Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gumbo z'herbes

Gumbo z'herbes by Andrew LaMar Hopkins 20x16

This is my latest "Creole Kitchen painting titled "Gumbo z'herbes" the painting centers around making the local New Orleans dish dating from the 19th century. When New Orleans Catholics were expected to abstain from eating meat during Lent, a meatless variety of gumbo, known as gumbo des herbes (literally "gumbo with herbs" and shortened to gumbo z'herbes), was often served in local Creole households. This variety combined a large number of greens – typically including turnips, mustard greens, and spinach. The greens were cooked to mush and strained through a sieve to produce a thick green liquid. Preparation for this variety of gumbo was time-consuming, and as Lenten restrictions have relaxed in the 20th century, the dish has become less popular. It is very rarely served in restaurants. In modern times, ham or crabmeat is occasionally added to this type of gumbo.

Gumbo z'herbes may have originated with the French, Germans, or West Africans. It has similarities to the French dish potage aux herbes ("soup with herbs"), as well as to the African callaloo. The meatless dish also bears striking resemblance to a dish often eaten in Germany on Maundy Thursday. German Catholics, obeying the Lenten rules, often served a stew made of seven different greens on this date.

Early Louisiana Creole armoire 

The painting in centered around a arched Creole flagstone courtyard with formal French parterre and topiary garden. In the center of the garden is a classical marble statue of Paris. The terracotta tiled floor of the Creole kitchen is full of locally made Louisiana Creole pieces with the cypress kitchen work table and the 18th century inlay cabriole leg armoire.  The pottery on the floor is French provincial. On the cypress work table are polished silver known at plate during the period. A silver epergne that would be the centerpiece of the dinning room table and to display fruit. A silver pitcher and Soup tureen. To the left of the table are two Wedgewood pottery obelisk moulds.  A clear jelly was moulded around a ceramic "core", often in the form of an obelisk decorated with hand-painted motifs,  These eccentric, but exquisite jellies were used as table centrepieces in the late Georgian dessert.

Antonio Canova's Paris 1812

A Creole lady rolls out dough for a pie at the work table as another chops up fresh greens for the Gumbo z'herbes. The cook puts herbs in the Gumbo pot at the Stewholes or Potager. In many ways, the stewholes were the most convenient and efficient means of cooking in this type of kitchen. They were at waist level, so there was no need to bend down over the hearth. They did not emit as much heat as the hearth, so it was easier on the cooks. They mostly burned charcoal, which was less expensive than the hardwoods needed for the hearth and oven and which allowed the cook to easily control the cooking temperature.

Charcoal fires are slow, even, and basically smokeless. They are well suited to the slow, simmering needed for many French and Creole recipes. The cook could put foods, such as gumbo or beans, on the stewholes and leave the kitchen without fear that it would burn. Simmering was also an important way to deal with the heat of New Orleans, because, prior to refrigeration, it was useful to be able to leave something simmering, so that it would not “go bad.” Stewholes were useful for more than just simmering; a cook could also create a hot flame to boil or fry on the stewholes.

18th century Potager at the Le Petit Trianon

The framed art in the kitchen include two Old Master paintings one over the Potager and the other over the armoire. other art are hand colored engravings of fruit.  Over the Potager hang copper pots, pans and molds. Next to the armoire is a 18th century copper water cistern. In front of the armoire two rabbits managed to take a radish.  

Gumbo z'herbes by Andrew LaMar Hopkins 20x16 available for sale here 

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