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Gumbo & Garlic ?

My wife began preparing Gumbo during the snow event in South Mississippi tonight. She consuted her old standbys- "New Orleans Recipes" (Bremer), "Recipes & Reminiscesces of New Orleans" (Covenant), & "All About Good", (Lafayette). After a bit she called me in saying that it seemed so stange that Garlic was never included in the OLD recipes for Gumbo. All the modern ones seem to list garlic as an ingredient. Is there a story here?

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  1. I'm not familiar with the books you list (though I think the Bremer book dates from the early 1930's.) Probably a culinary historian will weigh in on this but a few thoughts come to mind: books that were published about regional cuisine prior to the 1960's were often manicured for polite readers (a la Junior League cookbooks.) Cooks didn't write cookbooks very often in the US, and people who cooked gumbo for real (as opposed to cooking for polite society) didn't write cookbooks, either. When cookbook writers started to profile restaurants and offer "authentic" recipes from them, there had to be a lot of fiddling around to make measures work in a home kitchen...and so, I think a lot of things got simplified. Garlic started to get included though minimally --Deidre Stanforth's book New Orleans Restaurant Cookbook from 1967 includes it (although not more than one or two cloves) and Nathaniel Burton's book from 1977, which focused on Afro-American cooks in New Orleans, includes four to five recipes, some of which include garlic (a clove or two) and some with none...

    It's an interesting question...and maybe Cajun's spurt of popularity 30 years ago brought garlic into the Creole usage...I personally don't think so, however, because already in 1975, the Collins' book was filled with garlic and in 1981, Leon Soniot's Bouche Creole had garlic cloves galore in his gumbo recipe...

    1. Hello Chowhound Big Brothers and Sisters--
      Can you move this interesting question to Home Cooking, where it belongs, and will likely receive
      more responses. It's a good topic to examine.

      4 Replies
      1. re: penthouse pup

        I tend to disagree, I think gumbo questions are right at home on the New Orleans board. Would you ask a Yankee about stuffed Mirlitons? Their are probably as many different opinions in Louisiana about making gumbo as their are rules for Bourre. Their are even more different opinions about using file. I never really paid any attention to the recipes in my Louisiana cookbooks but more or less used them as a guide and seasoned or doctored it my own way. I'm sure that the majority of Louisiana cooks do just that. As far as your garlic question thats a tough one but their are probably just as many gumbo recipes that dont include okra.

        1. re: stvtunlvzn

          You know, I've never even thought to include garlic in gumbo, and I've been making it a long time. Didn't know that anyone ever put it in!

          1. re: Clarkafella

            Whatever the gumbo, I use garlic.

            1. re: JazzyB

              I occasionally forget to add the garlic when I make gumbo, and it never turns out as good.

      2. Going back to recipes from the 1970's most that my wife has do include garlic. Before that - well, just not sure. She's worked on HER gumbo for decades, and has excerpted from many NOLA cookbooks, plus family, and then from her experiences. Garlic is definitely part of the mix.

        Good luck, and wish that I could shed some light on when garlic became an ingredient.

        Most of all, do you like it with, or without garlic?


        1. garlic is usually in gumbo and as far as a written gumbo recipe is concerned, there are always steps, procedures and ingredients that are not/can not be conveyed in a written recipe but basically, if da trinity go, da garlic go too

          1 Reply
          1. re: ironballs

            That's what we (yes, yankees) were taught in NOLA cooking school on St. Louis Street: Onion, bell pepper, and celery are the Trinity....Garlic is the Pope.

            However, "Creole Cookery" , from 1885, makes no mention (that I could find) to garlic in any gumbo recipes.

            There...I have one foot on either side of the line and no horse in the race...I can mix metaphors with the best of them!

          2. I don't know about historically...but GOT to have garlic in my gumbo, especially in a roux based gumbo...

            1. Apparently, there has been no "Story" uncovered regarding the omission of garlic in the many old recipes for Gumbo. The Snow Event Gumbo did include filé at the finish. Okra, prepared the day before, was there too. No ole timer left those out. Roux is the iron of the red blood, gotta do it, slow & chocolate.

              The garlic thing is curious though, and some visiting with those who might know the story will take place. Those old cook books I mentioned are so fine, almost like watching old hands work as one reads.

              Thank you all for your replies.

              8 Replies
              1. re: ChristianW

                When do you add the garlic? I've never used it in gumbo before but it certainly sounds good...

