Capturing the past can be a lot harder than catching fish, but author Jim LaBove has done both. LaBove, who has written and illustrated four books about growing up on the upper East Texas coast will be signing his books on Dec. 8 from noon until 2 p.m. at Galveston Bookshop, 317 23rd Street.
Two of LaBove’s books are memoir/cookbooks, full of vignettes about a rural life spent harvesting the Gulf’s prized seafood, interspersed with recipes for cooking what they brought home. “When we lived in Sabine Lake, we oystered, crabbed and shrimped, and in between trapped muskrat and hunted alligators for their hides,” LaBove recalls. “When the oysters in Sabine Lake played out, we moved to Crystal Beach.”
While living in Crystal Beach, LaBove attended Ball High School, graduating in 1964. In Crystal Beach, the family did less crabbing. “When we first crabbed, we used wooden traps with four bricks in them to hold them down,” he explained. “Crabbing was a lot harder work, because you had to haul up a water-logged wooden trap and the bricks.”
Oystering wasn’t much easier. “When my dad said we could move to Crystal Beach and oyster in Galveston Bay, I told him if we were going to do that, he’d have to buy a dredge,” LaBove said. “I wasn’t going to harvest oysters with tongs anymore.”
The reward for the hard work was a steady diet of fresh seafood. “My dad provided an abundance of seafood,” LaBove noted. “We ate it every day.”
Many of the recipes included in LaBove’s first book, “Cotton’s Seafood: A Cajun Autobiographical Cookbook,” feature the crabs, shrimp, oysters and redfish that LaBove grew up eating, as prepared by his mother, Cora. “The books are my way of keeping my heritage alive,” he said. “I regret that I never learned to speak Cajun French, but I did learn a lot of the recipes.”
“Cora loved to cook, and she passed that love of cooking for loved ones down to me,” he writes is “Cotton’s Seafood.” “Cora cooked so effortlessly that it almost did not seem like she was doing very much. On the contrary, she was doing quite a lot; she simply did not have a wealth of cooking devices to make the work easier. She made up for this with energy, which she possessed in great quantities.”
Jim LaBove shares his mother’s opinions on green onions (and includes a tutorial on growing them), rice and roux. He notes that Lafayette, Louisiana is ground zero for Cajun food, and that east of Lafayette, the roux gets lighter as French influence gets stronger, and west of Lafayette the roux gets progressively darker and more intense as it approaches the western edge of Cajun culture along the Texas-Louisiana coastal border.
The detailed instructions on making roux start at the very beginning and go through the cooling-off stage, which LaBove accomplishes by adding chopped onions to the roux to cool it down and stop the cooking process. “As you are stirring the onions into the roux to cool it off, the aroma that you will be experiencing is the very essence of bayou Cajun life—the smell of my childhood—the Cajun version of mom and apple pie,” he writes.
LaBove’s books are available at Galveston Bookshop and direct from the author at cottons-seafood.com.