Young boys don’t miss a thing when it comes to food. They carefully watch each platter or bowl as it passes around the dinner table, just waiting for it to reach them. So I don’t discount the observation skills of a boy when it comes to choosing a gumbo for North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe.
Best known for novels Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again, Wolfe penned
extensive descriptions of food, especially meals served at the boarding house in Look Homeward, Angel. His personal food preferences, however, aren’t easy to pinpoint. Young Wolfe was exposed to a vast range of food according to accounts of his mother’s boarding house. He grew up with tables filled with ham, fried apples, batter cakes, molasses, brown sausages, cherries, plums, fat juicy bacon, jam, roast beef, lima beans, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, savory spinach, yellow cornbread, flaky biscuits, peach and apple cobbler, cabbage, preserved fruits, fried steak, squares of grits fried in egg and butter, pork chops, fish, and fried chicken.
Research shows Wolfe liked limeade fizzy drinks from the drugstore and ice cream cones, but I could only find one reference to food he liked as an adult. It comes from a young boy’s description. Only In Asheville author Marla Hardin Willing shares her father’s boyhood story of the time Wolfe visited for Sunday evening dinner of fried chicken. Wolfe ate all the potato salad – the young boy’s favorite food. Imagine the disappointment when the empty bowl reached the lad. If the boarding house fare described in Look Homeward, Angel is what Wolfe’s mother actually served at The Old Kentucky Home Boarding House, there’s no potato salad.
So, without a doubt, Thomas Wolfe would like gumbo topped
with a big scoop of potato salad just like they serve at Prejean’s Restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana. The director of the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program says if you put a scoop of potato salad in your gumbo before serving, you likely have some German influence. I don’t know if Thomas Wolfe had German ancestors, but I know that young boy missed out on the potato salad. Here’s an authentic Lafayette recipe from Lynn Stallworth’s Another Marvelous Meal blog.