There is a significance to being black in America, and there is a whole lot of struggle too. For my family and me there has always been a constant in our lives to help us combat this struggle. From my great grandfather working on a sharecrop plantation to my grandma and great aunts and uncles living on that plantation on Cane River in Natchitoches, Louisiana while being sharecroppers, food and cooking have always been there for us. I would like to share some of our family cultures through food recipes and images with you.
Gumbo is a stew or thick soup, usually made with chicken or seafood, and okra or sometimes filé as a thickener. One of the most important parts of gumbo is the roux. The roux is what gives gumbo its deep color.
“Gumbo is warmth on a cold, blistering day,” said my great-aunt, Mary (Mut) Ikejani.
Jambalaya is a dish of Louisiana origin with lots of Spanish and French influence. It is made of meat and vegetables mixed with rice or pasta. Traditionally, the meat always includes sausage of some sort, often a smoked sausage such as andouille, along with some other meat or seafood.
“It reminds me of days at LSU’s campus and nights at the bars in New Orleans,” said my dad Antonio (Tony) Evans.
Etouffee is a dish that is typically made with some sort of shellfish and served over rice. It uses the smothering method which is popular down south, especially in Louisiana (where my family is from). In the deep south, a staple in most home cooked meals is the Holy Trinity which consists of bell pepper, onion and celery.
My Aunt Bern Bern’s Crawfish Etouffee Recipe:
1-2 sticks of butter
3-4 teaspoons of flour
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 chopped bell pepper
1 pod of finely chopped garlic
Fat from crawfish
2lbs of crawfish
Black pepper and Cayenne powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ green onion tops
½ cup of celery
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
Melt butter. Add flour and stir until blended. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Saute until tender. Add fat from crawfish and cook for about 10 minutes. Add crawfish and one cup of water. Cook another 15 minutes. Season. Add one cup of water to obtain desired consistency. Just before serving, squeeze a little lemon juice over crawfish. Serve over rice. Flavor is improved if made the day before serving.
“Etouffee brings out the Cajun in you,” said Mut.
- Crawfish Boil
A crawfish boil is when a combination of crawfish, potatoes, onions, sausage and lemon are put in a giant, deep stainless pot. It is cooked on an outdoor open flame until bright red crawfish float to the top.
- Seafood Dressing
Seafood dressing is essentially like any typical dressing, yet it contains a mix of different seafood items and is more seasoned and tasty.
Mut’s Seafood Dressing Recipe
2 sticks of butter
Diced green onions
Make cornbread (can be box mix). Crumble it into a bowl and set it aside. Melt two sticks of butter. Add onion, parsley, and garlic. Saute. Add shrimp. Stir until shrimp is pink. Add crawfish. Heat well. Mix all in a bowl with bread crumbs and a raw egg. Add lump crab meat. Bake in an oven at 400 degrees until to is brown.
- Fried Turkey
Fried turkey is a whole turkey that is heavily seasoned with spices and cooked in a deep fryer, typically done outside. Another key to fried turkey is the fact that they are injected with liquid flavors and seasonings before dropping it into the fryer.
“It is usually served on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The wings or drumsticks are a favorite among many family members! Who will get them??” said my great-aunt Lillian Bernice (Bern Bern) Cook.
- Fried Catfish
Fried catfish is just that, fried catfish. It is best when you are the one who caught the catfish. Also when you make your own breading out of a mix of different spices it makes the dish more creative to you. This is a dish you can play around with and determine how crispy you like the fish to get, how seasoned you like it to be and even the type of breading used whether it be flour or cornmeal based. In our family and the south traditionally, we use cornmeal breading.
Shannon and Tony’s Fried Catfish (simplified)
3lbs of boneless catfish
1 bag of Louisiana fish fry
Paul Prudhommes seafood seasoning
Rinse fish well in ice cold water. Place fish fry and all seasonings to your taste (about a teaspoon of each). Roll fish in the fish fry and seasoning until well coated. Heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Softly drop in the fish and fry until golden brown. Remove from hot oil and lay on a paper towel covered cooling rack.
“This can be had year round, especially on Fridays,” said Aunt Bern Bern.
- Red Beans and Rice
Red beans and rice is an iconic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine with red beans, vegetables, spices and pork cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice. Meats such as sausage and ham are also frequently used in the dish.
