Random Scribbles · writing

Filé Gumbo – Padre Island Style


This is going to be an experiment. I am just going to type and tell a story or more accurately relate a memory. I am using the 1st paragraph of this Moonshine 173 page as inspiration because as I read it, it reminded me of something we used to do when I was a kid. Well, at least the sentence about the grilling did so I’m going to run with it. I don’t want to write about lemons. Not now anyway, maybe next week.

I was born on the gulf coast. That would be the Texas coast on the Gulf of Mexico, and when I was a lad; my parents, my older sister and I would take the short drive and go on day trips to Padre Island on the weekend. We always took a grill with us, about 14” x 30” made of expanded metal with an angle iron frame and a large stock pot. A produce box with onions, rice (or potatoes), okra, tomatoes, and celery would finish our list of provisions. Not really – we would also bring beach towels, bowls, a couple of shovels, spoons and a knife. I don’t think sunscreen had been invented in those days. If it had been we treated it with great disdain and scorned it. It never went to the beach with us.

My dad would park the Studebaker on the sand behind the dunes and we would romp through the sparse grasses and the white sand to the water’s edge. On the way we would collect driftwood that we found. When we had enough wood a hole was dug in the sand. The wood was laid for a fire and the grill was set over the top. We used sea water for stock and my mom and dad would cut up the vegetables and put them in the stock pot on the grill. Meanwhile my sister and I would go crabbing. I would walk along the shore about knee deep in the water my sister would shadow from the sand (occasionally these positions were reversed). When we spotted a lump in the sea bed the shovel was employed to scoop it up and quickly toss it to the shore where it was immediately obvious if said lump had been a rock or a crab. If it was a rock – we left it where it had landed. If it was a crab – the shadower scrambled to catch it before it got back down to the water and disappeared. Caught crabs were taken back to the fire and handed over to my dad who would unceremoniously toss them into the pot of vegetable fortified, boiling sea water to cook.

Clean the cooked crab. Spice it all up with pepper and filé, no additional salt was necessary as we were cooking in sea water, and eat. The filé and okra combine as a thickening agent and the gumbo just doesn’t get any better or any fresher than this.

Healthy? Probably healthier than hotdogs but harder to put mustard on and I don’t believe it would be very healthy to eat something cooked in water drawn straight from the Gulf of Mexico these days. Too much has transpired in the interim.