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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

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XTRA: Louisiana Gumbo Recipes

Gumbo recipes vary from place to place, person to person. Across the South, no two people make gumbo alike. Chefs have styles; families have traditions. Roux is the most prominent thickener. Some folks use okra instead of–or in addition to–roux. For others, gumbo is not gumbo without filé, either used in a combination with okra and/or roux, or on its own. Still others in gumbo country have never even heard of filé. There are gumbos built upon bases of chicken stock or oyster liquor; gumbos finished with green onion tops or hot sauce; gumbos served with potato salad or cornbread.

Whatever the variation, we offer you these recipes from our 2010 Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook to get you started. We hope that, in addition to enjoying gumbos from our friends and members, you will experiment in your own kitchen and develop a greater appreciation for the culture, tradition, and variety of gumbo.

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Carol Copeland received this gumbo recipe some forty years ago from a friend’s grandmother in Shreveport, Louisiana. “I make the gumbo every time my family goes to Dauphin Island,” a barrier island south of Mobile, Alabama. “We used to buy the shrimp from Petrona’s market there until Hurricane Katrina took it away.”

Makes 12 servings

6 tablespoons bacon drippings
2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
½ cup all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock or shrimp stock
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1½ pounds okra, trimmed and cut into thin rounds
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 to 2 pints shucked oysters
1 pint crabmeat, picked over
1 tablespoon filé (optional)
Hot, cooked white rice, for serving


Heat 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they soften, about 8 minutes. Transfer the onions with a slotted spoon into a bowl and set aside. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings to the pot. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring slowly and constantly, until the roux is rich rusty brown, about 30 minutes. Stir in the stock, reserved onions, bay leaves, cayenne, seasoned salt, pepper, parsley, okra, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. Stir in the shrimp, oysters, and crab. Cook, uncovered, another 20 minutes. Stir in the filé, if using. Serve hot, over rice.

Carol Copeland of Athens, Alabama

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The men in Georgeanna Milam Chapman’s family have always been big duck hunters. Duck gumbo was a wintertime staple in her Tupelo, Mississippi, home. “We still serve it today on Christmas Eve,” she says. “One year, when our freezer was well-stocked with ducks, I searched all my cookbooks for duck gumbo. But I couldn’t find a recipe I liked. So I turned to this one from my grandmother, Pauline P. Bridgforth.”

Makes 12 to 15 servings

3 whole ducks
4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 whole chicken
¼ cup vegetable oil, divided
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen sliced okra
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (3-ounce) bag crab and shrimp boil seasoning
Seasoned salt
Creole seasoning
Hot, cooked white rice, for serving
Chopped parsley and green onions, for garnish


Place the ducks in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover with cold water, add 2 teaspoons of the salt, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Pour off the water. Add the chicken to the pot. Cover with cold water, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the meat starts to fall off the bones, 45 to 60 minutes. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Pour 14 cups of stock back into the pot; discard any excess. When the birds are cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones and return it to the pot. Discard the bones and skin. Keep the stock warm over low heat.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add the bell pepper, onions, and celery; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes, then add to the pot of stock and meat. Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add the okra and cook until it thaws and the liquid cooks away, then add to the pot.

Heat the bacon drippings in the skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook the roux, stirring slowly and constantly, until it is toasty brown. Add the water and tomato paste; stir until smooth, then add to the stock pot. Toss in the seasoning bag. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the gumbo is thick, 1 to 1½ hours. Discard the seasoning bag. Season with seasoned salt and Creole seasoning. Serve hot over rice, garnished with parsley and green onions.

Pauline P. Bridgforth of Tupelo, Mississippi, by way of Georgeanna Milam Chapman of Lexington, Kentucky

* * *


Much was lost in the wake of the levee failures that followed Hurricane Katrina. Armed with a sense of collective responsibility to avoid further losses, many work to preserve what remains. We do that, in part, by recovering imperiled culinary traditions. Gumbo z’Herbes is an example of a dish that, at least to outlanders, was little known before the storm and is now better known. Leah Chase, who cooked this gumbo for innumerable post-Katrina events, is largely responsible for that.

Leah grew up eating green gumbo every Holy Thursday in Madisonville, Louisiana. The idea then, and now, was to feast on the hearty, meat-heavy soup before fasting on Good Friday. This recipe is an expansion of Leah’s original, amended after she and Sara Roahen shopped and cooked together. Leah says that Creole always add filé to their gumbo z’herbes, even though few cookbook recipes call for it.

Makes 12 to 15 servings

2 ham shanks
1 gallon water
Between 7 and 11 of the following greens to total 6 to 8 pounds: collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, cabbage, carrot tops, beet tops, arugula, parsley, green onions, watercress, romaine or other lettuce, curly endive, kale, radish tops, and/or pepper grass
3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 pounds fresh hot sausage
1 pound chicken drumettes
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into ½-inch slices
1 pound smoked pork sausage, cut into ½-inch slices
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 ounces ham, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
3 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon filé powder (optional)
Hot, cooked white rice, for serving


Place the ham shanks and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer until needed.

Wash all of the greens thoroughly in salt water, being sure to remove any grit, discolored outer leaves, and tough stems. Rinse in a bath of plain water. (A clean double sink works well for this.) Drain the greens in a colander. Place the greens, onions, and garlic in a very large stock pot and cover with water. (If all of the vegetables won’t fit in the pot, cook them in batches, using the same cooking liquid for each batch.) Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 45 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked vegetables into a large bowl to cool for a few minutes. Pour the cooking liquid into a large bowl and set it aside. Working in batches, puree the vegetables in a food processor or by running them through a meat grinder. Use a little cooking liquid to loosen the puree, if needed. Transfer the puree into a large bowl and set aside.

Cook the fresh sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until it renders its fat and moisture, breaking up the sausage with the side of a spoon. Transfer with a slotted spoon into a large bowl and set aside. Brown the chicken in the rendered sausage fat over medium-high heat and then transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the cooked sausage. (The chicken will cook more later, so it does not need to cook through at this point.) Set the skillet and drippings aside.

Remove the ham shanks from their cooking liquid, reserving the liquid to use as a stock. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones. Chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl with the sausage and chicken. Discard the bones and the fat. Pour the ham stock into a large bowl and set it aside.

Return the vegetable puree into the large stock pot. Add the hot sausage, chicken, andouille, smoked pork sausage, stew beef, ham-shank meat, and chopped ham. (If it will not fit into the pot, divide it between two pots.) Cover with equal parts ham stock and greens cooking liquid and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

To make the roux, place the skillet containing the hot sausage pan drippings over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the drippings and stir well with a wooden spoon. If the mixture is dry and crumbly, stir in enough vegetable oil to make a smooth, thick paste. Cook, stirring constantly, slowly, and intently until the roux turns light brown. (This isn’t a dark roux, but the flour should be cooked.) Drop tablespoons of roux into the simmering gumbo, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the thyme, cayenne, bay leaves, and salt. Simmer the gumbo until the stew meat is tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour. Stir often to prevent scorching. If the gumbo gets too thick to stir, add more stock or water.

If desired, slowly add the filé at the end of cooking. (It will lump if you’re not careful.) Serve hot over cooked white rice.

Leah Chase and Sara Roahen of New Orleans, Louisiana

Leah Chase and Sara Roahen of New Orleans, Louisiana


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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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