven miles from here, across the Bob Sykes Bridge, Barb Stahl cooks gumbo for her family on Pensacola Beach. We’re both using different ingredients and different recipes, but each pot of gumbo represents the spirit of community – and comes with a personal, family business story.

Sam Greenberg views the remains from the fire at Greenberg Turkey in Tyler, TX.
.PHOTO CREDIT: gobblegobble.com

I’d never heard of Tyler, Texas, until a neighbor in Metairie, Louisiana, shared some leftover Greenberg Smoked Turkey with me – the best turkey I’d ever eaten. Greenberg’s turkey, along with roses, put Tyler on the map. Ten years later, after moving to Tyler, one of our favorite neighbors was a member of the Greenberg family. Firsthand, I witnessed how Greenberg’s serves as a vital part of the Tyler community. While family members enliven the spirit of the community, their family business boosts the economy. Greenberg’s distributes more than 200,000 turkeys a year, in part thanks to Oprah who added them to her Favorite Things list in 2003. Tragically, 2020 was especially cruel to the Greenberg Family. On November 6, a catastropic fire roared through their Tyler plant, ruining 87,000 turkeys and forcing the cancellation of almost all turkey orders. Fortunately, no one was injured.

We didn’t have a Greenberg Turkey this year. Instead, son Nick smoked a turkey for us. I used it to make Greenberg’s Smoked Turkey and Andouille Sausage gumbo.  While we dined on gumbo, we reminisced about our seventeen years in Tyler, where all three sons lent a hand working at Greenberg Turkey during the busy holiday season. Thank you, Greenberg Family, for both memories and wonderful turkeys through the years. We know you’ll be back, better and stronger than ever, making Tyler proud and prosperous.

and meanwhile on Pensacola Beach . . .

While our family was talking about the Greenberg Family, on Pensacola Beach Barb Stahl was cooking a pot of her prize-winning gumbo for her family. She credits a local business for her honors. Barb’s Olde South Gumbo won the People’s Choice Award and Overall Winning Recipe honors in Our Lady of the Assumption’s Gumbo Cook-off competition in 2019.  To make her gumbo, Barb uses frozen Olde South Gumbo Base, a specialty product created by Margaret Rainey of Fairhope, Alabama. Barb describes Margaret Rainey’s company as an awesome supporter of numerous charitable events in the area. The Olde South Gumbo owners won the Gulf Breeze Rotary Gumbo Cookoff in 2013 but have been supporting the Rotary’s cookoff much longer. Every year their small business donates gumbo base to the event as well as supporting other local charities in Northwest Florida and South Alabama. Gulf Breeze’s Rotary Gumbo Cookoff provides tens of thousands of dollars in college scholarships to local students, thanks to generous vendors like Olde South Gumbo Base and hardworking Rotarians like Barb and husband Mike Stahl.

Rainey invented her gumbo base from her own cooking experience. For years she caught her own seafood on Mobile Bay and knew the flavors of fresh seafood make the best gumbo. The base captures those fresh seafood and brown roux flavors. In 30 minutes, cooks can replace the hours often required to cook a gumbo base. It’s available at seafood markets and some produce stands. Here’s the recipe Barb cooked for her family on Christmas Eve, using Olde South Gumbo Base and some Conecuh (Kah-neck-ah) Sausage from a family business in Evergreen, Alabama.


Recipe reprinted with permission from Barb Stahl, as it appeared in Our Lady of the Assumption Food for Body & Soul, Vol. III Cookbook (2019)

2 (32 oz.) tubs of Olde South Gumbo Base

8 oz. Conecuh Smoked Sausage, spicy & hot, sliced in rounds

My Christmas gifts included a copy of this cookbook from the Catholic church on Pensacola Beach. The winning gumbo recipe is included.

