Gumbo: A Labor of Love

gumbo

gumbo

By: Ginny Heard

You’d be hard pressed to find me ordering gumbo at a restaurant. Where I’m from, the coastal town of Fairhope, Alabama, the best food comes out of your own momma’s kitchen. This is especially true of my mother’s kitchen, where her Mobile upbringing filled her culinary repertoire with dish upon dish of Creole mainstays. Gumbo, the crowning glory of this list, is a rich, silken triumph of her seemingly magical culinary abilities. Indeed, after a bowl heavy-laden with shellfish, okra, and of course, the holy trinity, I have seen out-of-town guests who swore they’d never touch shellfish or who crinkled their noses at the thought of okra become believers before my very eyes.

I no longer live on the coast, and often miss those rich dishes I grew up on. I spent the few weeks leading up to a recent visit heartily campaigning for a gumbo dinner.

This time I watched my mom in the kitchen as opposed to just showing up at the table for supper like I did when I was younger. What I learned was that this gumbo was not magical like I had always believed, appearing out of nowhere. This gumbo was a labor of love.

I watched as my mother spooned some Crisco into the skillet and sprinkled in some flour. I watched her spread the mixture with a practiced movement of her wooden spoon, slowly cooking the raw flour into a smooth, nutty roux. I watched as she stood there for what seemed like all afternoon, chatting, laughing, comforting, and all the while stirring the roux over low heat as it turned from blonde to caramel to dark brown. The coming together took a while, as the flavors melded in the pot and the aromas wafted through the house, casting their comforting spell.

Most folks line up to pile rice into their bowls before ladling on the velvety gumbo. I’ll share a secret, though—skip the rice. I learned long ago that when it comes to gumbo as good as my mother’s, there’s no room for filler.

 Find more great stories like this one in Taste of the South’s March/April 2017 issue!

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