In 1986 I was a member of a church in McKinney, Texas. The flock was led by minister Father John White. John would lead me every Sunday to a place I needed to go by way of his thoughtful sermons. I followed and supported him in every way I could.
The Vestry was a group of parishioners charged with conducting the church’s business. I gladly accepted the position as a member when asked by John. I was on the Vestry with Bob Richards and that was great. Bob was the Chief of Police, power weight lifter, ex-football team member of the Southern Methodist University and a good friend. He grew up in Nederland, Texas forty miles from my childhood home.
The Vestry meetings were mostly cookie cutter affairs with little excitement or drama. After one meeting John approached Bob and me for a favor and, of course, an opportunity for service. Two local high-school girls had an invitation to go to China to play volleyball in an international tournament. John asked us to come up with a plan to raise money for their trip. One of the girls could not afford to go, and the other was from a wealthy family in town. I suggested “The Chief” and I take the father, with all the money, hold him up by the legs, and shake all the money we needed from his pockets. They suggested another plan was needed.
As I said, Bob and I were from similar areas both close to Southern Louisiana. Gumbo was an easy call. We knew how to make a pot. The target amount to send the girls to China was $10,000. That’s a lot of gumbo.
We were both big boys. In calculating the amount each person would be served , we used our consumption formula of $12,000/$6.00=2,000. Since our target profit was $10,000, we knew our cooking goal: 2000 bowls of gumbo. Neither of us ever used a recipe. The fun was just beginning.
We made arrangements to use the McKinney High School cafeteria for food prep and service. My only reservation was that I refused to wear one of those little hair nets. On inspecting the kitchen, we found two fifty-gallon steam heated soup cookers. We thought we would make seventy-five gallons. If we went over that, fine.
Bob and I met with the local Brookshire’s food market manager who agreed to supply produce, chicken, stock, and sausage for our event. Next came a question I had not anticipated. “How much of everything do you need?” asked the Brookshire’s manager. Bob and I looked at each other and both said, “Plenty.” We settled on 250 chickens, 100 sausage rounds, a fifty pound sack of onions, and thirty pounds of celery.
The ticket sales went briskly, and we did not see any wisdom in counting sales. All I wanted to know was how much money we had received.
Bob and I were busy the week before the event. Bob was in charge of the roux preparation. We needed ten pounds of the brown gold. Bob did a masterful job.
The Friday before the Sunday we were to serve the gumbo, we picked up the supplies from our new best friends at Brookshire’s. There was plenty of room in the chill box at the school for our ingredients. We were all set to cook.
Early Sunday morning Bob and I met at the school cafeteria to begin the gumbo. We filled the two soup caldrons with water and put the chickens in the cool water. One hour later the chickens were still swimming in cool water. No one had shown us how to start the cookers. Soon help arrived and the steam valve was opened. The gumbo was saved. The chickens cooked quickly and were then removed from the stock to cool for deboning. While the celery, garlic, green peppers, and onion were cooking, the chickens were stripped by less than enthusiastic family members. We mistakenly thought we could handle all the cooking, but family was summoned once again to bail us out. The job was too much for two guys.
“How much roux do we use?” one souse chef asked. We said, “Just cut the ten pound brick in half and use each one in the two pots.” Great! We were well on our way to becoming the star chefs of McKinney.
Service was to begin at three that afternoon. At noon the ninety-five gallons of gumbo was simmering and ready to be tasted. Bob had the honors. “Where is a soup spoon?” he asked. A cold shutter came over me. We had no silverware, no napkins, no soup bowls, no plastics cups. We did have enough tea and gumbo to drown a horse. Family to the rescue! Any store open on Sunday was relieved of its picnic supplies.
At 2:00 p.m. the plates and supplies arrived as did the hungry church crowd. The line began to form and spread out the door of the cafeteria. John thanked each diner and took the money. Very few paid the $6.00 per head. Most contributed $10.00 to $20.00 dollars each.
Bob and I proudly served bowls of our gumbo and surveyed the cafeteria for anyone choking on an errant chicken bone. No calamity, only praise. We ladled until the last one in line was served. I called back to the pot crew, “How much gumbo is left?” “A little over one pot,” they responded. That was over seventy gallons! At that we announced, “Free seconds and to go gumbo is available.
Some came up for an extra bowl or to go portion, but in the end we had over fifty gallons of gumbo. Bob asked, “Ok, what are we going to do with all this stuff?” I handed him a serving spoon, and said, “Let’s start eating slowly, and maybe we can put a dent in it.” He rolled his eyes, and said, “You are going to jail!”
John said, “I’ll take it.” I asked him how he wanted to take the fifty gallons of gumbo home. He looked around the kitchen and saw two empty garbage cans in the corner. “Let’s put trash bags in these cans. I’ll put them in my garage until I figure out what to do,” he said.
Kitchen cleaned, gumbo loaded, and money stashed. A day well spent. We cleared more than enough to send the girls to China and give them some spending money. The extra cash was a contribution to our dear John White to spend as he desired on his ministry. Oh, what became of the fifty gallons of Gumbo? Well…
The gumbo “containers” were put in the back of the Whites’ garage. The weather was cold, so the gumbo was safe for a day or so. Later that night my phone rang with “gumbo news.”
“Drew, Judy came home after dark and pulled into the garage. A light was out, it was dark, and Judy ran into the cans.”
I stopped him and asked, “Did any of the gumbo spill?”
“Yep, ” he said, “all of it–down the drive way and into the street.”
“Can I come over to help with the clean-up?”
“Nope. The neighborhood dogs and cats are doing a fine job.”
©Drew Scott 2014
Drew Scott was raised in Goose Creek, Texas. He and his wife Jane Scott live in Santa Fe with their two poodles. “With each story, I allow myself to visit the people and places who helped make me the man I am today at age sixty-seven,” says Drew. “Pretty cool stuff!”