“Some folks put okra in the pot without frying it, but I like to fry it first because it is less slimy and adds better texture to the gumbo.”
Momma says she’ll never forget the day I was born. As she was entering her ninth month with me, living in Savannah, she decided to take a pregnancy leave from work, thinking she had enough time to go to Daufuskie and visit her parents, who needed help with some work around the house.
Several days into her visit, on August 4, she recalls feeling pretty good as she went into the yard to scrub some clothes on a washboard in a tub. As she worked, a pot of okra gumbo cooked slowly on the woodstove in the kitchen. Momma says she spent half the day scrubbing clothes and grew hungry from smelling the long pot’s ’roma.
By the time she finished with the wash, all she wanted to do was eat. She was just stepping into the kitchen to prepare her meal, when, suddenly, she felt a great pain. She couldn’t bear it long enough to eat even a bite. Into the bedroom she went, and off ran Grandmomma, through a shortcut in the woods. She rushed past her big field of okra, danced across the board that bridged a shallow pond, and hurried down the path on the other side—yelling the whole way—to fetch the island midwife.
It wasn’t long before I arrived. Momma says she was hungry and tired. But I was crying for something to eat, so she breast-fed me right away. She was not allowed to eat her okra gumbo, because it had fresh pork in it. (My Grandmomma had a strict rule that women who had just given birth could not eat fresh meat for a month.) Momma says the only thing she was given to eat that evening was soda crackers and water.
“Back in dem ol’ days, de ol’ folks always had sumptin’ you couldn’ eat when ya wanted to,” Momma says. “’Specially after you just had a baby.”
Regardless, to this day I do not eat okra and don’t even like the smell of it. But Grandmomma was always proud of her rows of chest-high okra plants, and no Daufuskie cookbook would be complete without Momma’s gumbo.
2 pieces ham hock
3 pieces fresh pig tail
1–2 cans diced or stewed tomatoes
4–5 cups water
3 cups okra, cut up
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
corn, green beans (optional)
Put the pig tail and ham hock in a medium pot, half full with water. Boil 20 minutes, then drain. This will clean the meat. Rinse the meat again, twice. Return the meat to the pot, add the tomatoes (more or less, as you prefer) and 4 to 5 cups of water, and boil slowly until the meat is tender and tomatoes break down in the soup (30 to 60 minutes). If you wish, prefry the okra with a dash of oil to reduce the slime. Add the okra, prefried or not, along with shrimp, to the tomatoes and meat. If you like, add corn, green beans, or any other vegetable, canned or fresh. Cook for another 20 to 30 minutes over medium heat. Serve as a soup, over rice, or with stiff grits.