A few weeks ago while in Ely, England with friends, we took turns making our favorite dishes. I packed spices to make gumbo, a Louisiana favorite.
I knew the proper Andouille sausage was hard to find. Fortunately, the local Waitrose supermarket offered a nice chorizo as a perfect substitute. The gumbo was a spicy delicious meal, especially comforting on a cold night in our little St. Mary’s Street cottage.
After Hugh Taylor saw a Facebook photo of my gumbo, I promised him and James Gracie that I would make some for them while in Scotland visiting Moniaive, Dumfries and Galloway.
I brought the same ingredients, but sometimes the most interesting moments in life are unplanned. On St. Patrick’s Day we went over to the local pub, The Craigdarroch Arms Hotel, for an afternoon music session. Tim, who runs the place, had been promised a taste of real gumbo. When I walked in the door he asked “Did you bring my gumbo?”
“Well,” I replied, “it hasn’t been made yet, but if you have a pot available, I can just make it here for you.”
“Can you make enough for everyone in the pub?” Tim asked.
I found myself in the hotel kitchen preparing a large pot of gumbo and adding whatever I could find in the pantry. I prepared all my ingredients while listening to the strains of music coming from the public area, my feet tapping to the music as I set the stock pot to simmering.
I heard the haunting music of a fiddle with the rest of the musicians playing “Danny Boy.”
I poked my head out the kitchen door to listen and looked around at all the people I would feed that day. The power of food and how it nourishes and comforts people touched me.
I thought about that pot of gumbo, which is so much like my own life. The base is traditional Louisiana spice, but enhanced by international friendships and travel. In England the chorizo took the Andouille sausage’s place. Now in Scotland my substitution was black pudding.
I went back into the kitchen to prepare the traditional side dish of potato salad. Tim kept the door open so I could hear the music. The aroma of the combined spices and simmering stock wafted through the public rooms. Every once in a while someone would poke their head in and tell me how good it smelled.
Finally the meal was finished and we served the entire hotel Louisiana chicken and sausage gumbo with a Scottish twist. Everyone was excited to see real filé, which is ground dried sassafras leaves. They were even adventurous enough to add a Crystal hot sauce.
For the next ten minutes scraping spoons and sighs of pleasure where the only sounds coming from the Craigdarroch Arms Hotel public rooms. I can’t even begin to express how good it felt watching the crowd smiling and enjoying a Louisiana meal that I prepared.
It was so popular there wasn’t a drop of gumbo left in the pot. Apparently, that old adage: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” is true. I had three marriage proposals. One handsome man even said: “I’m deeply in love with you.”
That afternoon I was whisked away for a walk around a castle in the snow. When I returned the musicians showed their appreciation by playing: “Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File´Gumbo.” All I could do was just sit and grin. I guess my gumbo turned out okay.
Scottish Louisiana gumbo. Wonder what gumbo tastes like Venice?
Here’s my recipe for Easy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Editors note: Shannon says — and proves — that gumbo is made with whatever is on hand. I’ve made it with sweet hot Italian sausage and it’s fabulous.