Talk to 10 Cajuns, and you are going to get 12 different recipes for Gumbo. “Back in Maman’s day…” “Why you adding file, Cher?” “Ah, now you talkin’. Go ahead. Add some squirrel to dat pot.” But most agree you start with some type of roux. A roux is some type of fat in which flour is added. It is stirred and cooked until it is….the color of a paper bag? Dark chocolate? The color of the roux is something else that is debated – if they aren’t debating whether or not a roux is even necessary.
Have you ever noticed how much life is like a big pot of Gumbo? On the first cold snap of the year, The Country Boy immediately headed to the kitchen to pull out the ingredients. It’s almost a tradition here in the south. While he was cutting, measuring, chopping and stirring, I noticed some of the similarities.
First, You Make A Roux
A roux is started in a heavy duty cast iron skillet. Pour in your oil and let it heat up. Then sprinkle enough flour to thicken. Stir. Stir some more. And keep stirring, until the roux has reached a dark peanut butter color. Then turn off the fire.
Any journey you start in life needs to begin with a heavy duty attitude. You are about to embark on the unknown, and the first few steps may feel like you have stepped in hot oil. But stir in some determination and tenacity, stir it around, and next thing you know, you have a firm foundation for your next steps.
Okra: The backbone
The first records of Gumbo stem from the late 1700’s, and from what researchers can tell, ‘Gumbo’ translates roughly to okra soup, which was served with or over rice. Many people don’t like okra, primarily because this vegetable can get a little slimy. But if you want a true Gumbo…
Life can throw some pretty slimy and sticky situations your way. In order to get out of them, all you have to do is add a little heat, stir, stir, and stir some more, and you can easily cook all that slime out. It just takes some patience, and a lot of stirring.
Bell Pepper, Onion and Celery: The Cajun Trinity
The next step in Gumbo is adding what is traditional considered the Cajun Trinity. Just about any dish that is being prepared in a Cajun kitchen will include these three vegetables. And then they add chopped garlic. These ingredients add color and flavor to any dish.
Decisions, people and experiences add the color and flavor to life. The person you are to become is built on laughter, tears and frustration. It is these things that help you to grow, to learn and to overcome the obstacles that can get in your way.
Add a little more flavor with spices, some chicken bouillon, and take your next step.
The Meat of the Matter
If it is considered meat, it can go into Gumbo. Squirrel. Chicken. Alligator. Deer. Sausage. Crab, shrimp, oysters or crawfish. Even dove and other birds. It all depended on what was handy, or what the daily catch was. Considering most Cajuns lived in the swamps or water, much of their meat consisted of some type of seafood. But if that wasn’t available, they used what was on hand.
We may not have all the tools we need to make it through life, but that doesn’t mean you wash out the pot and stick it in the pantry. Instead, you find what’s available, use your ingenuity, and create what you need to get the job done. Don’t let not having the right tool, words, or knowledge stop you. Figure out what you need, and keep on moving forward. You aren’t far from the finish line – why quit now?
Let it Simmer
Gumbo is one of those all day meals. The longer you let it simmer, the better it tastes. Flavors begin to slowly meld together, and the aromas send out enticing fingers of deliciousness.
Sometimes, we need to just sit back and let all our hard work simmer for a bit. Any journey takes time, and all journeys require a little rest. Take some time out of each day and reflect on the work you have completed. Stop to think about where your next step needs to be. Resting can clear your mind of clutter, and allow things to blend together.
Time to Eat!
Cook a big pot of rice, pull that French bread out of the oven, and even take it to the next level and serve some baked sweet potatoes for that little extra splash.
Before you know it, this path on your life’s journey will come to a crossroad. It’s time to celebrate your accomplishments and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Serve up a big helping of joy, and then decide which direction your life’s journey is going to take you. But before you turn left or right, go ahead and put some of that Gumbo (experience) aside. You just might need to take it out and enjoy a bite or two to remind you that you can succeed just fine when life gets tough on the next path.