Making The Old -- and The Good -- New Again

By James Parrish Coleman -- a/k/a Jimbo Coleman

A later edition. Early Editions had a white

spine, and ads for long extinct local business.

Gulf Coast Gourmet was compiled by my late mother, Jane S. Coleman, in the early 1960s. The book was a fund raiser for the Foley Woman's Club.

The illustrations are the original work of a very talented artist named Marion Dyer. The book has been in print for many, many years; but has the simple fault of assuming you know about Gulf seafood and really know how to cook. I'll cook through the book (and my childhood), explain how Jane Coleman cooked, and tell a lot of family stories in the process. I like to cook. I will share what I have, and hope you like it. That's the spirit of this blog. Bon Appetit.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gulf Coast Gourmet, the cookbook

By James Parrish Coleman
      a/k/a Jimbo Coleman


The cookbook started as a rather modest fund raiser. The first books, like the one reproduced here, were printed in Mobile, and did not carry my mother’s name or the name of Marion Dyer. Later editions, printed for years by Underwood Printing in Foley AL did.

The table of contents is really very ambitious. There are not a lot of throw away recipes here. I remember mamma telling me that she and Flossie Michaelson (and I am sure there were others!) cooked every recipe in the book. I can believe it. 

 Flossie was a charming and fun Jewish lady who grew up in Baton Rouge, La. She had a very sure hand in the kitchen. I know the first lamb I ever ate came from her table. It was a real gift she gave to me. Her biggest sin was turning off a pot of seafood gumbo that was simmering on the stove during the festivities for my wedding. My mother decreed it spoiled the next day -- and dumped it out. I get a little weepy about that even now. 

The simple “FOREWARD” (sic) to the first edition of Gulf Coast Gourmet says a lot. Here’s where our style of cooking comes from. Here is what we have to cook with, and here’s why we should enjoy our luck. Eat up!


When I wonder if blogging about the cookbook is worthwhile to others, and chastise my self for indulging in nothing other than a culinary sentimental journey -- I take a look at the printing history.

A whole lot of cookbook buyers from 1961 to 2006 have found the book useful. Who am I to disagree.

Lots has been written and said by better cooks than I am about gumbo, roux, file’ and gumbo making, seafood and all the wonderful foods of the Gulf Coast.

You can find thousands of mentors with a few clicks of a computer mouse. It is a wonderful and useful thing to be able to go to YouTube and watch the greatest cooks and chefs in creation make just about anything.

I would love to tell you that my mother taught me how to cook, step-by-step, but that's not true. She taught me how to entertain -- to go all out. She exposed me to lots of kinds of food and encouraged my interest in cooking. In her later years, she gave me a collection of some of the weirdest kitchen gadgets I have ever seen. With the exception of ham chowder, I don't remember her teaching me any dish. But I watched her cook, I learned what "right looked like" and I soaked up a desire to never be satisfied with second best or "make-do" food.

Now, in the spirit of Jane Coleman's direct manner, I’ve got to air some complaints and make a hopeful comment:
The Gulf Coast consists not only of Southern Louisiana and the Florida Keys. There is a lot of territory in Texas, Mississippi, the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast and Alabama. Certainly I am most defensive about Alabama.

Jane Coleman in 1961, reading the first copies 
of Gulf Coast Gourmet at the printing plant
of American Publishing in Mobile, Ala. She wore 
the same suit when she appeared on local 
television -- a big deal in 1961!
There are plenty of people in the United States who don’t even know that Alabama has a Gulf Coast. They would even be more surprised to know that a couple of nice French boys (comment if you don’t know who they are) stopped by to found Mobile, Alabama, (1705 and 1711 at the current site) on their way to founding a city in Louisiana (New Orleans in 1718). Food culture is so much a part of New Orleans life that natives don’t even notice how rich and vibrant it really is. The central Gulf Coast, 200 miles either side of New Orleans, is indelibly impressed with this French ancestry and influence.

Creole and Cajun food are not synonymous. Please see Chef John Folse’s wonderful books on the cooking of Louisiana. His website is also great:

 I love to give his books as Christmas gifts, just so I can read them from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Creole is the food of the city dweller, influenced by Spanish, French and African cuisine. Cajun cooking (which is not supposed to be so highly seasoned as to be inedible) is the food of the country, particularly the countryside of South Louisiana. Chef Folse has written extensively and knowledgably on the subject. Don’t miss real Cajun food. Arcadiana reaches across south Louisiana. If you have never traveled that area, go. You can get a great meal at a convenience store -- really.

