BLACK HISTORY AND GUMBO
Text, recipe and food photos by Chef Joey
America just celebrated Black History Month – February. We all remembered, honored and learned, I hope. We all have family recipes, traditions and stories. However, this famous month may not have existed had it not been for Carter G. Woodson: He founded it in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. In September of that year, Dr. Woodson, who escaped poverty through education and received a doctorate from Harvard and became a trained historian, collaborated with Jesse E. Moorland, a minister who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The two men were dedicated to researching and promoting the achievements of Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.
Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History Week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
The purpose? To get people’s stories and put them to paper and get them into the history books -that they did not exist in! What we Google today, for whatever reason, is a tribute to them!
To think that this movement was so great and well documented, it inspired our schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host gatherings and lectures.
Ironically, the NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909, the centennial anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. He was a precurser to the civil right movement and issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The United States was getting into its third year of the Civil War. The Proclamation declared: “… all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be, free.”
Years later, city leaders nationwide began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing “Negro History Week.” And thanks to the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s, a growing awareness of Black identity emerged. Negro History Week became Black History Month on many college campuses. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month, urging citizens to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
I felt the need to share all this because it was so interesting to learn how one person can make a difference!
So now we get to the heart of my article: Soul Food.
SOUL FOOD. The term started appearing around the same time as the Civil Rights movement. The origins of Soul Food, however, are much older and can be traced back to Africa. Foods such as rice, sorghum, okra and sorghum (a grain used in more than you think, to make molasses even alcohol – it’s the fifth most important cereal group in the world). I’ll share a great recipe using okra that’s versatile and can be vegan!)
These ingredients are all common in West African cuisine and obviously came to the USA because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
These basic ingredients became a major player in our American South, in general. Ingredients like corn and cassava from the states,turnips from Morocco, and cabbage from Portugal were so influential in the history of African-American cooking!
During slavery in America, some of the indigenous crops of Africa began showing up in this country. Slaves were fed as cheaply as possible, mostly with leftover/waste foods from the plantation, forcing the slaves to survive with what they had. Typically, in slave households, “vegetables” were the tops of turnips, beets and dandelions. Soon, African-American slaves were cooking with new types of “greens”: collards, kale, cress, mustard, and pokeweed. Then incorporating lard, cornmeal, and organ meats – not to mention discarded cuts of meat such as pigs’ feet, oxtail, ham hocks, pig ears, pork jowls, tripe – and even the skin. And by adding everyone’s favorite flavor enhancers like garlic, onions, bay leaves etc, new foods were being created in America.
… The use of organs and small intestines, aka chitterlings. Using sheep intestines dates back in recipes thousands of years before the trans-Atlantic slave trade! Because African-Americans didn’t have access to sheep intestines, chitterlings became the norm.
Some families supplemented their meager diets by gardening in small plots where they were allowed to grow their own vegetables. Many fished and hunted. Critters like raccoons, squirrels, opossum, turtles and rabbits, up into the 1950s, were common dinner items in rural and Southern African-American households.
By rendering the fat many foods were fried, and that still is prevalent in today’s soul or comfort food. My GUMBO recipe is a healthier choice and, by eliminating a few ingredients, it can be a nutritious vegan dish as well.
Here is what you need – I’ll write out the vegan version – and list the “meat eaters” additions at the end. Usually made with Andouille sausage, which originated in Northern France, is made with pork chitterlings, onions, wine and seasonings. And just for another tidbit, the name is Latin and means “made by insertion.”
1 cup flour 1 tbsp cajun seasoning
½ cup cooking oil*
½ tsp thyme
1 cup chopped celery
2 tsp Gumbo filet (found in the Spanish section of grocery store)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large can of stewed tomatoes
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can of tomato sauce
1 large onion finely diced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp tobasco (OPTIONAL!)
1 tbsp sugar
12 cups water 3 tbsp vegetable base (sub Veggie broth as an option)
2 pounds okra chopped, tops removed (you can use frozen okra – thaw it out first!)
Salt and pepper to taste!
*trad gumbo uses bacon fat
1 pound of Andouille sliced
1 pound crab meat
3 pounds U-15 size (medium) cleaned and deveined shrimp
♥️Make a roux …
… by mixing over a medium heat – the oil and flour in a heavy pan. Whisk until smooth, stir constantly until it starts to turn brown – this can take 15-25 minutes. Be careful not to burn it!
Take it off the stove and whisk until is stops bubbling.
Take your garlic, onions, celery and peppers and add to the roux. If making a meat version, add the Andouille at this point. Place back on a lower heat and stir until the veggies are tender.
In a separate pan, heat the water and add the bouillon (you can use prepackaged vegetable – about 3 quarts needed instead of water, or beef broth if non-vegan). Bring to a boil, and slowly add the roux to the broth.
Reduce to simmer and add everything else except the gumbo filet, vinegar, Worcestershire and okra.
Simmer about an hour stirring constantly.
While that is cooking in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil, add the okra to the pan and add the vinegar. Cook the okra for 15 minutes and add it to the mixture.
At this point, add the gumbo filet and the Worcestershire sauce. Add crabmeat and shrimp if you are using those ingredients, too.
Simmer for about 45 minutes and just before serving, add another couple teaspoons of the gumbo powder. Salt and pepper to taste!