8 oz. Conecuh smoked Sausage, regular, sliced in rounds

1 TBSP olive oil

1 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 lb. fresh crab meat, picked over

1 rotisserie chicken, dark meat only, shredded

1 TSP garlic salt

1 TSP dried thyme

1 TSP dried basil

Salt & pepper to taste

2 lb. small, raw shrimp (or larger ones cut in half or thirds)

Rice, prepared according to package directions

Directions: Thaw tubs of gumbo base in hot water. In a large dutch oven, saute both flavors of smoked sausage in olive oil and drain off excess fat. Add thawed gumbo base, stock, crab, chicken and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for at least two hours. Add shrimp and cook, stirring often, five minutes or until shrimp are fully cooked. Serve over rice.

The Olde South Gumbo Base team took first place honors in the 2013 Gulf Breeze Rotary Gumbo Cookoff. PHOTO CREDIT Diane Skelton

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November: Take a cooking break to write, even if it’s bad poetry or a novel in need of a plot

Chef Nanowrimo

In November, I usually write up a storm in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo.  One year I wrote Rue the Roux, a murder mystery where gumbo cooks were knocking off chefs in a competition. This was my pitch:

The stakes are high when partners Amy and Marney enter the Chamber of Commerce Gumbo Cook Off.  If they win the $5000 prize, Marney can open the Blue Camellia Tearoom for the lunch crowd and Amy gains credentials to land a powerful writing gig. There’s just one problem – poison in someone’s gumbo.  And it’s not the spring chickens that end up dead – it’s the oldest competitors.  Worst of all, it’s Amy’s secret recipe that’s knocking ‘em dead. Snowbirds, retirees, real estate brokers, whiz kids, and a homeless chef spice up this whodunit set along Florida’s Emerald Coast.

Sounds pretty exciting now that I reread it. Maybe I’ll figure out the plot and revise it next year.

Since I’m a writer in search of a plot, I can’t claim to be a novelist. I’m more of a prosaist, as writer-friend Rachel Reese says. I don’t claim to be a poet either, but after having a few poems published in the holiday recipe collection of the Florida Poets Association magazine, I decided to participate in West Florida Literary Federation’s NOV PAD – their November Poem-A-Day contest. It’s free and fun – no need to register, rhyme, count lines or even think of a subject. Each day there’s a different prompt posted on their Facebook page –West Florida Literary Federation (WFLF) and on their Twitter feed wstfllit. (Hashtag #wflfnovpad) At the end of the month you can assemble your poems and enter the contest (that’s $15 to enter). If you win, your collection is published and you win money and books. Or just write for fun and don’t enter. It’s up to you – no commitment. Just writing fun.

MKRWomen’s poetry used to be popular in food and society pages of newspapers. Of course, newspapers used to be popular too. Before Pulitzer Prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved to Florida and earned fame for The Yearling and her Cross Creek books, she wrote poetry. As a young writer and homemaker in New York, she struck a deal with the Rochester Union Times to write a poem six days of the week.  In less than two years, she penned more than 450 poems. They were so popular her column went into syndication. Her topics included gardening, cooking, pets, nature, and neighbors. 

If she could write 6 a week for 2 years, surely I can write 30 poems (I didn’t say good poems) in 1 month. Suffer through my “homage to Rawlings” poems below and then enjoy making my favorite gumbo recipe.  I promise it’s not the killer recipe from Rue the Roux . This one is my best gumbo recipe – and I finally wrote it down!


I encourage you to take a November kitchen break and write. Try the West Florida Literary Federation’s Poem-A-Day challenge.


fav recipe
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Happy National Gumbo Day – Celebrate with a Mississippi Family Favorite


The gumbo I like best comes from Mississippi, my home state. There’s nothing quick and easy about making it, but the time spent produces a rich enough taste to satisfy the most discerning palate. It’s spiced softly and flavored by a deep, nutty-tasting roux, fresh vegetables, and a blend of sausage or chicken or seafood or all. To celebrate National Gumbo Day here are three favorite Mississippi gumbos – two from Delta Zeta sorority sisters from the University of Southern Mississippi and a third from a former governor and U.S. Senator whose gumbo recipe made it all the way to the archives of University of Southern Mississippi.

