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Steamy Okra Gumbo Art Print by Elaine Hodges

Let’s talk New Orleans Gumbo! The history of Gumbo

The name “Gumbo” derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra. The use of filé (dried and ground sassafras leaves) was a contribution of the Choctaws and, possibly, other local tribes. Roux has its origin in French cuisine.

Gumbo is closely associated with a melting pot of Louisiana cooking, but New Orleans is known for having the best authentic gumbo in the country. Gumbo has a rich history and is often called the greatest contribution of Louisiana kitchens to American cuisine.

This dish has its origins in Louisiana in 1803, gumbo was served at a gubernatorial reception in New Orleans, and in 1804 gumbo was served at a Cajun gathering on the Acadian Coast.

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What is New Orleans? “New Orleans is Creole gumbo, filé gumbo, cowan gumbo, chicken gumbo, smoked sausage gumbo, hot sausage gumbo, onion gumbo.” ~ Kermit Ruffins, New Orleans vocalist and trumpeter

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History of Gumbo in Louisiana:

Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that exist in southern Louisiana.[1] The dish combines the culinary practices of French, Spanish, indigenous tribes, and Africans, as well as Italians, and Germans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people from these cultures lived together within a fairly small area with minimal mobility. This fostered an environment in which cultures could influence each other and meld to create new traditions and cuisine.[17]

The dish personifies the word ‘Creole’; like its human counterparts, gumbo was born in the New World and took cues from the old but adapted to the new.

— Cynthia Lejeune Nobles[1]

The establishment of New Orleans in 1718 marked the beginning of the French colony of Louisiana.[18] French settlers allied with various native tribes including the ChoctawAlabama, and Cherokee,[19][20] from whom they learned new methods of cooking and ways to identify edible indigenous plants.[21]

Slave ships began arriving in Louisiana in 1719. The first ships carried rice and men who were experienced in its cultivation.[22] The grain adapted well to its new environment, and within a few years, rice was commonly grown along the Mississippi River.[23]

In 1721, 125 Germans settled 40 miles (64 km) from New Orleans, and introduced the art of making sausage.[24] By 1746, the white population of Louisiana was estimated to be 3,200, with an estimated 4,730 black people. Slaves outnumbered whites in most areas of Louisiana for at least the next 40 years.[25][26]

The colony was transferred from French to Spanish control in 1762.[23] The Spanish government actively recruited settlers for Spanish Louisiana.[27] About 2,000 people from the Canary Islands moved to the area south of New Orleans.[28][29] These settlers were primarily fishermen who soon began supplying large amounts of shrimp, crab, and oysters to the food markets in New Orleans. The Canary Islanders also brought “a love for well-seasoned food”,[30] including use of ground cayenne pepper, a spicy hot red chili pepper.[29] Spanish authorities also granted permission for a large number of French-speaking Acadian exiles to relocate from northeastern North America to Louisiana. From 1755 through 1795, almost 3,000 of these settlers, soon known as Cajuns, moved to the areas south and west of New Orleans.[30] Louisiana was secretly returned to France in 1800, then purchased by the United States in 1803. The southernmost part of territorial Louisiana, including New Orleans, became the state of Louisiana in 1812.

By 1800, the slave trade had introduced new foods to Louisiana, including the African vegetable okra,[31] and hot pepper plants which likely came from Haiti.[32] Onions and bell peppers were long part of cooking in both the Spanish and African traditions.[20]Tomatoes were introduced to the region shortly thereafter.[33]

Orgins:

The exact origins are unknown, gumbo is often believed to be a dish of mixed origins of French, Spanish, African, Native American Caribbean and German influence. African-American slaves often exchanged or combined ingredients in order to make the dish, allowing it to serve as a means of community and identity among them.[34]

West Africans used the vegetable okra as a base for many dishes, including soups. In Louisiana, gumbo includes ingredients introduced by several cultural groups.[20] Surviving records indicate that by 1764 African slaves in New Orleans mixed cooked okra with rice to make a meal.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Foodways

A native of New Orleans, who left her beloved New Orleans to spend twenty years of living in the land of Minnesota Not So Nice. Minnesota was full of opportunities but would learn that the soul of the state and the people who made it was just as icy cold as the temperatures. After the years and my 40th birthday flew by, I decided it was time to pack up my youngest child and come back to my roots, my birthplace the city that not only birthed me but gave me life. I would not be who I am without my New Orleans beginnings. I am all things that would challenge the belief of growing up in New Orleans. I was a 16yr old teen mother of a premature baby born with a severe medical disability. And only With the help of my mother, was it possible for me to BE! I was able to endure and survive the obstacles laid before my child and me. In a city that was built by my family, but did not allow for us to reap the benefits I overcame. Charity Hospital was my second home — a building filled with miracle workers who made it possible for my daughter to have life. I have lived a life of rainy days with peeks of sunshine, that are my children, including those not of my womb. I'm the proud mother of three and a grandmother of three. My dream was to live the life of the nursery rhyme of ”The Old Lady Who lived in a shoe,” and for the most part, I did. I cared for several children over the years as a special needs foster parent. I would learn that my love was not enough for some children, but I loved them through their pain. I'm not sure if I ever had a case of true love or came close to what love looks like on television, but I had my share of men and the mirage of love. I survived two abusive marriages. Though I longed to return to New Orleans on a daily bases, I must admit my move was one of the best decisions made for me. I am a college graduate; I was a successful entrepreneur. I coowned a soul food restaurant and catering company in Minnesota for 12 years. I developed the talent of creating custom cakes after the murder of my beloved cousin Melvin Paul. He survived Katrina only to go to Minneapolis six months later to be murdered over a parking spot dispute. But with the challenge of creating a simple wedding cake, I was able to find healing. I created the House of Cakes in honor of him. Minnesota life had me pretty materialistic. I worked to the point I do not remember much, but work and handing my children love money. I thought by having the big house on the hill, a husband, having a family, the ultimate provider and being involved in all things that matter, plus having the funds to match would cure me of what I was told was a generational curse of lack of everything from money, love to even self-love. But for the most part, that life poisoned my heart and soul. I was blinded by visions fed to me by the media. I was told I wasn't anything unless I was better than the Jones's. I lived being ok with a broken, bleeding heart. Life like this did not exist in my family while living in New Orleans from what I viewed with my eyes and soul. We may not have had all the things I acquired over the years, but we were happy, we were together. Family outside of New Orleans wasn't family anymore. We lived separate lives and had awkward moments when we bumped into each other in public. I hated living in Minnesota even though life their helped me in so many ways. I felt deep down the only way to repair it was to get back to my roots, my soul, my home, myself, my New Orleans. I'm here, and I love it. Even being in the so-called Blighted Area of New Orleans and not having all the financial and material security, I'm happy. I am determined that She, yes, New Orleans is a woman is just like me; together, we will overcome and will rise from all that tried to kill our spirit. Nothing like starting from the bottom and making your way back up!. I just know in my heart that New Orleans will provide for me. There's a bank account with funds in it owed to me by way of back pay for my ancestors. And I will receive my inheritance, and I will continue the traditions and customs of the old to keep the heartbeat of New Orleans beating. I'm down in the boot, living the life that feels right to me awaiting my destiny...

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