Gumbo history? Really? 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 during the 18th century when French cooking techniques provided the beginning with bouillabaisse.
The native Choctaw's file' powder and local seafood were a major addition to the local cuisine.
African American imported okra found its way into the Louisiana kitchens, and provided gumbo with its name (gumbo is the African word for okra). Bell peppers, celery and onions (the trinity) were brought to the table by Spanish colonists.
Creoles from New Orleans and surrounding parishes influenced the wonderful soup with tomatoes and cooking techniques that added much variety.
There is much speculation as to how gumbo as we know it today evolved into it's current form. Those native Louisianans who have lived along the bayous and swamps will understand gumbo history and it's evolution.
Go back in time about 200 years and picture in your mind the life styles that existed then. During that time period south Louisiana people lived off the land. They were farmers or fishermen as the entire region is blessed with fertile cropland and an extensive network of bayous and rivers. There locals harvested crawfish, catfish and other game fish.
People living closer to the Gulf of Mexico harvested shrimp, oysters, crabs and other wonderful seafood from it's warm waters. Hunters took wildfowl, deer and wild boar along with small game. It was a normal practice to use these as a mainstay for feeding families.
But these animal proteins were not always plentiful........
Some were seasonal and only available for short periods. Many south Louisiana families were large and there were many hungry mouths to feed. Gumbo is one of the more perfect foods for feeding large numbers of people and when served with rice provides a hearty and filling meal while using only small amounts of animal protein.
Spring and early summer usually saw crawfish, catfish and other freshwater fish used. Late summer was a time to make chicken, duck or goose gumbo from the fowl raised at home. As the fall season approached and temperatures cooled it was common to see duck, squirrel, rabbit and all sorts of wild game brought home by the cajun hunters. These were often turned into a large pot of delicious soup for families and friends.
Gumbo history reveals..........
that in the beginning this tasty elixir was a simple soup using meats and vegetables in water. Then at some point okra was added because is was a common vegetable available in late summer. It was discovered that okra boosted the flavor but more importantly it added some texture in the way of a thickening agent.
Later it was discovered that flour could be used to thicken. Still later and probably quite by accident someone found that flour browned in pig lard added a great color, texture and taste. This is where roux first made it's appearance and changed gumbo history.
Since then roux has become the dominant agent to thicken this famous Louisiana dish as nothing can match the colors and flavors or the deep and hearty taste and texture gumbo lovers seek.
During this evolution it was also discovered that ground leaves from the sassafras tree (file') also could be used as a thickener. This fine seasoning was adopted from the local Choctaw indians and adds a distinctive flavor and texture while serving to thicken the dish.
Now here is some gumbo history you may not know. In the last 30 years, spicy hot has been added as an optional feature to gumbo. Up until that time spicy was not a feature of gumbo except for a few drops of Louisiana Hot Sauce or Tabasco added to a served bowl. These special Louisiana sauces were added not for the hot and spicy but for the subtle flavors of the vinegar and pepper sauce.
In modern times the popularity of celebrity chefs and their use of cayenne peppers and other hot seasonings has created an interest in spicy versions. But history shows us that in the South Louisiana Cajun and Creole cultures a correct gumbo is made without the spice. Cooks learned to infuse intense flavors by using fresh ingredients, roux, okra or file' and added smoked lean meats to provide some zip and zing.
The first written references to gumbo appear in the early 1800s. In 1885, the division between file' and okra-based gumbos was documented in La Cuisine Creole. The cookbook contained many gumbo recipes, some made with file' and some with okra, but none with roux.