In March 2006 I was inspired by an article from Bethany Ewald Bultman Who Saved Jambalaya? in Petit Propos Culinare, PPC 80 (a venerable publication on culinary history). Ms. Bultman proposed that the recipe for Jambalaya among the Cajun population didn't come into general use until the middle of the 20th century. In my limited, but familiar, knowledge of Louisiana cookery and the literature about regional foods of the Creoles and Cajuns, I just knew that Bethany must not have had enough literature of the kitchen at hand when she came to some of her conclusions. Careening through some two dozen books, I assembled a list of citations forwarded to her via email. She thanked me and that seemed to be it.
On a hunch one day when reading Eugene Walter, a devilishly engaging Mobile food writer (one of the many skills of this Renaissance Man. Author Joan Noble rather aptly described Eugene as, "a cross between Winnie-the-Pooh and Huckleberry Finn"), I remembered the Gulf City Cook Book, published in 1878 by The Ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Mobile, Alabama. Now according to Eugene, Mobile is the most Creole city, if not the first, in the United States, more Creole than even New Orleans! They have the esteem of having the first Creole citizen born in the US (Jean Francois LeCan 1705), the first Mardi Gras, etc. I hadn't thought outside the Louisiana area to look for a jambalaya recipe, and, lo and behold, there it was! Jam Bolaya!
As it turns out, this is the earliest recipe (so far) published in a cook book for jambalaya. Boy, was I excited. I then turned to other Gulf regional cookery books to see where it took me. There it was in several other early books, but none earlier than Mobile's.
In the December 2007 issue of PPC 84, Andrew Sigal wrote an article Jambalaya By Any Other Name in response to Ms. Bultman's earlier article. Mr. Sigal's work paralleled much of my work on jambalaya with the addition of etymological research. He did not have some of my more obscure references within the old cook books, so, I tried to find him on the Internet, to no avail.
Sitting in a Food History meeting at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in, where else, Old New Orleans, in April this year, right there behind me was Andrew Sigal! I leaned over and mumbled to him, "You're probably going to want to talk to me. I have something for you about Jambalaya."
Since then, Andrew and I have had a lively email correspondence. He has been preparing his Jambalaya paper for the Association for the Study of Food & Society. You can read some of what his paper will contain at Jambalaya. I am grateful to Andrew for acknowledging my sources and the link to this food blog. Thanks Andrew!
January 7 2009 Post Script: I noticed this little cookbook at the shop and had not previously searched for a Jambalaya recipe and sure enough, there is one. The booklet was published for the 1892 Louisiana Rice Festival.