Finally! It’s gumbo weather in Louisiana. Temperatures are mild, and the humidity is low. Time to stir up a roux in a cast iron pot and get cooking. Even better, it’s a good time to ask my mama to make a gumbo. When it comes to gumbo, I can’t think of any I have had that compares to her gumbo. Especially her seafood gumbo.
The roux is turned into dark brown.* The holy trinity is added. ** Stir in a tad of finely chopped tomatoes, and lastly fresh shrimp and crab.
And best of all, okra. I love okra. Just the name, okra, makes me smile. It sounds southern and exotic at the same time. It’s a weird-looking vegetable, spindly and green on the outside. On the inside, it’s full of mucilage and seeds.
My mama is the Gumbo Queen in my mind. I didn’t know, until recently, that she feels she has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect gumbo, and after 85 years on this earth, she hasn’t gotten it right yet. She’s always comparing it to her mother’s gumbo. She feels insecure mainly about her chicken and sausage gumbo.We figured it out maybe. Her mama used fresh chickens from the yard, killed the same day as the gumbo is fixed, as well as using her own lard, not oil in the base. The okra would have come from my grandfather’s garden, picked by one of her seven children.
I think she should allow herself a bit of grace. A store-bought young fryer chicken never will taste like a large hen from the chicken coop. Nor will frozen okra compare to the pods one can pick from the garden. I scarcely expect her to find fresh pig fat either.
Maybe her roux isn’t as good as my mother’s mom did it, but it’s good, no doubt. For me I consider it a success to not burn the roux. There’s a trick to it, after all. Only the best cooks can get a smoky, dark roux just perfect without burning the oil and flour mixture. Too little cooking, and a light brown watery broth makes for a tepid bowl of gumbo.
My Cajun mama needs to give herself permission to have an excellent gumbo even if her mama had a better one. I need grace, too. Not just with gumbo. But with myself, with my family, and everyone else, for that matter.
*A roux is made from equal parts of flour and fat/oil heated over a low flame, turned constantly until the mix becomes dark brown.
**The holy trinity of most Cajun dishes are these three: celery, onions, and bell peppers.