Book Review: Crawfish Dreams by Nancy Rawles
Crawfish Dreams is the second novel in a trilogy. The first novel, which I haven't read, is entitled - Love Like Gumbo. I was in the bookstore and the title piqued my interest. So, I read the blurb in back cover - "For forty years Camille Broussard has cooked for other people.....Now its 1984 and she's determined to cook for herself. She'll pickle okra, sell meat pies at church, peddle pralines."
Then just to check whether the novel was really worth buying, I read the opening paragraph: "Ambition, like love, needs the light of day to flourish. If driven underground, it becomes mangled and distended."
Hmn, I liked the mangled and distended part so....I went home with the Crawfish Dreams of Mrs Broussard.
There is this genre of foody novels/autobios that I am currently exploring. I am sure that there's an entire listing of this particular literature somewhere - but I noticed it for the first time when I read that Mexican extravaganza Like Water For Chocolate. The 'genre' may be described as follows: its a tight narrative interwoven with recipes, with the recipes forming an essential part of the story (like milestones). So in the plot, usually linear, the rising/falling points are marked by distinct recipes. In Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, for instance, there's the recipe consisting of rose petals that aroused desire and longing in everyone, and the chapter ended with one of the sisters passionately entangled with some guerilla in some makeshift shower room (?). In Ruth Reichl's Comfort me with Apples, she marked her separation from her husband by cooking comfort soup. And the recipes for this cooking efforts are written completely (with tips), as though taken from a cookbook page.
Rawles' Crawfish follows this tradition. I can't say much for the narrative, I started feeling sleepy at one point, exhausted at the thought of Mrs Broussard baking hundreds of pies to make money - but the recipes were rather interesting.
The remarkable recipes include this one, which I hope to cook as soon as I get hold of a crawfish:
Camille's Seafood Gumbo and Crawfish Tails
1/2 stick butter
4 medium size onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 each medium size red, yellow, orange, and green peppers (seeded and diced fairly small)
1/2 cup canned tomato puree
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound fresh okra, stems removed and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
1 1/2 quarts fish stock
3 pounds medium size tiger prawns, shelled and deveined
1 bound bay scallops
12 fresh oysters, shucked and drained
1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
1 pound crawfish tails
1 1/2 tablespoons file powder
3 each medium size ripe red and yellow tomatoes, diced
In a huge, heavy pot, melt your butter over moderate heat, then add onions, garlic, and bell peppers, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add your tomato puree, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper, stir well, and let simmer 10 minutes.
Add your okra and cook 5 minutes longer. Add your stock, bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to moderate. Add the prawns, scallops, oysters, crabmeat,a nd crawfish tails, stir and simmer for 15 minutes. In a bowl, mix your file poweder with 1 cup of gumbo broth. Remove your pot from the heat and stir in your file with the fresh tomatoes. Stir until thickened.