Italian food is such a joy, and on the Gulf Coast -- particularly in Louisiana -- it is a cuisine all its own. Louisiana Italian is seriously good. If you like Sicilian food, you’ll love it. If I had my way, I’d be Italian. No one would ever question my food creds.

The book talks about our French, Spanish and Italian ancestors. No mention is made of our African ancestors and their food traditions. A modern reader would note that the book was written in Alabama just before the struggle for civil rights for black Americans exploded onto our black and white television screens.

That reader would be wrong. I believe that the mighty contributions black Southerners have made to our southern food culture are such a huge part of that culture that we did not see those contributions distinct from who we are, how we cooked and what we ate. She wrote  that the dishes of other cultures were “made individual by the American skill of using imaginatively whatever was at hand.” I suspect a lot of that skill was at the hands of black men and women. Unfortunately those professional cooks who developed many of these dishes two or three hundred years ago were slaves. Fortunately we have the benefit of their work and can be thankful for that.

Our sensibilities are more heightened now. It is easier to understand and appreciate the distinctive contributions my fellow Southerners who are descended from black Africans made to my culture.

In food, language and attitude, I am much closer to my fellow black Southerners than I am to most of the rest of the nation. It is a fact of which I am proud.

At Thanksgiving dinner at my house in 2006 my mother signed the last one of the books I bought . It was our last meal together. If she could have mustered the energy to be in the kitchen, she surely would have corrected me on something, or at least chided me for making such a mess. She came to dinner, sat at the table, and while there would have complemented me if I had served her a pile of sawdust. She could be one of the most blunt people I had ever met, but truly understood hospitality. She had beautiful manners to the end. She died January 3, 2007. 

Our Gulf Coast, this strip of coast, from the St. Marks River in Florida to Beaumont, Texas, and not too many miles inland!,  is the Gulf Coast of Gulf Coast Gourmet. The book does not mention much about Florida. There was not much to talk about then.

When the book was written, Destin, Panama City and most of the panhandle of Florida was a land of cinder-block, one-story motels, gnarled oak trees, and two-lane roads down the beach.

South Louisiana enjoyed, then and now, an incredibly rich culture. It was a place where you could still hear Cajun French spoken at the gas station and the inevitable and unbeatable restaurant next door. Plywood signs were propped up in front of little stores and filling stations on Mondays proclaiming simply “Red Beans."  My father traveled that area selling metal oyster cans hauled in a truck appropriately dubbed the "Cajun Queen." He always came back a few pounds heavier.

The Gulf Coast was different then. The only people openly gambling (on their shrimp catch) in Mississippi then were commercial fishermen -- and there were a lot of them. Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile and New Orleans only.  Vietnam was an unknown place, where a war was yet to brew up.

Now, there is a Commander’s Palace in Destin. A cinderblock hotel there would be a historic relic. Cajun French is protected and promoted like the native tongue of a lost tribe. The food of Louisiana is so iconic that it is tortured beyond common recognition. Every wide spot in the road from Tampa to Texas is crowded with southern Baptists “celebrating” Fat Tuesday.

Except to the ghosts who haunt Eglin, Hurlburt, NAS Main-side and Keesler or Tyndall Air Force Bases Vietnam is nothing to the Gulf Coast but a lost homeland and a country that imported 48,000 tons of shrimp into the US in 2010 (more than was caught in Louisiana).

For all our joys, we’ve had hard times.

Like the pain of segregation and the hard death of an apartheid society. We’ve had stormy weather of every stripe -- economic, political, social and natural. Betsy, Camille, Frederic and Katrina are horrors of nature you should know well. “Deepwater” is the latest, for which we can’t blame God or global warming.

A lot has changed, mostly for the better. The central Gulf Coast is a varied and excellent place to cook and eat.

Let’s keep it that way. I cook with my children; they will cook with theirs.

You cook with yours.

Next Time, What are we going to cook?


  1. Nice. I never took you for the sentimental sort.

  2. Jimbo, Your blog showed up on Brenda's facebook page today. I meant to take just a quick glimpse, but found myself reading every word. Thank you for sharing your passion for Gulf Coast cuisine and honoring your mother in this way. Is it still possible to purchase a copy of "Gulf Coast Gourmet"? When I lived in Mobile years ago, I, most fortunately, befriended Eugene Walter and wonder if he ever had the chance to see your mom's cookbook. I know he would have loved it! My best to you and Frances. Blessings, Patricia Wilson