I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Why am I not surprised that Bilbo left the African ingredient out of his gumbo recipe?

Theo Bilbo apparently took pride in himself as a chef, and was particularly proud of his recipe for what he called “French Gumbo.” While it omits the clearly African ingredient (okra)* and the Creole trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper), it does have a Native American ingredient (file, and actually another, pepper pods).

Besides the lack of vegetables, it seems a credible recipe up to the point where he tells you to cook it a long time after adding file. I don’t think that works. ┬áBut he does call for a very dark roux.

The recipe image is from the archives at the University of Southern Mississippi, where there is more information about Bilbo as a cook.

h/t Plexis


*I am aware that okra is often omitted from chicken gumbo recipes (including one that I cook) but could not resist the barb in the header.

11 comments to Why am I not surprised that Bilbo left the African ingredient out of his gumbo recipe?

  • SteveW

    I clicked on this link thinking it would be about hobbits. Interesting, nonetheless.

  • plexix

    I guess by definition, a gumbo can be many things, but it’s not really a gumbo without onions, bell peppers, and celery.

  • In traditional SW La. cajun cuisine, okra is not an ingredient when you use a roux.

    In the Atchafalaya basin and in the S. La. river parishes, they actually cook the file into the gumbo, and they cook it long and hard. Sounds gruesome to my SW La. palate, but that is what Dale Abadie told me years ago when I was at OM.

  • “Bilbo gumbo” sounds like a Hollywood version of an African expression … something the warriors would chant as they danced around the campfire, brandishing their spears.

  • NMC

    My chicken gumbo recipe, which is closer to SW La, does not have okra (folks in comments on this list have said that it therefore was not gumbo). Nevertheless, I could not resist the okra joke.

    I had never before heard of cooking file a long time in the gumbo, though. It seemed really odd to me.

    What do you make of the lack of even onions in this recipe?

  • The main trouble with cooking the file so long is that you’d have a buildup of enzymes that would affect the brain center responsible for preventing one from being a racist demagogue. Pass this recipe by, is my advice.

  • NMC asked, “What do you make of the lack of even onions in this recipe?”

    I make out that this is more akin to chicken soup avec roux, rather than a gumbo. As plexix said above, you have to have the trinity. Not a mirepoix or one of the three. You must have all three.

    Of course, I am relying on my Louisiana upbringing. Gumbeaux I have eaten in Mississippi, on the other hand, include all sorts of things one would not encounter in traditional Cajun cooking. Traditional SW La. gumbo does not have tomatoes, mushrooms or beef stew meat, all of which I have been surprised by in Mississippi. Ecce, de gustibus non disputandum est.

  • plexix

    What’s even more interesting to me was the inclusion of sweet potatoes in the gumbo. Until a year or so ago, I had never heard of anything other than rice as being served with it. Then I bought a bowl of gumbo from a man who had served as a cook on the oil rigs down in SW LA, and he asked if I wanted my gumbo over rice or potato salad. I looked it up and apparently some folks in SW LA do indeed eat their gumbo over potato salad. So sweet potatoes aren’t that far off, I guess.

  • NMC

    You’re right about the sweet potatoes– never heard of it– although I’ve heard of putting potato salad in gumbo. Not a huge fan, but I’ve tried it. I vote for rice.

  • Carter Bise

    I understand that if file is used or a roux, then okra is not necessary. On the other hand “gumbo” is Swahili for “okra.”

  • gooberduck

    I thought gumbo, due to its slime factor, was the thickener that file would otherwise provide. But, the word “gumbo” is Swahili for “okra.”

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