First, it will be necessary to explain here, for the benefit of many, that “File” is a powder manufactured by the remaining tribe of Choctaw Indians in Louisiana, from the young and tender leaves of the Sassafras. The Indian squaws gather the leaves and spread them out on a stone mortar to dry. When thoroughly dried, they pound them into a fine powder, pass them through a hair sieve, and then bring the “File” to New Orleans to sell, coming twice a week to the French Market, from the old reservation set aside for their home on Bayou Lacombe, near Mandeville, Louisiana. The Indians used Sassafras leaves and the Sassafras for many medicinal purposes, and still sell bunches of the dried roots in the French Market for use in tea and tonics. The Creoles, quick to discover and apply, found the possibilities of the powdered Sassafras leaves or “File, ” and originated the well-known dish “Gumbo File.”
To make a good “Gumbo File, ” use:
Clean and cut up the chicken as for a fricassee. Dredge with salt and black pepper, judging according to taste. Cut the ham into dice shapes and chop the onion, parsley and thyme very fine. Put the lard or butter into the soup kettle or deep stewing pot, and when hot, put in the ham and Chicken. Cover closely and fry for about five or ten minutes. Then add the onion, parsley and thyme, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. When nicely browned add the boiling water and the oyster stock, which has been thoroughly heated. Add the bay leaf, chopped very fine, and the pepper pod, cut in two, and set the Gumbo back to simmer for about an hour longer. When nearly ready to serve dinner, and while the Gumbo is boiling, add the fresh oysters. Let the Gumbo remain on the stove for about three minutes longer and then remove the pot from the fire. Have ready the tureens, set in a bain-marie, or hot water bath, for once the “File” is added, the Gumbo must never be warmed over. Take two tablespoonfuls of the “File” and drop gradually into the pot of boiling hot Gumbo, stirring slowly to mix thoroughly; pour into the tureen, or tureens, if there should be a second demand, and serve with Boiled Rice. The Rice, it should be remarked, must be boiled so that the grains stand quite apart, and brought to the table in a separate dish, covered. Serve about two spoonfuls of Rice to a plate of Gumbo.
The above recipe is for a family of six. Increase quantities in proportion as required. Never boil the Gumbo with the Rice, and never add the “File” while the Gumbo is on the fire, as boiling after the “File” is added tends to make the Gumbo stringy and unfit for use; or else the “File” is precipitated to the bottom of the pot, which is equally to be avoided.
Where families cannot afford a fowl, a good Gumbo may be made by substituting round of the Beef for Chicken.