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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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