Beverly Johnson Mitchell’s family Dubisson-Pichon recipe is so popular her daughter-in-law had it transformed into the art reproduced above. For me, the two things that make this gumbo exceptional are the use of olive oil and adding part of the green onions early during the cooking, while reserving the rest for the final cooking stage.

Dubuisson-Pichon Seafood Gumbo

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4-6 cups peeled, deveined shrimp
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 c chopped green pepper
  • 4 cups chopped okra
  • 1 TBSP chopped garlic
  • 1/2 pound sliced andouille
  • 1 can tomato paste or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 cups chopped green onion
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 3-6 boiled crabs cleaned, halved
  • 1/2 tsp Tony’s

Instructions: In a large pot, sauté okra, onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic and half of the green onions in olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes and continue to simmer. Meanwhile, in an iron skillet, prepare a deep mahogany roux by whisking flour and oil over medium heat. Add andouille to roux and cook 1-2 minutes. Slowly add stock to roux and stir, forming a thick gravy. Add gravy and the rest of the stock to the pot and simmer for 30-60 min. Add shrimp, crab, bay leaves and reserved green onions and simmer for another 15-30 minutes.

Krhut’s Chicken, Crab and Shrimp Gumbo

Lorinda Smith Khrut, Delta Zeta sorority sister and longtime Director of Residence Life at University of Southern Mississippi, shared the family gumbo recipe she’s been cooking for more than 30 years. She got it from her mother-in-law and now the recipe is is part of the USM Dining Hall Gumbo Contest Recipe Collection.

  • 1 whole chicken breast or whole chicken
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 4 – 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1- 1 lb. can stewed tomatoes
  • 2 TBSP Piccapepper sauce or 8-10 drops Tabasco
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb. claw crab meat
  • 1 ½ lb. cleaned shrimp
  • 1 – 10 oz. package frozen okra

Instructions: Boil the chicken in water seasoned with celery leaves. Broth will taste better if use a whole chicken. (Remove dark meat after cooking if using a whole chicken). Save the broth and add bouillon cube and enough water to make three cups. Dice chicken and set aside. Mix broth, chicken, and all ingredients except seafood and okra in large pot. Bring to boil and lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

While simmering, make the roux.

  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • ¼ cup bell pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped, or 2 TBSP dried parsley

Instructions for Roux:

Brown the oil and flour in a heavy skillet for 30-45 minutes, stirring until the roux is caramel colored. (If the roux gets too dark, start over. This will make or break the gumbo). Add chopped vegetables and okra and still until wilted. Remove from heat and place in a 4 cup Pyrex container. Add hot water stirring to bring roux to 4 cups.

Add roux mixture to simmering soup. Simmer covered about one hour. (At this point, gumbo can be frozen for later use). Add crab meat and shrimp and continue simmering for 20 minutes. Turn off stove and let rest with lid on until ready to serve. (Recommend 1 hour if can wait that long).

Serve over rice with parsley garnish. At any point, gumbo may be thinned or increased by adding hot water or chicken broth.

The Governor’s Gumbo Is Tastier Than His Rhetoric

University of Southern Mississippi’s Special Collections houses the papers of former governor and U.S. Senator Theodore G. Bilbo. According to the archives, Bilbo thought himself a foodie and submitted his French Gumbo Filé recipe to the Mississippi Sun newspaper (Charleston), describing it as “the best dish in the world when it is properly prepared.” He also complained to the National Restaurant Association about the lack of gumbo in restaurants when taking the group’s Palate Poll. His 1941 recipe (well, the yellow carbon copy of it) is available at https://www.lib.usm.edu/spcol/exhibitions/item_of_the_month/iotm_feb_2013.

Happy National Gumbo Day! I’m off to eat the gumbo I cooked yesterday — it’s always better the second day.

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Gumbo for Breakfast? Why Not?

