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Gumbo is first mentioned in 1803 from the man assigned to oversee the transfer of the now French territory to the United States, Prefect Pierre Clement de Laussat. Laussat sampled the sea-turtle gumbo that was served at many of the celebratory galas held in New Orleans at the time, but he found it not quite to his liking. There was “an abundance of spices, such overpowering seasoning!” Another gumbo was recorded as being present at a Cajun bal de maison on the Acadian Coast in 1804.

Gumbo can be made in an infinite variety of ways, with whatever ingredients are at hand and in accordance to the cook’s personal preference. However, the basic staples of a true gumbo lie in the need for a thickening agent, be it a French-style roux, the African okra, or the Native America filé powder. From there, there are at least three common directions to take. There is the straight-forward seafood gumbo, the common poultry gumbo, and the less common but slightly more healthy gombo z’herbes, which is made up mostly of greens, though meat is not a unheard of in this dish. Sausage, either boudin or more commonly andouille, is a usual addition to any of these three gumbos, and of course the “holy trinity” of onion, bell pepper and celery. The finished product was almost invariably served on top of a bed of rice.

'Having a gumbo’ implies a special social event that centers around the dish. It remains central to special occasions, family gatherings, house parties, celebrations, and cooking competitions.There is also a traditional Courir de Mardi Gras that is run on Mardi Gras day, with the reward for exertion and ridiculous actions being a big pot of gumbo for everybody at the end of the run. This southern Cajun tradition is the last hurrah before Lent, and it really involves the whole community, as everyone is expected to contribute one of the essential ingredients—including a live chicken—to the masked beggars. At the end of the day, invitations are given to all the participants to sit over the communally made gumbo.

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