Shannon’s Famous Red Beans and Rice
1 large bag of dried red beans
2lbs of pork sausage links
1 large sweet yellow onion
1 small green bell pepper
A 12oz Coke
Cavenders Greek Seasoning
Whole bay leaves
The night before cooking, place all beans in a large bowl and cover them with water to soak overnight. Rough chop onion and bell pepper and in a large soup pot, heat olive oil and saute your veggies. Once that is done, pour in the soaked beans, pour in water to fill the pot halfway. Pour in all seasonings to taste and add about 2 bay leaves. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring often to not allow them to stick to the bottom for about two hours. After about an hour you can get a large frying pan and cut your sausage into round slices (not too thick) and put oil in the pan to brown them. Once cooked and browned, place in a bowl and set to the side. After beans begin to soften slightly, you can pour in your Coke. Continue adding water or seasonings as necessary. Add sausage. Then turn down heat and cook for a couple more hours.
“It makes me think of when I was growing up and we didn’t have a lot so we would eat beans and rice a lot; but when you threw in a little sausage and Cajun seasonings and love, I never felt that I didn’t have. To me it was just as good a dish as going to a good restaurant,” said my mom Shannon Evans.
- Hot Water Cornbread
Hot water cornbread sometimes referred to as “poor man’s bread” is a southern take on the traditional cornbread. Instead of simply being baked in the oven, rather the cornbread is fried in little patties/balls and then served. This cooking method provides for a very crispy and crunchy, golden brown outside with a warm and soft inside.
Gigi and Tony’s Hot Water Cornbread
1 cup of cornmeal
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Mix dry ingredients well and add boiling water. Make consistency of hamburger patties. Make into patties and fry in hot oil.
“Hot water cornbread is always served with some vegetables, but especially greens,” said Aunt Bern Bern.
Collard greens are a common vegetable of the south. They are often prepared with other similar green leaf vegetables, such as turnip and mustard greens, known as “mixed greens”. Typical seasonings when cooking collards consist of smoked and salted meats (ham hocks, smoked turkey drumsticks, pork neckbones, fatback or other fatty meat), diced onions, vinegar, salt, and black, white, or crushed red pepper, and some cooks add a small amount of sugar.
Shannon’s Hot Greens
2 bunches of whole collard greens
2 bunches of whole turnip greens
1 large ham hock
1 large sweet yellow onion
Texas Pete Peppers in vinegar
Cavenders Greek Seasoning
Lawry’s seasoning salt
Greens will be dirty. Wash them three times in a sink full of cold water. Drain water between washes. Tear the leafy greens away from stems and tear into random sized pieces and place in a large bowl and set aside. Be sure to throw away the remaining stems. Chop onion and 4 garlic cloves. In a large soup pot put olive oil in and heat. Place the ham hock in with the onion and saute. Once sauteed put in garlic and saute briefly. Place 4-5 cups of chicken broth in the pot and six cups of hot water. Add seasoning to taste. Start placing greens in the soup pot. With a large wooden spoon, push them down and continue to add until all are in. Pour ¼ cup of white vinegar in and add 5 Texas Pete Peppers. Stir. Cook for about 2-3 hours stirring and adding water and seasoning as needed.
“When I cook greens I think of two things. Number one standing at the sink washing fresh greens with my MawMaw and watching her cook them with love for my PawPaw and me. And number two when I am standing at my kitchen sink washing the fresh greens for my family and knowing I am about to cook them with love for my family,” said my mom.
Trifle is a dessert made with fruit, a thin layer of sponge fingers or sponge cake or pound cake. It can be topped with whipped cream. The fruit and sponge layers may be suspended in a flavored pudding, and these ingredients are usually arranged to produce three or four layers.
- Apple Pie
Apple pie is a tradition across America. It consists of an apple filling poured into a large pie crust. Some pie recipes, especially in the south, use lots of cinnamon or other spices like this to add more flavor.
- Pecan Pie
Pecan pie is a pie of pecan nuts mixed with a filling of eggs, butter, KARO Syrup and sugar. It is popularly served at holiday meals and is also considered a specialty of the south. Most pecan pie recipes include salt and vanilla as flavorings. Chocolate and bourbon whiskey are other popular additions to the recipe. Pecan pie is often served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
I hope that all these foods which hold a special place in the hearts of my family have inspired you to go out and try to cook something new. As said earlier, food will always be there for you, but it’s about how you choose to appreciate the food and make it your own.
I think my cousin Bradford (Brad) Cook put it best, “these are all comfort food at its best, they are all meant to be shared with family.”