By the time this appears online, Hurricane Isaac will be a mess of downed trees, flooded homes, and the memory of weathermen from New York standing in sheets of rain and wind gusts to prove to the rest of the U.S. that yes, it is a bad storm.
Really guys… we don’t mind if you stand under a shelter or in front of a window. Give your audience enough credit to understand that 80mph winds are just that… 80 mph winds.
But this is not a rant. This is a foodie post. And yes, I am going to tie together food and storms and … weathermen proving they are not just weather geeks but strong men who can stand up to Mother Nature!
Growing up in New Orleans and Mobile, I remember only two instances of snow coming down thick enough to call off school and close down the city. It seems to happen every other year now here in Atlanta – whether that’s due to global warning or not, I don’t know.
But as the proverbial saying goes, Hurricanes Happened. Late August through the month of September, the names would be announced by the weatherman -who was inside a dry tv studio. Nash Roberts with his big black grease pencil would mark his weathermap while he talked, like a UNO professor:
“And heeeah we have Hurricane Ireene out in da Gulf, while dis stohm’s still out in t’ Atlaantic – that one’s name’s gonna be Jaanet, and den I believe we’ll be havin’ an active enugh stohm season to see Hurricaanes Kathleeeen and prob’ly all t’way up t’Marie, dis yeah.” (Can you hear Nash now?)
Daddy would start pulling out the flashlights and checking the battery supply. He’d dutifully mark the dashes on the tracking map he’d mailed off for from the tv stations -WWL or WDSU.
Mama would take a different type of inventory. Mothers the world over – North or South, from the Great Lakes to the Florida Gulf Coast know….
Whether it’s snow or hurricane, if there’s a chance your power will go out and you don’t have a generator, you’ve got to cook what’s already in the freezer.
Because that way, at least you have a chance to eat it, and it won’t go to waste in a power outage. Out comes the chicken and roasts, and whatever else is sitting in the dark depths of the freezer. If you’re lucky, there would be ice cream in there too, and you got to eat that first, for breakfast. Because everybody knows the milk had to be saved for coffee – there’s always coffee. You might have to boil what came out of the tap, but then… you use it for coffee.
We drank coffee as young as eight years old. If you could get enough sugar in it to make it sweet enough to get it down, you were old enough to drink coffee. And besides… that way you got your milk!
While Isaac was still going at O J Simpson slow speeds towards landfall in Louisiana, my cousin started cooking for her family. It was Monday, so she put a pot of beans on the stove for dinner, biscuits in the oven for breakfast, and two pies.
Now… here’s how to make a good pot of red beans: first you soak them for no less than twenty-four hours. Go on and put in your baking soda – I’ve never known anything that stops the duck squawks. Before washing machines came along, people would put the beans on to soak while cooking Sunday supper, and then turn on the gas on Monday to simmer the beans all day while they did laundry. You add onion and garlic and the leaves from celery, but NOT salt! Salt will toughen the beans so they won’t soften and cook. Wait to salt them when you’re about ready to serve. And mash up some of those beans against the side of the pot – makes the broth richer for the rice.
I stayed in touch with my family throughout the day when Isaac churned, because I had a guest post on some friends’ group blog about my memories of Hurricane Betsy. During Betsy’s storm gales, Miss Laverne across the street decided it was a good time to cook the turkey that she got on sale at Schweggman’s, so she wouldn’t lose it if the power went out. With five children and a husband and a big dog, she could use all that cooked meat. But the power went out sometime early in the morning, and the water started sloshing in. My brother told me he remembered watching a fire truck go down the street, leaving a wake of deep water behind it. Well, Miss Laverne was sure to rescue that half cooked turkey out of the oven when she got her four girls dressed to wade across the street to our house and high land. Somehow my Daddy and Mr. Pat found enough cooked meat on that half baked bird to see them through the week while they defended the house from looters and watched the waters go down.
Here in Georgia, I wanted some gumbo to feel some connection to my family who were waiting out the storm. The key to gumbo is the roux, and roux is both easy and complicated. You have to follow each step, or it won’t come out right.
First, you need bacon grease. REAL bacon grease that comes from REAL bacon – nothing maple flavored or turkey or reduced fat, because it’s the fat you’re rendering. If you’re a real southerner, you’ve got your jar of bacon grease that sits on the stove all the time, or mine sits in the fridge door in a plastic oj container. Put a hunk of that grease in a hot skillet and have some flour handy, because as soon as that grease sizzles and melts, you add the flour and mix it up good. Nope, there’s no measurements… this is something you have to learn by doing.
Now the complicated part–
You have to stir and stir and get the thickness and color just right. It has to be thick like cream’s consistency, and it has to be nut colored – dark brown. The only way to do this right is to not rush it. You have to stand on two feet , put one hand on your hip, stir with the back of a spoon, and wait. If the heat’s too high, it can seize up and turn into goo. If the heat’s not high enough, the roux never browns or thickens enough. It takes patience and experience, but if you get the roux right, it doesn’t matter what else you’re making – it will be perfect.
Now, add onions and celery and garlic and some green onions to this roux and cook til they soften. If you have some green pepper, add that too – these are the five sisters of N’Awlins cooking and seasoning. Not everything has to be spicy hot or blackened… the key is seasoning. Bay leaf adds a good flavor to anything seafood too.
Once your vegetables are cooked, you can add cooked chicken and gumbo vegetables: okra, stewed tomatoes, corn… just about anything you have on hand (maybe not greens – wrong texture). Add some chicken broth if you need more liquid or need to stretch it out. Serve over rice and have it with some crunchy French bread, and you’re good to go. You can add all kinds of seafood to it too – if Isaac ever moves upriver and lets everything drain, the crabs and oysters and shrimps should be good and ready to jump into some nets.
On Mobile Bay, that’s called a Jubilee! People come out of their homes at night with nets to scoop up the seafood that comes up onshore. It happens when there’s storms stirring up the waters and messing with the balance of oxygen… I think… but whatever it is, it’s called a Jubilee! .
Yes. With the exclamation point.
If Sam Champion wants some gumbo after standing against those 80mph storm winds, he can come up here to Georgia where we’ve been high and dry all summer long.
And be sure to bring along some rain.