Posts Tagged With: okra

A Gumbo Fugue

(This is the final reflection from the 2018 Southern Foodways Symposium.  As it goes up, the 2019 event is just hours away from the last meal and lots of goodbyes till next year.  Till then, here’s my take on the last meal from 2018.)

I’m treading on dangerous ground here.  This piece is about gumbo, and people are serious about gumbo.  There are right ways and wrong ways to make gumbo, to eat gumbo, and maybe even to write about gumbo.  There may be gumbo po-po lurking about, waiting to read this and tell me what I said wrong.  The loophole, thankfully, is that while individual opinions are strong on this subject, those strong opinions also vary.  Please be kind to the messenger.

I’m also about to take on a bit of a history of a man that I don’t know well enough.  It’s a man I’ve heard about many times at Southern Foodways Alliance Symposia, though I was never really sure why.  This past year, in fact, much ado was made about him – in fact, an entire album of music was written and performed for us by musician Paul Burch and friends, just before we were treated to the Lodge Cast Iron Supper: A Gumbo Fugue in Three Movements.

The chef for that dinner was Paul Fehribach from Big Jones restaurant in Chicago, which bills itself as being “Inspired by the People, Places, and History of The American South.”  Chef Paul grew up in Indiana, and as far as I have been able to determine, has never actually lived below the Mason Dixon line, but takes great pains to shape the menu around historic Southern recipes.  From where I sit, that sounds like someone who recognizes the importance of the Southern larder in the American culinary experience, and I can get behind that.

As for the man the evening was based around, we’re talking about Eugene Walter.  I knew the name, but learned quite a bit more about him through the music and the menu.  He was an actor, translator, cryptographer, poet, chef, food writer, raconteur, and more – all affirmed by le Pedia de Wiki.  The more I learn about him, the more I wish I’d had the chance to be in his circle; I get the feeling life was never dull around Eugene Walter.

Bl3UQq86QC+zjl4Y8qYhxw

It was his food writing – cookbooks in particular – that inspired Chef Paul.  According to our guide to the evening (a menu of sorts, with more stories than ingredient lists), he read Walter’s “Delectable Dishes from Termite Hall”, which referenced an unpublished book called, “A Grand Fugue on the Art of Gumbo.”  The mention of the book led the chef to an essay titled, “The Gumbo Cult”, and his delight in reading it resulted in a multi-gumbo menu representative of Walter’s life work.

The first platter to catch my attention was piled high with corn sticks, for dunking purposes.  The cover of Walter’s “American Cooking: Southern Style” featured the same.

7x%Uu6e4S5mP3M+8+aVarA

Green Gumbo with Vanishing Bread filled one enormous cast iron pot.  This goes by another name you may have heard, gumbo z’herbes.  Numerous references tell me that this one is usually full of greens, and was often served meatless during Lent – but Andouille sausage and such can always be added.  As for the vanishing bread, at Big Jones it’s described as pecorino-crusted baguette.  Ours were crouton-sized, which logically follows Walter’s reminiscing about North Alabamians putting croutons (or sippets, as he called them) over greens.

Q4oIphxhTy6qSMGYAMsEAg

Gumbo the second was Crevettes et Crabe Bouillies with Okra and File’ over Creole Boiled Rice.  This is where I got into trouble the last time I talked about gumbo, trying to differentiate between when okra and file’ were used.  Well, this one had both, so figure that one out.  (Gumbo is personal, y’all.)  What was interesting, per Chef Paul’s description, was that his brother harvested the file’ himself from a sassafras tree in the woods of Southern Indiana.  Crevettes, by the way, are large prawns cooked in the shell, and our “crabes” were crab claws placed along with prawns atop the gumbo.

erjZS39vStuo+IBYCQZizQ

 

I think the third was my favorite, and featured a tradition I was unaware of until that night.  It was what you might call a traditional gumbo: a very dark roux with chicken and andouille.  What threw me was the underpinning – it was served over Abruzzi potato salad.  I’d never had gumbo served over anything but rice (except for that time I served a version of my own over grits.)  But apparently it’s pretty common for potato salad to be served either with or in gumbo.  Who knew?  The Abruzzi recipe comes from Walter’s book, “The Happy Table of Eugene Walter” and has a splash of white wine in the ingredient list.  Mr. Walter was quite fond of spirits, as I understand it.

baBiJZ0gRKiwu9e93+9Kqw

That fondness also showed up in the dessert: Tipsy Parson with muscadines, a sort of parfait with sherry-soaked pound cake as the base.  He called it “the grown-up cousin to banana pudding.”

IkqvPGF1TBiEozXty7Ikdw

As much as I enjoy gumbo, I don’t choose or make it near enough.  But now that I know there are options, be it cheese-encrusted croutons on top or potato salad underneath, I may give this dish another whirl.  I just hope I do it right.

fullsizeoutput_1808

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lunch with Mashama, Again!

