Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Hammond, Louisiana

The Location: Hammond, Louisiana

2013 population: 20,337; 47.3% African American, 46.6% white; per capita income, $21,097.

Hammond was named after its founder, Peter av Hammerdal, a Swedish immigrant who came to the region in 1818. Hammond, an escaped prisoner from Dartmoor Prison, used his savings to buy the land near New Orleans, and with the use of slave labor, established the space that would become the town. The city was built in 1830. Prior to the European colonization of the region, Louisiana was home to at least 34 Native American tribes, including the Tangipahoa, the Appalousa, and the Choctaw.

In 1854, the Great Northern Pacific Railroad came to the city, which turned Hammond into a major commercial center and travel destination. It became known as the "Strawberry Capital of America" because of the amount of berries that were shipped from there.

During the Civil War, Hammond was a center for shoe-making for the Confederate Army. During the Second World War, Hammond's airport was used as a detention center for German POWs.

Today, Hammond houses many warehouses for large store chains, such as Walmart. It is also home to the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum, which is a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

The Dish: Gumbo
Gumbo has a long history, and essays have actually been written about it. I won't go into too much detail or I would probably write for hours, but gumbo is the official state dish of Louisiana. This weekend, there is a large Gumbo festival in Bridge City, and that is why I am doing this now! Bridge City, however, doesn't have much history to it, so I chose Hammond instead. Why not New Orleans? Too done...I wanted to feature a place most people have never heard of.

Louisiana is a state rich in culinary choices. It was definitely a state where I had to pick and choose and narrow down what to make. Gumbo, jambalaya, muffaletta sandwiches, po'boys, the list goes on and on. Louisiana is a state the truly embodies the "melting pot" concept of America. The Native American tribes, the slaves, and the European immigrants all added their influence to the cuisine. The Cajuns, formerly known as the Acadians, were French immigrants from Canada who found themselves uninvited to live in Canada(It's a long story...). They traveled down the Mississippi River and settled in Louisiana, bringing their musical and culinary traditions with them. The Creoles, were French and Spanish Catholics who eventually intermixed with the slaves and Caribbean population to create a unique culture. The foods that came out of this meeting of cultures is also a blend.

Gumbo, which I settled on, is a cross of cultures in one dish. It is thickened with roux, a French concept, and traditionally seasoned with file(accent over the e, that I can't insert here,) which is a Native American spice. The "holy trinity," otherwise known as celery, onions, and bell peppers, is prevalent in Cajun cookery. Gumbo can be Creole, or Cajun, depending on what you thicken it with and what you put in it. My recipe, which came from my personal recipe files, is very basic, though it uses some ingredients I rarely use or have never used, so it was a fun one to try. It actually was a very fast-cooking gumbo as well. Traditionally, gumbo takes hours to make. I guess my recipe isn't traditional! But it was good. Here's the recipe:

Shrimp and Andouille Gumbo
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup olive oil(I used vegetable oil, and it was just fine.)
1/4 cup flour
2 (14.5oz) cans whole tomatoes in tomato juice(no salt added)
1/2 lb. Andouille sausage, sliced 1/4" thick(I used one sausage link, which was about half that amount. It is a very spicy sausage, so it's great to season the gumbo, but too spicy for me to eat.)
1 cup water
1 lb. large shrimp, shelled but with tails left on, and deveined(I had a 12 oz. package of shrimp and I think it was plenty.)
2 1/2 cups hot cooked white rice

1.) In medium-size bowl, combine onion, bell peppers, celery, garlic, oregano, thyme, salt, crushed red pepper, and pepper; set aside.

2.) In heavy 4 qt. saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is medium brown.(This takes time and confidence. You really do have to stir constantly, with a whisk, and it will start to smell like it's overcooking, but it isn't. Just keep at it until it's a nice deep brown color. Roux can be the color of coffee if you let it go long enough, so don't be afraid, just keep at it.)
 Add vegetable mixture and cook, stirring, until vegetables are coated with the flour mixture, about 5 minutes.
3.) Add tomatoes with juice, sausage, and water.(Now, it does not say either way, but I cooked my sausage first before adding it to the mixture. I wasn't sure if the gumbo would cook long enough to cook the sausage all the way through. You can make that decision for yourself and cook it first or not.) Cook, stirring occasionally to break up tomatoes, 10 minutes.
4.) Add shrimp to mixture in saucepan; heat to boiling. Cook until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes.

5.) Divide rice among 6 individual soup plates. Spoon gumbo over rice, and serve.
Makes 6 servings(Because I used less sausage and shrimp, mine made closer to 4 servings.
I heated up some biscuits to go along with this, but I really wanted cornbread. I might get some today to eat with my leftovers. This was pretty tasty, but I suspect it'll be even better tonight when I reheat it. As with any soup/stew, it always tastes better the next day, right? This was pretty spicy! When I stopped eating the sausage, though, it got easier to eat. If you are a spice fan, you will love this, and might even want more spice. You could add hot sauce if you want, or more pepper flakes, but I thought it was just enough for me, even bordering on too much. The rice really does help cut the spice, because it spreads it out. I highly recommend serving it with rice. And I recommend watching The Princess and the Frog, like I did, because it's the perfect movie for gumbo. You could also watch The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which would also work very well.

There are so many foods from Louisiana and I want to try them all. Next year, when I finish this project and start some smaller projects, I think this state will warrant a closer look. It's just too good not to try it all!

Gumbo History

More Gumbo History

City Pic

City Map

City History

City Info

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