                1. re: Clarkafella

                  In my gumbos, garlic goes in with the celery & bell pepper, after the onions are added to the roux & browned for a while.

                  1. re: Hungry Celeste

                    I always put garlic in by itself just cuz I love the smell of it sauteeing--but can;t go too long or it gets burnt.

                    I don;t jave my Picayune Cookbook copy at hand...what does it say about garlic in gumbo? (I cannot think of the last time I used a recipe..have I ever?)

                    1. re: hazelhurst

                      I'm with you on recipes for gumbo...it's a process, an approach, not a "dish". Put in the damn garlic if you want, leave it out if you don't want it. If you've got good sausage or tasso, then all other seasonings become secondary.

                      1. re: Hungry Celeste

                        ...and don't forget the fights you can get into about file. If okra is in, fuile is out...or if it is a seafood gumbo, file is OK, but not for anything else...and so forth. (And remember the arguments against Paul Prudhomme when he touted a roux-less gumbo?)

                      2. re: hazelhurst

                        Ah, "bunt" to you, might be "caramelized" to me. Going back to a "Grandmother Hunt" recipe, recreated from my very youthful memory, I had to override my NOLA wife, when it came to searing the onions. "But we're burning them!" "That's OK my dear, just trust me on this," was my reply. Worked out great, though my poor wife was so very worried... [Grin].


                        1. re: hazelhurst

                          I never ever saute garlic, it just doesnt do the trick, either simmer it in butter or animal fat or bake it in olive oil. There is only one acception, that is when its final destination is to a parmasan and heavy creme sauce.

                          My gumbo gets all the flaver from the rue, so I use 3-5 onions, I slightly brown onions on high in 4 tbs butter then press about 6-8 cloves of garlic in and let cook for 10 seconds on the high heat before slicing 2/3 - 1 stick of butter and allowing it to melt on the heat. Take it off heat for a second and allow things to cool. Put it at a simmer for 1 hour at least, I like to add a bit of whit wine salt, tsp sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, anything but garlic/onion powder as these seem to burn no matter what you try.
                          I use this with zatarans... except I use more water because its allot more flavor in the pot because of the rue., shrimp and andouille

                          If somebody that might see this has a recipe for gumbo seasoning as zatarans does it you could give me it in a pm... = )

                          Anyway in my recipe garlic is essential.

                        2. re: Hungry Celeste

                          Discussions, comments, arguments, opinions and tastes abound in the glory of Gumbos & Bisques. Don't we all like what we like, or better what our Grandmothers taught is to like?
                          In our kitchen, old cookbooks, the ones from Mom's kitchen cabinets or others that get found in rummage, always get consulted, not that anyone pays full attention to the recipes. It is the joy of learning from those who have gone before that makes them treasures. Then on occasion, a nugget of technique surfaces.

                          The question was: Why did so many "old" recipes leave out garlic? Given the age old Trilogy Axium, there must be some reason why garlic was omitted.

                    2. A quick review of the PIcayune Cookbook (1905 or so--I didn't look) and gumbos there have onion,thyme, bay leaf, parsley..no garlic on my romp thru. Ther is garlic used in other stuff so it is not unheard of (See grillades, crawfish bisque). Lafacio Hearn's compendium, from 1885, has no garlic in any gumbo. "Cooking with Cajun Women" which is an oral project, is spotty---some gumbo with, some without. Shadow-on-the-Teche cookbook, which has many Family Recipies, is also spotty. THe Chicken-OKra gumbo has no garlic, no bell pepper and no celery. IN fact, teh vaunted Trinity is absent in toto in many of these old gumbos. Even "River Road", which is 1959, has gumbo without garlic and without celery.

                      This bears further investigation

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: hazelhurst

                        Just a thought: would the presence of Italian immigrants over time affect how garlic gets used in creole/cajun cooking?

                        1. re: penthouse pup

                          That was my first thought but dunno if I can show anything. I do know that in my time in the North, a half-a-clove or garlic in a huge pot of soup was viewed with alarm by the Old Yankees. I have always loved the stuff and have used it in great amounts since I was a kid.

                          It is also interesting, especially in the Pic book, to see the amounts of clove used in things. That fits in with use of spices in teh 19th century..probably a holdover from the days when people liked to use expensive spices becuase the spices were rare and you could show-off how rich you were.

