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Jambalaya

 

My essay "Jambalaya By Any Other Name" has been published in the Winter 2007/2008 edition of Petits Propos Culinaires (aka "PPC") issue number 84. PPC is an excellent journal specializing in culinary history. Copies and subscription are available at Prospect Books.

If you would like to read the essay, it is available here in HTML and PDF formats. The PDF format is precisely what appears in print. The HTML version differs in formatting and in certain US vs. UK English spellings.

 

HTML Format            PDF Format

 

 


What's New:

Kitchen Garden Books: As a result of the article in PPC, I was contacted by Lynn Nelson from Kitchen Garden Books and Antiques, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. She has an extraordinary collection of cookbooks and a surprisingly parallel interest in the history of Jambalaya. She has provided me with a number of new references to jambalaya, which I a have included as the jambalaya chronology below. Of greatest interest, she has provided a scan of a jambalaya recipe from The Gulf City Cook Book, published in Mobile, Alabama in 1878 [JPG]. This makes it the first known jambalaya recipe to appear in any cookbook, beating What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking by three years.

The Mysterious Alabama Connection: Some of the earliest references to jambalaya in America have been popping up in Alabama, not Louisiana. The Gulf City Cook Book is just too intriguing to overlook. See my musings about a possible Alabama connection below.

The Association for the Study of Food & Society (ASFS) Annual Meeting: I presented my research on the history of jambalaya at the ASFS meeting in New Orleans on June 5, 2008. My PowerPoint slides can be viewed here in Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 format.

Where Jambalaya Isn't: After my presentation at the ASFS meeting, a colleague pointed out to me that my research was missing an important component. I hadn't looked at Cajun/Creole cookbooks where jambalaya was missing. His point is well taken. Though I had considered the lack of jambalaya recipes in the Carolinas and in Europe, I hadn't looked at older Cajun/Creole cookbooks from New Orleans for the absence of jambalaya.  It turns out that one of the earliest Creole cookbooks is Mrs. Verstille's southern cookery: comprising a fine collection of cooking and other receipts valuable to mothers and house-keepers. New York: Owens and Agar, 1866 by Ellen J. Verstille. I have not seen a copy myself, but I am told that the entire classic Creole canon is there, but jambalaya is missing. This cookbook postdates the earliest use of "jambalaya" in America, but predates the earliest use in New Orleans, and predates other cookbooks where "jambalaya" appears. Perhaps this can represent a lower-bound on jambalaya recipes in New Orleans?

 


 

Jambalaya Chronology:

My thanks to Lynn Nelson for her excellent list of jambalaya sources and many of the scans provided below. I am also indebted to Barry Popik for discovering and referencing some of the earliest references to Jambalaya on The Big Apple web site.

  • 1837 - The first appearance of any variant of the word "jambalaya" in any language occurred in Leis amours de Vanus; vo, Lou paysan oou théatré, by Fortuné (Fourtunat) Chailan. Written in the Provencal language (a dialect of Occitan,) he uses the word "jambalaia" in the sense of a mish-mash. This piece was first published in Provence in 1837.
  • 1840 - The same text by Chailan is reprinted in his next book Lou Gangui – Contes, Anecdotos et Facétios en Vers Prouvençaoux, which was published in 1840. For some reason, though the text is otherwise identical, in this edition the word is spelled "jambaraya."
  • 1849 - The earliest appearance of the word in print in English occurs in the May 1849 issue of the American Agriculturalist, page 161. Magazine cover (PDF). Page 161 (PDF).
  • 1865 - Louis Charles Felix Peise, another Provencal author, used the word "jambalaia" in his poem, "La Testo et la Coua de la Serp," from his book Leis Talounados de Barjomau (1865.)
  • 1866 - Mrs. Verstille's southern cookery: comprising a fine collection of cooking and other receipts valuable to mothers and house-keepers. The earliest New Orleans Creole cookbook fails to mention jambalaya.
  • 1872 - The New-Orleans Times June 28, 1872 included a piece entitled "The Vous Dous Incantation," which makes reference to "...victuals, such as gumbo, jambalaya, etc." Part 1. Part 2.
  • 1875 - The July 4, 1875 New-Orleans Times, supplement page 2 contains a piece on "Jam-ba-la-yah," which they call "...a favorite dish of the regular old Creole cuisine." Part 1. Part 2.
  • 1875 - Jambalaya, spelled "jombalyeeyah," is referred to in The Cultivator and Country Gentleman, July 22, 1875, page 455, column 2. Cover page. Full page. Detail part 1. Detail part 2.
  • 1876 - In an 1876 book entitled Louisiana As It Is, by Daniel Dennett, the word "jombalyeeah" is used. Page 236 (PDF).
  • 1878 - The Gulf City Cook Book, by the Ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South Mobile, Alabama – Page 57 has a recipe for “JAM BOLAYA.” The first recipe in a cookbook discovered to date.
  • 1878 - The Provencal word "jambalaia" is defined in Lou Tresor dou Felibrige ou Dictionnaire Provençal-Français by Frédéric Mistral, a French-Provençal dictionary published in 1878. The full dictionary can be found in PDF form on the remarkable Gallica web site. "Jambalaia" appears in Vol I, pg 152. Mistral references the two works by Chailan and Peise noted above.
  • 1881 - What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. by Abby Fisher is published in San Francisco by the Women’s Co-operative Printing Office. Her recipe for "Jumberlie - A Creole Dish" appears on page 57 and page 58.
  • 1885 - Creole Cookery by the Christian Woman’s Exchange New Orleans - Has a recipe for Jumballaya, a Spanish Creole dish on page 67.
  • 1885 - La Cuisine Creole - Lafcadio Hearn's recipes (including Jambalaya) were mainly contributed by Mrs. Rudolph Matas, the wife of a prominent Tulane University surgeon, according to the Hearn’s website keeper/master. Page 106.
  • 1893 - The January 1893 edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine ran an article entitled "The Old Way to Dixie." On page 171 the article refers to "jambullade." Page 171 (PDF).
  • 1893 - Favorite Dishes. A Columbian Autograph Souvenir, compiled by Carrie V. Shuman of Chicago - Under Poultry, p. 70 and p. 71, "Jambolaya (A Spanish Creole Dish)" submitted by Miss Katharine L. Minor, Louisiana.
  • 1900 - Laurel Cook Book, ed. Mrs. George Gardiner. Laurel, Mississippi. -  Recipe #429, Jambalaya, on page 144.
  • 1901 - Mme Begue and her Recipes. Old Creole Cookery - On p.49 is the Friday menu which includes jambalaya of rice and shrimps. Recipes for  "jambalaya or rice and shrimp" and "jambalaya of chicken" appear on pp. 62-63.
  • 1901 - Picayune's Creole Cook Book - Devotes a whole chapter to Louisiana Rice Recipes, p. 180-189.  Creole Jambalaya, "a Spanish Creole dish which is a great favorite in New Orleans." Crab Jambalaya, Jambalaya au Congri and Shrimp Jambalaya. Also included are recipes for "a French pilou," and "Pilaff of chicken." Page 181, Page 182, Page 183.
  • 1902 - Southern Pacific Rice Cook Book, ed. Mrs. S. A. Knapp - Page 17 & page 18, Jambalaya in five different recipes.
  • 1904 - Cooking in Old Creole Days by Celestine Eustis provides her recipe for "Jumballaya a la Creole” on page 13.
  • 1905 - "Jambalaya," with the familiar spelling, appears on page 156 of a book titled New Orleans As It Was, by Henry C. Castelanos, 1905 [c1895]. Page 156 (PDF).
  • 1930 - In her 1930's master's thesis, Ann Spotswood Buchanan makes a claim about sagamite being used in jambalaya. This thesis is available only in Louisiana, so I am reproducing the relevant page here. Page 27.