Monday is National Gumbo Day, and I’m celebrating early with Sunday breakfast gumbo. Why not? Everything, including breakfast, is topsy-turvy in 2020. Food critic Bea Wilson writes in the Wall Street Journal that the pandemic is changing our dining patterns. We are allowing more time for leisurely, hearty breakfasts at home. I suspect kids still go for Tony the Tiger or Cap’n Crunch, but a resurgence in a more relaxed grown-up breakfast makes sense in an otherwise stressful time. 

Following 2008, brunch was emerging as big business in the restaurant industry. In fact, prior to COVID-19 shut-downs, breakfast was the booming part of the industry, according to an Eater study. Ben & Florentine, a chain that sells breakfast restaurant franchises, maintains breakfast means profit. After, all eggs are cheap. Of course since that report, the pandemic upended the statistics and escalated the price of eggs.

I haven’t seen any breakfast gumbo franchises but a handful of restaurants in the South serve versions of “gumbo” for breakfast. The French Press in Lafayette, Louisiana, offers a Cajun Benedict with gumbo sauce on their breakfast menu, while a Chevron station in Satsuma, Alabama, makes a gumbo breakfast bowl of eggs, grits, and two types of sausage. The dish is so popular that hundreds of customers line up for breakfast gumbo on the weekend and food bloggers try to duplicate the recipe.

A closer version of my idea of gumbo for breakfast is served at Gumbo Ya Ya’s in New Orleans. They serve real gumbo on a buttermilk biscuit with a fried egg.

For my Sunday gumbo brunch, however, I want the real gumbo taste and texture, not just a gumbo sandwich or a gumbo made of scrambled eggs and grits or a makeshift benedict.

My gumbo breakfast dish is inspired by Ivy Wild’s Gumbo Sauce recipe, which I first wrote about in 2015.  Of course, I cut down the size of the recipe since it makes a couple of gallons, and I use andouille sausage rather than smoked sausage. Ivy Wild’s original recipe needs a little kick for my taste.

Use the recipe on back and replace water with heavy cream.
Jim N Nick’s biscuit mix goes perfect
with a gumbo brunch.

My menu looks complicated, but it’s simple. I buy precut fruits, make packaged Jim Dandy grits using half and half or heavy cream, warm up a jar of Smucker’s blackberry jam and top with a few fresh blackberries, and use Jim N Nick’s Mix dry biscuit mix. The cheese biscuit mix’s flavor is a perfect complement to andouille. The gumbo sauce is the only part of the menu that takes time, but at least you can buy prechopped vegetables as a time saver.

And suddenly we’re eating gumbo as the most important meal of the day. And I’m going to need my energy because I’m cooking gumbo for a crew of teachers on National Gumbo Day.

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Before coronavirus: Longing for summer sales gone by

This copper vintage Commun-a-hood working exhaust fan caught my attention at an estate sale in Pensacola, Florida in the Summer of 2018.

CDC pandemic warnings are keeping me inside my house this summer. I live three miles from a gorgeous beach, but it’s my Friday morning estate sale jaunts I miss the most. I like plundering through old cookbooks in long-abandoned kitchens.  

Even though a handful of auction and estate sale companies are once again holding estate sales, I’m not ready to venture out. My county’s Covid-19 positive tests have increased exponentially, and my safety circle is getting smaller. I know of nine people with positive test results. So I’m hanging out at my house – not someone else’s, especially houses hosting estate sales.

Even before the coronavirus invasion, I wanted a hot shower after going to some estate sales. The best hand-sanitizers couldn’t remove the dust, gunk and odors that crept into my clothes and hair. But, in retrospect, one good sale on a Friday morning made it all worthwhile. Now I despondently scroll through my camera roll, remembering sales of days-gone-by.

The push button range still worked in this vintage kitchen. Of all my cookware, my green Club Aluminum Dutch oven like the gold one featured in the photo makes the best oven-baked roux for gumbo.

