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.
1. OUT OF THIS WORLD COOKBOOK
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.
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).
3. 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.
4. GULF BREEZE HOSPITAL AUXILIARY
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.
5. PASTORS WIVES COOKBOOK
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.
6. 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.
Next to Marcelle’s, only one other title thoroughly intrigues me. Alas, I’ll Cook When Pigs Fly has no gumbo recipe.