                          1. re: hazelhurst

                            Many old Creole recipes use cloves and allspice, most likely because of the Caribbean influences in New Orleans cooking. Never enough that they assert themselves but they make a magical difference. I believe that Zatarain's seafood boil has whole allspice in it, which gives a distinctive flavor.

                            I use much more garlic than anyone in my family does, but I also tend to use early enough that it mellows out. When I've forgotten it, it didn't seem to make that much difference.
                            It's interesting to see how few of the older recipes use it, or use very little. Maybe one clove, if at all. The old time black cooks often didn't use it.
                            I never thought much about that until I saw this thread and checked some of my cookbooks.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              Last time I looked Zatarain's had allspice.and it--and clove--goes in turtle soup often. I suspect you are right regarding the Carribean and that in NOLA such spices were less expensive than in the North and certainly than in England (which had some show-off recipes, e.g. fruitcake). Older cookbooks (I am thinking specifically of deGroot here) provided shopping sources for things one might need to order when in the heartland. (Frank Davis, Collin, Folse..many others have done the same--it is fun to read a book with such a list from, say, 1950, and see what is still around and what is not)

                              I do as you do, putting garlic in early. But with some items, I crush several cloves in about half-and-hour before the end, just to point it up. Same for some chopped onion.

                        2. re: hazelhurst

                          You are right-on to wonder about the Italian influences, and then there are the Greek ones too, so famous in the old south restaurants. Still that does not answer the question. Thank you so much for the discussion.
                          Lafcadio's writing ... I thought I was the only one who knew of him these days. Last year I gave up and sold my set of Hearn's Complete works. It was a numbered 1st edition, but noone seemed interested for years, even when the Worlds' Fair took the bayous by storm... so to speak.
                          The "Shadow...", the "River Road... both are such great cookbooks.
                          A shrimp stock based bisque with roasted chicken I made on Sunday had garlic, I can tell you, and lots of it.

                          1. re: ChristianW

                            But Hearn was a writer trying to make a buck on the tourism boom from the 1884 Worlds' Fair, and many of his recipes were re-hashes of other (non local) published works. Both his book and the Christian Women's Exchange cookbook of the same period (Creole cookery) aren't exactly a large enough or a truly representative sample of culinary practice from the period.

                            1. re: Hungry Celeste

                              "Truly representative," does cover it nicely.

                              In my life, I have had gumbos from all over Louisiana and even Mississippi (Coast), and have had family recipes, that ranged from a clear broth over rice, with some small shrimp and herbs, to gumbo as black and thick as hot tar, with all sorts of ingredients. It gets to the point of mole, with a Mexican family. Even in the same state, and city, the recipes will likely differ, and members will point to their's being the "original."

                              Now, that does not address the OP's question of "when," but it does point up the individual variations. In my wife's family, there was garlic, but her heritage was French (Paris/Lyon), FR Canadian, Cajun, American Indian and Italian. When did garlic come in? She has no clue, as it always was for her, and over 60 years. All that I can say is that as of 1948, garlic was used, in her household, and quite possibly before that. How long before? No way of telling.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                I assume the OP question comes down to "when" but the original questions seems to be "Is there a story" And I guess that story _is_ "when?" I've had garlic in just about everything since forever. I sauteed it with scrambled eggs even when I had cookbooks talking about Great Secrets of Escoffier et al. cooking for sarah berhardt by placing a clove on the tip of the knive while stirring eggs about in the skillet. "Just the right touch!",...Hell, I'd never taste it. Load it up, sez I. And we have mentioned the late Angelo's before...they were Greek, of course, and had no shortage of garlic in everything back in the 1950's and, I feel sure, earlier. I put some in my oyster stew, even.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  I see your point, and agree. There are few dishes, around my NOLA wife's kitchen, that do not have some garlic, at some point, until you get to her flourless chocolate torte!


                              2. re: Hungry Celeste

                                I think the PIcayune is the first major effort at "codification" if you will allow such a term..I cannot think of anything major beforehand but would like to know of anything. ANd, despite some other arguments I have with him, Richard Collin (and Rima..let's be fair ) were on to something when they stated that older cookbooks often could be boiled down to "take a nice piece of fish, prepare as usual, cook until done." Obviously, this is a direct representation of teh manner in which many (if not most) of us learned to cook..by watching. every home cook has a story about trying to write down what grandma or grandpa did and being flummoxed as to proportions. [What is it about grandparents being Great Cooks but Mom never was? (OK, lots of Moms were/are, but you know what I mean) How is it that when Mom becomes a Grandma she becomes a great cook? Experience? faulty memory? I see it all over the place.]