At estate sales in abandoned homes, sometimes the old grease-splattered kitchens were more interesting than the dog-earred cookbooks I was seeking. At one late-summer sale in Pensacola in 2018, I snapped photos of these vintage kitchen appliances – still in working order. When the home was built, I suspect it was on the “Parade of Homes” or advertised as a builder’s “model home.”  Except for the dining room where new plush mauve carpeting accented the well-polished Duncan Phyfe furniture, the house was in its original state. The kitchen was a time capsule.  Gold laminated countertops trimmed with chrome aluminum edging displayed stacks of out-of-date dishes for sale –from deviled egg platters to colored Pyrex bowls to floral Corning Ware casserole dishes.

Whoever cooked in that vintage kitchen left no cookbooks for my collection. But in the Summer ’18, I found these recipe jewels at other estate sales.

From Our Keepsake Cookbook from the Women’s Christian Society of Service, United Methodist Church on Gadsen Street in Pensacola, (2nd edition, 2002) comes a country style gumbo recipe I’ve never seen before. It looks like a delicious summer treat, but it’s extremely high in carbs, so beware.

At another estate sale in the Summer of ’18 I found this diet-friendly chicken gumbo recipe in Holly Berkowitz Clegg’s A Trim and Terrific Louisiana Kitchen. It’s lighter on tomatoes as well as calories.

Despite the pandemic, I did hop along for a ride with my son to Joe Patti’s Seafood Market in Pensacola. I sat in the car while he shopped inside for gumbo shrimp. Lots of folks driving vehicles with out-of-state license plates were on hand that day. The parking lot was as full as it is during the Christmas holidays.  You see, the beaches in the Florida panhandle are still open, as opposed to Miami. In the Summer of 2018, I found this “light” seafood recipe at an estate sale.

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Quick & Easy Gumbo for the Saints Playoff game

My black and gold flag is flying and I’m ready for Sunday’s Saints-Eagles NFL Playoff game. A cold, Sunday afternoon of football calls for gumbo –a big simmering pot full.  But I’m ready to watch football, not cook, so I’m pulling out the crock pot.  In my search for 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300 years, I’ve collected half a dozen quick and easy recipes.

New Orleans native, fellow Saints’ fan and Colorado resident Karen Veith sent this recipe to add to my 300 collection.

For Christmas, I received two jars of Low Country Gumbo Mix so I made two varieties using it as a the base. It’s a strong tomato, roux-less gumbo, but my family liked it for a change. I tweaked the recipes on their website  and added  nearly a pound each of the sausage and seafood. I needed the gumbo to stretch. For the vegetarian version, I used more tofu than the original recipe called for.

Pete Federovich sent this Emeril Lagasse slow cooker recipe for my collection. These last two are from cookbooks I use frequently, Fix It and Forget It Cookbook and Gwen McKee’s Little Gumbo Cookbook, both available on Amazon.

And that’s six more making my News Orleans total 136. Who D’at!

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Day-After-Thanksgiving Turkey Gumbo Recipes

turkey art

Anyone from Louisiana will tell you, the day-after Thanksgiving means turkey gumbo.  If you’re like most Americans, there’s a turkey carcass hogging a shelf in the refrigerator and there’s nothing better to make with it than turkey gumbo.  Here are nine different recipes, each which can magically transform that mound of bones into a delicious day-after feast.

As I study the sources of these recipes, I’m thankful for the dear friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow writers who, over the years, have shared their lives and recipes with me, and for the new friends who continue to enrich my life with their kindness and generosity.  As my quest for 300 recipes to celebrate New Orleans 300th year continues (this post brings me to 130), I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and an empty refrigerator top shelf.

TG 2TG7TG 1TG 4TG 6TG 9TG 4TG 6TG Plantationfunny-face-turkey-chicken_m1n1mz_L


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Bewitching reading? Introducing the Gumbo Diaries Who Dat? Clueless Cookbook List

Cover art weird.jpg

Online bookseller Abe Books has a wide array of “weird cookbooks” for sale. The site claims there’s a “worldwide appetite for weird cookbooks”and even conducted a poll to discover the world’s weirdest cookbook.  Winning the dubious honor was Manifold Destiny: The One, The Only, Guide To Cooking On Your Car Engine. The other winning titles are also self-explanatory but a couple sound a few alarms.  The Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, however, did not write Cooking in the Nude.  And the Road Kill Café, in Elberta, Alabama, doesn’t serve the same road kill as The Roadkill Cookbook.  The book’s recipes are from exotic places like Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Chili and Germany. The café offers a greasy buffet of Alabama favorites – mostly mac and cheese, greens, meatloaf and potatoes. Neither road kill tempts my palate.

