National Gumbo Day – October 12, 2020

Mon Oct 12

National Gumbo Day is celebrated on October 12. It’s a time to appreciate this heavily seasoned, savory state dish of Louisiana. Although, gumbo is a perfect bit of indulgence any day, anywhere! Gumbo typically consists of strongly-flavored stock with meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoned vegetables. The seasoned vegetables may include celery, bell peppers, and onions. In the Cajun cuisine, the trio is known as the “holy trinity. Most people serve gumbo over rice. Curl up on the couch and savor the flavors on National Gumbo Day, or enjoy with family and friends.

History of National Gumbo Day

As is quite common with the lesser-known holidays, even diligent research doesn’t reveal the first instance or true origins of National Gumbo Day. We do know that since 1989, the city of New Iberia, Louisiana has held a widely publicized yearly Championship Gumbo CookOff every October, a festival that injects two million dollars annually into the local economy, though the contest was cancelled in 2020 due to pandemic concerns.

Let’s start with the etymology of the word “gumbo.” A certain amount of ambiguity survives to this day, since one of the main ingredients, okra, is translated in the Niger-Congo languages spoken by slaves of the time as “quingombo,” while another main ingredient, filé, in the tongues of the native American Choctaw peoples of the region, is pronounced “kombo.” So, like the American hamburger, no one can claim credit for gumbo’s origin with absolute certainty.

So what makes gumbo such a big deal? Its historical significance to Louisiana goes back to the beginning of the 19th century when English settlers arrived in the area and took note of the rich, hearty, stew-like — and spicy! — dish. Gumbo has never lost its momentum as a staple of Louisiana cuisine. It’s the “official food” of Louisiana, and we would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in the region that didn’t have gumbo on the menu. 

Also, it’s not just a dish for commoners. In 1972, to commemorate the passing of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender, the Senate’s cafeteria added Creole Gumbo to its menu as a permanent fixture. At its essence, there are two versions of gumbo, one originating with the Cajun people (from “Acadian,” a Canadian designation), and the other with the Creoles who had settled the region from France and Spain along with an enslaved African contingent. 

Gumbos from both camps usually start with a roux — a French-style mixture of flour and fat — and may contain the vegetable okra, beef, fowl or sausage, the “holy trinity” of vegetables, pungent spices like “filé”, and whatever the chef throws in to make the batch big enough for a crowd.

National Gumbo Day timeline

1989
Not knowing it would snowball

Fewer than a dozen chefs participate in the inaugural World Championship Gumbo CookOff in New Iberia, Louisiana.

1980s
“Good cooking, good eating, good loving!”

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s rise to television popularity multiplies the American interest in Creole and Cajun cooking.

1824
It’s as easy as one, two, three

Mary Randolph’s cookbook, “The Virginian House-Wife,” publishes a gumbo recipe called “Gumbo — a West India Dish.”

1802
A gustatory delight

American surgeon John Sibley records his comments on gumbo, “which is made principally of the ochre into a thick kind of [soup] & eat with rice, it is the food of everybody for dinner and supper."

National Gumbo Day FAQs

Is gumbo better the second day?

Just about anything that is simmered on the stove for a while tastes even better when allowed to sit in the fridge overnight. Stews, chili, soups, all these really gain depth after a rest in the refrigerator.

Why is gumbo called Gumbo?

Gumbo is often cited as an example of the melting-pot nature of Louisiana cooking, but trying to sort out the origins and evolution of the dish is highly speculative. The name derives from a West African word for okra, suggesting that gumbo was originally made with okra.

Is gumbo served hot or cold?

Serve warm over hot cooked rice. This recipe tastes even better the next day as the flavors have a chance to blend. If you’re really wanting to go all out, serve it with a side of homemade potato salad!

National Gumbo Day Activities

  1. Easy! Enjoy a bowl

    A good gumbo recipe prepared with professionalism and love will outperform any written description. So we challenge you to find that perfect bowl. And as you lean back and digest, make a note to repeat the celebration next October 12.

  2. Try cooking a batch

    Whether or not you’re unbeatable in the kitchen, National Gumbo Day is the perfect time to try your hand at the right combination of base, spices, veggies, and protein. If you’re in Louisiana, enter the contest!

  3. Take to the socials

    Share what you’ve learned, what you’ve tasted, and what you want to know about gumbo, using the hashtag #nationalgumboday. And have fun!

5 Amazing Facts About Okra

  1. Because of the shape…?

    Internationally, okra is often referred to as “Ladies’ Fingers.”

  2. “You’ve come a long way, baby!”

    The earliest written records reveal that okra was first cultivated in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) in the 12th century.

  3. Kissing cousins?

    One reason that it’s so efficient to grow okra in the Southern United States is that it’s a cousin of the cotton plant, both members of the mallow (Malvaceae) family that respond well to the climate and other conditions.

  4. “This isn’t my Maxwell House!”

    Okra seeds, which of course have been around as long as okra itself, have commonly been ground up and used to brew a hot beverage like coffee — but with no caffeine.

  5. Just off the boat

    Okra’s earliest arrivals to the New World (New Orleans, Dutch Guinea, Brazil) were due to the transatlantic slave trade, carried by ships with human cargo.

Why We Love National Gumbo Day

  1. It’s multi-ethnic

    Gumbo is a dish with Spanish, French, African, Native American, German, and Caribbean influences, all coming together in one hearty meal.

  2. It’s historic

    Who would have thought that one single culinary dish could be connected to such a wealth of history, spanning continents? Well, gumbo is, and so on National Gumbo Day, pick up a spoon and join in.

  3. It’s connected with Mardi Gras

    … and what’s more fun than that, right? There’s even a tradition in New Orleans, the “courir de Mardi Gras,” where local men go door-to-door begging for gumbo ingredients, and then cook the gumbo in the square that night.

National Gumbo Day dates

YearDateDay
2020October 12Monday
2021October 12Tuesday
2022October 12Wednesday
2023October 12Thursday
2024October 12Saturday