                                The best written recipes I see are the ones in French that friends have in scrapbooks..they date to the 1920's and before.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  Bill and Hazehurst: I really think you are both on to the solution to the question: there were any number of "indigineous" (pardon the fancy term) ways to concoct the stew that we now--and then--call "gumbo." However, the codification--in something formal, like a book, most likely trailed late after the reality of what was being made. Gumbo-Land * by which I mean not to exclude, but to include: Afro-American roots, Cajun, Creole, Italian, maybe Greek) was and is an amazing hodgepodge...I think the various Gumbo Tribes did their own thing but over time, the confluence of cultures via media (books, newspaper articles and actual human interaction) brought the Great Garlic into the mix...Long way of saying something short: written descriptions trail actual experience.

                                  1. re: penthouse pup

                                    Oh, there are SO many variations. In my lifetime, I have encountered great "gumbos," that ranged from clear broth, with tiny shrimp over rice (a Lafayette, LA recipe) to one that was as black, and thick as a purred frijoles negros dish, but WAS "gumbo." Also, almost everything in between. All were very good to great, and I greatly enjoyed them.

                                    My wife's "semi-famous" version, is closer to the latter, and still draws rave reviews from almost all, who have tasted it.


                          2. I don't think garlic was widely used in gumbo years and years ago. I use garlic in lots of dishes and love it, but I don't like it in gumbo.

                            If you think back, it's not even part of the trinity and really didn't come into the standing it has today until back in the 70's when Paul Prudhomme brought Cajun cooking to mainstream America.

                            I still shudder in shock when I see Chef John Folse dump about a whole head of minced garlic (that's a whole head and not just a clove) in just about every dish he makes. That can't be good.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: JanetLong

                              If you like garlic it would be good.

                              1. re: roro1831

                                You can never put in too much garlic.

                              2. re: JanetLong

                                I think your point about Hyper-Garlic stemming from the 1970's might be on target, at least insofar as the nation goes--and this was long before the present food craze took off. I attriibute it to the same siliness that we saw in the 1970's and 1980's associated with Power Lunches (with Power Neckties) at which the moron playing this game set out to eat raw oysters and steak tartar and other (to him ) "ur-foods" so as to show what a tough negotiator/lawyer/what-have-you he is. Using tons of garlic would fit into such a cretin's mind--and let's face it, there's not much space to fill.

                                But around here, lots of garlic in gumbo --and I don;t mean a cup but certainly several chopped cloves--was standard in my life. And truth to tell it is for me more the olefactory pleasure I referred to above (and I know what Bill Hunt means about carmelizing but I'd argue that applies to onions and not garlic...the latter softens then burns without some attention and aother things, like onions, added.) I am not certain I can discern a half-cup of garlic in a big pot of gumbo--at least, not in a heavy chicken/andouille gumbo.

                                I note that Emeril, on his main TV show, had his supplicants whooping and hollering whenever he backed the truck of chopped garlic up to the pot.

                                As to Folse, well, we have our differences. he can do some good stuff, though. But I doubt I'd blame him for a ton of garlic, I eat the stuff raw.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  Hey, I still wear my "power ties" to "power lunches," and always win, as MINE are from Tabasco, and often have a motif of an alligator, or similar, snapping at a bottle of Tabasco!

                                  Still, I think that a little garlic should find a way into many NOLA dishes. Get out in the bayous, and maybe, or maybe not, quite so much.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    You gotta get the new Tabasco tie from the Abbeville Omelette Festival. it is f-ing GREAT.

                                    1. re: hazelhurst

                                      Wow! When I am down next, I will head to my favorite Tabasco Store on Jackson Square, and look for it. I've got ~ 60 Tabasco ties, but can always use a new one!



                                2. re: JanetLong

                                  The coincidence that the use of huge amounts of garlic in restaurant fare must be tied to the emergence of the Sicilian influences that exist in our popular culture since the 70’s needs consideration. Bam! My first rememberances of Gumbo revolve around distinct flavors, none overpowering the others. Everything of the sea and the nuts

                                  1. re: ChristianW

                                    By "popular culture" do you mean national? I admit to be unaware of a rise in Sicialian influences nationally--whether culinary or otherwise--since the 1970's. "The Godfather" at work?