In 2013, Mental Floss, an online provider of “amazing facts,” made a similar cookbook list. Their list of fifteen compiles “strange” and “awesome” cookbooks. Some of these titles, however, are so strange and awesome that long subtitles are necessary to translate the title.

I’ve made a list, too — The Gumbo Diaries Who Dat? Clueless Cookbook List. My choices are more puzzling than weird,  sort of like the name of my list. For my new readers, “Who Dat?” is an expression used by New Orleans Saints’ fans, evolving from New Orleans’ colloquialism asking “Who is that?”  similar to the  expression “Where Y’at?” meaning “Where are you?”

To make my Who Dat? list, the title of the cookbook must catch me a little off guard and tease me into opening the book. And, of course, the cookbook must contain at least one gumbo recipe.  Most cookbooks on my list I discovered at estate sales. Each caused me to wonder why and how the owner ever acquired such an oddly-titled collection of recipes.


Space 1 (1)

The title implies space invaders and aliens and the cover art reinforces that message. Much to my surprise, the book, published by the Cocoa Beach, Florida Woman’s Club, includes favorite recipes from astronauts and V.I.P.s  of  the space program. The seafood gumbo recipe from Doris Parsons is a favorite with W.N. Parsons, a technical liaison supervisor with Boeing.


Oddball 1

bank (1)2. BARNETT RECIPES: Great Recipes You Can “Bank” On!

The staff at the Barnett Bank of West Florida put together a cookbook of recipes you could bank on. The problem is you can’t bank with them anymore. A larger bank gobbled up the Barnett Bank of West Florida in 1996 (and served it over rice).


Cranberries3. ALL THIS BEGAN WITH CHINABERRIES by Van Blanchard

I saw a copy of this 1987 book at two different estate sales within hours of each other.  I wish I’d taken more pictures or could recall the explanation of the title. I’m pretty curious about what “all this” is. Chinaberries, after all, are extremely poisonous and can kill you, that is, after you experience diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, seizures, and cardiac arrest. A curious cookbook, indeed, but it has the author’s flexible gumbo recipe, sans chinaberries.



GB Hospital (1)This is a book without a title, so of course I opened it. The cover displays only the name of the organization and a sketch of the hospital’s exterior so I was curious to discover the contents, which, of course, were recipes, including one for gumbo. Naming the book was probably difficult since the words hospital and food used together remind many of us of the Halloween game where you’re blindfolded and have to guess the food on the tray by feeling it.GB Aux CB2GB Aux CB


Parsons Wife (1)


These gals can cook. The best cheese grits I’ve ever eaten were made by an Episcopal priest’s wife from Mississippi.  These cooks are constantly called on to create culinary wonders in their home kitchens to share with congregants at church dinners, funerals, wakes, bishops’ visits, Sunday brunches, picnics on the ground, homecomings, and Wednesday  night dinners.  I flipped furiously to find a gumbo recipe and was thrilled to find two.


Parsons 2Parsons 1

Can you make a roux6. WHO’S YOUR MAMA,  ARE YOU CATHOLIC, AND CAN YOU MAKE A ROUX? By Marcelle Bienvenu

This book, on loan from writer friend Lucie Wade, is signed by the author Marcelle Bienvenu, a native Louisianan with careers in both journalism and the restaurant business. She wrote the weekly column “Cooking Creole” for The Times-Picayune newspaper. As a researcher and consultant for Time-Life books, she contributed to Foods of the World American Cooking, Creole and Acadian and the American Wilderness — The Bayous.   A handwritten note inside Lucie’s book describes Marcelle as a “great cook and wonderful story teller.”  I believe Marcelle must also be a great headline writer because her cookbook title poses the three questions every native Louisiana mama has asked.   The book, available on Amazon, includes seven gumbo recipes along with other heavenly dishes and sinfully decadent desserts.  Grimilles Gumbo reminds me of my favorite Po’ Boy, Roast Beef with Debris.  The debris is the left-over beef bits and gravy in the bottom of the roasting pan, like the grimilles in this gumbo — divine.