(It’s time for the 2019 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  Here’s another look at a tale told through lunch from the 2018 event.)

There are always new people at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  I was one of those new people once, and a few years later The Wife was a new people.  This year the event was opened up to the public (usually it’s limited to members), so there were lots of new people.  

Whenever we sit down for a meal at this eating-meeting we have a choice to make: we can try to sit with folks we already know, which is fun because we often only see them once a year, or we can go potluck (food pun intended) and sit with complete strangers.  The great thing about potlucking with strangers is that they are not strangers very long.  Then you have new friends to sit with next year.  

A few years ago, at a lunch early in the weekend, we sat down and began making conversation with a couple of nice ladies from Savannah, Georgia.  And as we conversed The Wife and I discovered that one of them was Mashama Bailey, Chef at The Grey.  Not only was she a chef, she was also the chef that would be making lunch for us the next day.  I’ve seen a little behind-the-scenes video of what it takes to pull off one of these lunches, so in hindsight I’m wondering how she wasn’t already in a kitchen prepping to feed 300-plus people, but hey – chefs gotta’ eat, too, right?  And they don’t want to miss any of these meals, either.  

Fast forward to this year.  Since the day we sat with Mashama she has become a finalist for a James Beard Award (Best Chef Southeast), and The Grey was Eater.com’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year.  (Now all the chefs want to sit with us…)  Not a bad resume, considering she had already worked for years with Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune in NYC, and was hand-picked through that relationship to open up The Grey in 2014.  And we are grateful that she was also hand-picked to cook lunch for us again.  

qpaWbr+5QvOL%yo946aNfw

The theme for the SFA’s 2018 programming was the link between food and literature, in a vast number of forms.  This lunch was inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, a writer known for the novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” published in 1937, along with more novels, an autobiography, short stories, essays, plays and more.  Hurston was not a cookbook author, but as her biographer, Valerie Boyd (who spoke to us at the Symposium), noted, food was an integral part of her personality.  To research, Chef Mashama worked with Boyd, and read a lot of Hurston’s works for inspiration.  Here’s what she came up with.  

On the table as we arrived were what she called “Jook Snacks,” foods that people from her small-town Georgia roots (and Hurston’s in rural Florida) would have eaten simply because they were around.  There were hot buns with preserves, bread and butter pickles, and a platter of pulled rabbit with Tabasco sauce.  How old were you when you first sat down to a platter of pulled rabbit?  On the day we had it, I was that day old.  

vqJiJyo3TouIws6WQ%VpnQ

The second course was Savannah Red Rice with Shrimp, and Stewed Okra.  According to Mashama, chicken and rice was Hurston’s dish, so the translation to Savannah was simple.  Over the last few years I’ve eaten less rice than I used to (you know, carbs and all), but I didn’t hesitate to dive into this.  I’ve even made a version of it before, a baked rice dish flavored (and colored red) by tomatoes, accentuated with onion and bell pepper, and studded with bacon or sausage – or, in this case, shrimp, which was absolutely appropriate for a port city dish.  Stewed okra, of course, is not just okra – it’s got tomatoes and onions going on, too.  

The third course took us to the juke joints Hurston wrote about.  Mashama said, “Fish is the ultimate juke-joint food.”  So instead of shrimp and grits, she made fish and grits.  Not like your mama’s fish and grits, though.  (I’m just kidding – if your mama made fish and grits, please let me know.)  These were mostly-whole whiting atop grit cakes so carefully put together they almost looked like thick slices of potato.  So now I have another way to love grits.  Alongside were Tabasco Sauce-braised collards with smoked pig tails.  (By the way, did I mention that this was the 2018 Tabasco Luncheon?)  Again, did your mama put pig tails in the collards?  If mine did, she didn’t tell me – I wasn’t always as adventurous as I am now, so her silence would have been a good idea.  And it was a good idea, indeed – the pig tails, I mean.  Ash-roasting sweet potatoes was also a good idea, served on a bed of thick, red sauce that I meant to ask about…but didn’t.  

APspwJ5wRneUbVyAuEOipw

 

Let’s talk about dessert.  This is the part where I’ve already confessed in previous writings that I like to hang around and partake of leftovers.  This time was no different.  Tea cakes made with cornmeal and buttermilk were the centerpiece, because Tea Cake is a main character in Hurston’s first novel, and according to Boyd’s biography, cornbread and buttermilk was Zora’s favorite childhood breakfast.  I had a few of these, but not a few too many.  To accompany the tea cakes were candied pears – I love pear preserves and these were an interesting twist – and peanut brittle that was kinda’ fancy.  

COocV7QHTkmuJLPRUSWrNQ

Not only did this lunch make me want to go to Savannah, it also made me want to read some Zora Neale Hurston.  Eating and reading – two of my favorite things to do. 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.