 


 

More Jambalaya History Resources:

For a great resource providing new information on the use of the word "jambalaya" in print, see Barry Popik's excellent research on his The Big Apple web site.

I have dug up on the web, photographed, or scanned many of the earliest printed examples of use of the word "jambalaya." They are presented here and above (in the Chronology) so you don't need to search for them.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary says that the English word "jambalaya" comes from Provencal, a dialect of Occitan that historically was spoken in Southern France. The page from www.OED.com is here: [HTML]
  • In 1937 Tried & True Recipes, Elizabeth Burford Bashinsky, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Montgomery, Alabama, has two recipes for "Jambolin", yet another spelling and again from Alabama [JPG]. However, in this case neither recipe is a "true" jambalaya. The first uses cooked rice, the second is baked into a kind of casserole.


 

The Mysterious Alabama Connection:

It is truly intriguing that the first use of the word "jambalaya" in English appears to have come from Mobile, Alabama. Solon Robinson travelled throughout the American south and wrote extensively about his travels. While in Mobile in May 1849, he submitted "Three recipes for the Ladies" to the American Agriculturalist. They were "Louisiana Muffin Bread," "Hopping Johnny (jambalaya)," and "Something for the Children." Where did he get these recipes, and why did he submit them from Mobile? The first, "Louisiana Muffin Bread," suggests that though submitted to the journal from Mobile, the recipes might not have originated there. The second, which is the one that interests us, he titles "Hopping Johnny," though it does not contain peas or beans (the main element that differentiates a "Hopping John" from other rice dishes.) It is clearly jambalaya, but he relegates that specification to parentheses.

Next, it appears that the earliest recipe to appear in a cookbook is from the The Gulf City Cook Book, published in South Mobile, Alabama in 1878. After that we find the second cookbook recipe for jambalaya in Abby Fisher's, What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking. Though published in San Francisco, it is known that Abby Fisher was born in South Carolina, then moved to Mobile, Alabama after emancipation, before finally settling in California. It is also known that she lived in Mobile long enough to have at least one of her children. There is no evidence that Fisher ever lived in Louisiana, and there is no evidence that jambalaya was ever popular in South Carolina. Thus, it seems likely that Fisher would have learned of jambalaya (either the recipe or the word or both) in Mobile.

Going out on a limb, is it possible that jambalaya originated in Alabama? Could the Cajun/Creole connection be a red herring? In Petits Props Culinaires #80, Bethany Ewald Bultman made an extraordinary claim that jambalaya was almost unknown among Cajuns prior to the Hank Williams song Jambalaya (On the Bayou). Could it be that she was correct? Might jambalaya have been incorrectly associated with Cajuns by Williams - an association which stuck and subsequently obscured a true connection to Alabama?

According to Wikipedia:

The French founded the first European settlement in the state with the establishment of Mobile in 1702. Southern Alabama was French from 1702 to 1763, part of British West Florida from 1763 to 1780, and part of Spanish West Florida from 1780 to 1814. Northern and central Alabama was part of British Georgia from 1763 to 1783 and part of the American Mississippi territory thereafter. Its statehood was delayed by the lack of a coastline; rectified when Andrew Jackson captured Spanish Mobile in 1814.

With Alabama sharing the same kind of Franco-Spanish history as Louisiana, all of the linguistic arguments for the origins of Jambalaya with respect to the Louisiana Cajuns and Creoles could be made for the settlers of Alabama. If Alabama is the American source for jambalaya, then the same questions need to be asked: If the recipe started in Europe (Provence/Occitania,) how did it get to Alabama? If it started in Alabama, how did it get back to Europe?

 


The text on this page is (c) 2008, Andrew Sigal.



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