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 Louisiana 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.
Fellow 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, Alabama, 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.