One of my cousins sent this recipe around last year just after my grandmother died.
Nora Mae (Garbarino) Cart was my Mammaw, and despite the Italian and English sounding name she was Cajun. She spoke Cajun French before she spoke English. At a young age she married a man from a few towns away and went to live there for the remainder of her life. It was in this town, Iota, Louisiana, that she raised 12 kids on big pots of Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya, and Crawfish Etouffee.
When I think of these foods, when I taste them, or when I stir my roux in a cast iron pot, I think of Iota, my mother (who was considered to be the best cook in the family) and what it means to own this odd ethnicity. I mean just stirring some fat and flour – a simple but tedious task – makes my kitchen smell just like Mammaw’s. Those smells make me think of that humid little town where, from my childhood view, the men always had a beer in hand and the women were always cooking and cleaning. It isn’t all warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Like anyone’s memories of a big family, some are funny or sweet and others are still infuriating.
I was reminded of this recipe because one of the projects that the Kitchen Lab is developing is focused on the smells of the kitchen. To me the smells of the kitchen are so specific in ethnic foods – they are things that become such a part of your life that you don’t even note them until you loose them for a while and then they come back. In this way the power of smell is stealth. I hope the project becomes something that brings back these kind of strong memories for the participants. Connecting to art is as much about memories and histories we bring to the work as it is about the artist intention. Because of this, smell seems like a perfect provocateur.