                                    I know that in New Orleans and Boston there was never a shortage of Italian and/or Sicilian ifluences, at least in certain parts of the respective cities, and New Orleans , I think, was more receptive to including food influences from the ever-valuable Mediterranean. That is obviously a purely subjective construct.

                                    You are right about balance in some gumbo...I don't encounter it as much as I used to and I attribute it to the stock (gotta attribute it to SOMEthing). But it is, as I think we all knnow by now, silly to claim that there is One Standard for the stuff and that is half the fun. As HC said, it is a process. Those of us who cook at home can be forgiven variations in batches but restaurants as a rukle are looking for consistency, even if it is a middle-of-the-road variety.(this allow you to add hot sauce at the table or even file, if they'll let you!) Well, just some random thoughts. I agree the Italian/Sicilian angle is probably the way to go here. I will look at some old cookbooks and so forth and see what turns up.

                                3. Under the heading of Garlic, the T-P Creole Cookbook says that this is one of the most widely used flavorings of Creole cooking, especially in the southern parishes of Louisiana and NO, used in soups, stews, and other dishes. It claims that La uses more garlic than all the rest of the states combined. Accurate or not, this does not sound as though Creole/Cajun cooks restricted their use of garlic. Many old cookbooks don't even specify onions, green pepper, celery etc. in gumbos (everyone also used parsley and green onions too in all the Creole dishes). It was always up to the individual cook.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: motheroux

                                    As a point of clarification, the main issue was garlic in gumbo--this has expanded to a generalized theory of garlic in cooking but you will note that garlic's ubiquity in S. LA cooking has never been in doubt in this thread. "Green Salad with Garlic" is an old item in new Orleans going back to at least the 1920's to my certain knowledge (the rest of the American world, to look at cookbooks of the era, condemned the use of chpped garlic in salad, opting for the ever-so-elegant bit of garlic-rubbed toast that is tossed with teh salad and then discarded. Or, perhaps, garlic salt.) I suspect that its proportions in various items have been increasing but I cannot point to any seismic shift just yet.

                                  2. Reading this thread has been interesting. It never occurred to me that gumbo would not have garlic--but I'm one of those people who thinks garlic improves almost everything. I add a good tablespoon ot two of minced garlic right at the end of making the roux, after the trinity has been cooked. But my gumbo is based on one of Paul Prudhomme's so the garlic is a given.

                                    My mom, not a native, makes a rouxless, thin gumbo with okra and tomatoes (not a very flavorful one, but i wouldn't ever tell her that!), but she has always put garlic in it. My late grandmother, who married in the 1920's and presumably started making gumbo sometime around then, always put garlic in her gumbo. Now, she was Italian, but she told me she learned to make gumbo from her (cajun) mother-in-law.

                                    But it is an interesting question, and I was surprised when I saw in Talk About Good that only 10 of the 12 gumbo recipes listed garlic as an ingredient.

                                    But I can't even begin to answer the question I'm often asked by people in other parts: exactly what is gumbo, and what goes in it?!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                      Wow! There is the end result of this thread. The road meanders back and forth across an answer to the question, "What exactly is Gumbo?'. I suspect the true answer is much the same the anwser to the question of "Who lives in South Louisiana?".
                                      - Nobodyknows, but ain't it good?
                                      Thank you all for the fun of "Chowhound".

                                      1. re: ChristianW

                                        cannot imagine gumbo without garlic!!!!!!!!!

                                        1. re: ChristianW

                                          "What is gumbo?" is rather like asking "What is Mexican food?" The answers will be all over the board (and not just THIS board) and one will then have to dissect it to "parishes," and finally to families. There is very likely zero in the way of a consensus, but regardless, it should be very good to great - garlic, or not.


                                      2. If garlic is the Pope, then call me a lapsed Catholic. I love me some garlic, but I do not add it into my gumbo--very interesting as I babysat my georgeous dark nutty roux last night. 45 minutes of stirring carefully. Now it truly smells like Christmas in my home because of the roux. That said, with my andouille, the darkest roux North of the Mason-Dixon line. My gumbo does not have garlic. Either way--garlic or not, gumbo is what you make of it and make it to your personal tastes! Merry Christmas everyone!