Who';s Your Mma

Next to Marcelle’s, only one other title thoroughly intrigues me. Alas, I’ll Cook When Pigs Fly has no gumbo recipe.

And that’s eight more gumbo recipes to tally 121 so far in my quest for 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate New Orleans 300th birthday.

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From Boarding House and Side Board to Wooden Spoons and Wooden Cookbooks

cover artI’d never seen a wooden cookbook cover until last week, and then in a span of four days I saw two cookbooks with wooden covers – published 32 years apart.  The older one, published in 1939, has reached American Folk Art status – but I didn’t know that when I bought it.

My copy of Fine Old Dixie Recipes cost me $3.50 at an estate sale. It’s an unusual yet confusing find. The cover, inside cover and title page all list different titles. There’s Fine Old Dixie Recipes on the cover, Southern Cookbook: 322 Old Dixie Recipes on the inside inside covercover, and Southern Cook Book of Fine Old Recipes on the title page. According to a cookbook history site, the book’s publisher Culinary Arts Press in Reading, Pennsylvania produced small cookbooks from 1934 until almost fading away in the 1990s, to finally reissue classic cookbooks in 2009. My estate sale find originally sold for five cents and I found it online for $97. That’s when I learned it was folk art.

This cookbook is a piece of history (well, maybe historical fiction) that extols the sunny South as a place of fertile fields, plentiful fruit trees and bountiful waterways. The editors promise to “reveal carefully guarded secrets of real Southern cooking.”  The recipes, the editors write, are mostly from Southern city folks, some who undoubtedly gathered their recipes from their mammies (yes, they say that).  A few more pompous assumptions, poems in rhyming dialect, and African-American caricatures foster stereotypes of the South which no doubt added to today’s current racial discord. It’s definitely a collection of Southern recipes for Northerners (note I didn’t say Yankees). Regardless, the gumbo recipes look authentic.

REvised Southern

Revised shrimp gumbo

Fine Old Dixie Recipes

Chicken Oyster FOD

I recognized the wood encasing the second cookbook instantly.  When my husband sold paneling in the early 1970s, I helped him learn product names using flash cards taped to the back of paneling samples. A Dash of Sevillity, published in 1971 by Pensacola Heritage Foundation, is bound between two pieces of Georgia-Pacific’s “Piccadilly” paneling.


I’d recognize Georgia-Pacific paneling anywhere after learning all the designer names in the 1970s. This “Picadilly” makes  a great cookbook back.

I’d seen a 2003 edition of this cookbook at the genealogy library, but even the library doesn’t have this wooden-cloaked treasure. Fellow writer Lucie Wade shared her copy with me and pointed out the three-and a-half- page primer on “The Authentic and Original Way to Make Oyster Gumbo.” The first ingredient is one full quart of Tennessee sour-mash bourbon for the cook and his helpers. The second ingredient stopped me in my tracks — a 7-pound elderly rooster.

I probably won’t cook the following gopher gumbo either because it took me two years to realize a gopher is a Florida tortoise. But the recipe looks simple enough – except for finding turtle meat.  Besides, in Florida now gopher tortoises are a threatened species and both tortoise and burrow are protected by state law.  Pensacolians must have dined on lots of Gopher Gumbo.

Sevillity 2Revised Sevillity 3

Sevillity 1

Pensacolians take great pride in their gumbo, gopher or not. So with this ending quote, I tally 113 in my quest for 300 gumbo recipes to celebrate New Orleans’ 300th birthday.

{ensacola pull quote


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