So here we are at the Maple Leaf bar, waiting for the Pigeon Town Steppers second line to come through. It’s twenty to five and their permit runs until five and there are several other stops still to go, so the question is will they make it or will they just turn off and head for the Blue Flame Lounge where they disband? We’ve run into friends of Bill and Cindy’s and been invited over for some gumbo z’herbes, had some grilled oysters from one of the BBQ grills on pickup truck beds that seem ubiquitous at every outdoor event, and followed the rumors back and forth.
“They extended the permit until seven,” comes the latest word and suddenly, NOPD is blocking off the side streets, the crowd has grown and the brass band gets louder and louder. We were there at the start of the second line, at Silky’s Lounge on Magnolia Street, which was a milling crowd of the well dressed and the casual, BBQ trucks and Flexible Flier wagons with “Cold Cold” beer and “Ice Cold” soda, a full bar on the cab roof of a pickup truck, the competing smells of hickory smoke, sizzling fat and weed, and, off to the side, some floats. It started as a semi-chaotic affair, with maybe a hundred or so following the floats and the music. We joined for a while and then peeled off.
Pigeon Town, a neighborhood near Bill and Cindy, was originally called Pension Town because of all the black WW II vets who settled there. Like all things, time has wrought it’s changes. This, their 19th Easter, the theme of the Pigeon Town Steppers second line is change: “20 Years in Da Game, Time Brings Change.”
Four hours later, marching down Oak Street, the crowd has thinned. Tired looking girls, guys in wheelchairs, the floats and a second set of dancers make their way to the Maple Leaf, stop for a bit, then move on.
Gumbo Z’Herbes is a spring dish, originally a Lenten meatless meal. Seven kinds of greens say the recipes, the larger the number the more new friends you’ll make. I’ve made it, but never been satisfied with the results. This pot was huge and filled with a murky green soup that we spooned out and poured over rice. Another friend had cooked some wild boar and that went on the side. Not especially hot and spicy (which seems pretty common to most of the food I’ve had in town), but good. You know the taste and texture of spinach cooked in water for a while? That’s what I got, that thick almost gummy texture. It was soupy and good, though I hesitate to say healthful since the greens ended up being cooked for a while.
That is what is wrong with the gumbo z’herbes I’ve been making. Down south, they like their vegetables well cooked and here I am trying to be all al dente and health conscious. That’s been one of the best things about this trip so far—getting to taste the dishes I mostly know from recipes, TV, or interpretations by Northern cooks. The gumbos and etouffee’s have been a shock to me, way thinner than I make and no taste of green peppers or celery. Well, after the second line started, we stopped off at a Surrey’s Juice Bar, a local breakfast place for some fresh squeezed orange juice with ginger and a little pick me up. The Smoked Turkey gumbo came out dark and unctuous, with more heat than I’ve been tasting elsewhere and, finally, the same dark roux and taste of cooked green peppers that I get. Seems like only computers think the world is digital. Gumbo, like many things, is analog. I’ve just been cooking on one dark end of it.