What kind of gumbo would Henry David Thoreau like to eat while living in his cabin on Walden Pond? This unique literary question is like one I’ll pose to 51 other (mostly dead) American writers in 2016. The idea came somewhat as a fluke. When the Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida asked me to participate in Thorough-ly Thoreau, a literary project in conjunction with Artel Art Gallery in Pensacola, I was humbled and honored — and pretty surprised when, after five days of spending 30 minutes a day reading Thoreau and keeping a journal, I actually wrote a fairly decent poem. Everyone knows I’m no poet.
That enlightening experience led to my yearly goal for my writing group, the Wednesday Portfolio Society (a lofty name inspired by Christina Rossetti’s 1860 group). Each week in 2016, I’ll spend 30 minutes a day for five days with a different American writer. And I’ll respond with journal entries culminating in a product – poem, essay, flash fiction. And since I’m reading from memoirs and personal essays, I will determine what kind of gumbo the authors would prefer. I’ve already figured out Thoreau.
Many readers assume Thoreau was a vegetarian, but he wasn’t when he lived at Walden
Pond. He didn’t eat a lot of meat, but included pork (probably salt pork) on his grocery list and often caught a “mess of fish.” Once (and only once) he killed, cooked and ate a woodchuck. Gardenwise, he could grow a mean “mess of beans” and the first year he grew enough to sell the extras in Concord. He planted his greens too late, but he must have liked greens or he would have never planted them. Plus, he admits to dining simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which he gathered in his cornfield, boiled and salted.
So, Henry David Thoreau, I surmise, would like Green Gumbo (Gumbo Z’Herbes) slow cooked with salt pork for flavoring. And he would much prefer I cook the gumbo and ask him over. After all, it’s only a mile or so to Concord from the cabin and he comes into town a couple of days each week.
and stay tuned to read about Ernest Hemingway’s gumbo choice.