Nobody else does gumbo like the Catholic Daughters

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 22, 2012

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — In a few moments, you will be hungry.All you have to do is think about big chunks of turkey combined with onions, celery, peppers, okra, crushed tomatoes, turkey broth and fille (ground sassafras leaves).
Dream about the spices of New Orleans weaving through these ingredients as they cook and simmer in huge 30-gallon pots, stirred slowly.
Everything is adding up to thick Louisiana turkey gumbo – the kind made once a year by the Sacred Heart Catholic Daughters. In fact, it wouldn’t seem as though fall has arrived for many people, unless they’ve had a big bowl of the Daughters’ gumbo.
You’ve been to various fundraisers that sell barbecue, Brunswick stew, chicken and dumplings or hot dogs and hamburgers.
“Nobody else does gumbo,” says Charlotte Gardner, former state representative and a 1957 charter member of the Catholic Daughters chapter here.
“We were looking for something different.”
As they prepare for another Louisiana Turkey Gumbo Nov. 2, the Daughters – and their male assistants – can’t help but think back to Harold Marioneaux and how it all began.
Their first gumbo was cooked in 1963, with Marioneaux, a native of Baton Rouge, La., and eventually chief of corrective therapy at the Salisbury VA Medical Center, serving as head chef.
Gardner recalls that the idea for having a specialty started with Catholic Daughters Charlotte Taylor and Eleanor Murphy, who were looking for some kind of hearty food to serve as a complement to their bazaar.
“When you brought the ladies in, you needed something to hold them,” Gardner notes.
The idea behind it
Back then, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was holding a highly successful bazaar every other year. The Episcopal women sold soup and chicken salad sandwiches so customers could shop more at their leisure.
The Catholic Daughters wanted to alternate years with the Episcopal women, so they provided gumbo as an enticement to stay longer at their own bazaar.
Making gumbo was all Marioneaux’s idea.
“It was his baby,” Gardner says. “He loved to cook.”
Marioneaux received help in the cooking from friend Thomas Hopkins. Meanwhile, the Catholic Daughters prepared – and often grew – all the vegetables in addition to collecting the crafts for sale at the bazaar.
Marioneaux relied on his mother’s recipe for gumbo, but he substituted turkey for chicken, arguing that it was firmer and didn’t fall apart as much.
The Catholic Daughters’ bazaar, held initially in Helfrich Hall at the old Sacred Heart Church, became a biennial tradition on the November Wednesday eight days before Thanksgiving.
“It was a big step forward,” Gardner remembers, and a significant challenge just to bring the Sacred Heart bazaar up to the standard established by the Episcopal women.
But it worked. People used to stand in line on West Council Street outside the former church building, waiting for the bazaar’s opening at 10 a.m. As for the gumbo in those days, there were no take-outs, only sit-down dinners.
The Marioneaux gumbo recipe – he died in 2003 – has been closely guarded from the beginning.
“It’s Harold’s recipe – I’m not going to mess with it,” says Bud Wingerson, now maybe the most experienced gumbo chef in the parish.
Colette Miller serves today as head of the event, which is focused almost entirely on the gumbo. She depends on 25 to 30 volunteers to serve, cook, cut, sell, promote, decorate, set up and clean up.
(The gumbo event is now held at the new Sacred Heart Catholic Church off Jake Alexander Boulevard.)
This year’s chief cookers will be Joe Laib and Michael Rattz, with Wingerson providing some over-the-shoulder supervision.
“I’m not completely stepping away from it,” says Wingerson. In the past, he has taken vacation days from work to tend to the gumbo, known for its thickness and how much turkey is in each bowl and every quart.
Good sales
Miller says she plans on 105 turkeys. Members of the parish donate, cook and deliver the turkeys (whole and breast) to the church for the gumbo. Wingerson estimates there are 50 pounds of turkey for every 30 gallons of gumbo.
“Last year we sold out,” Pat Moore says. “It’s a big production.”
The Daughters made 90 gallons of gumbo in 2011. The most they have ever sold at their one-day event is 120 gallons.
It all depends on how much turkey can be cooked, Miller says.
Besides Marioneaux and Wingerson, other head gumbo cooks through the years have included Gene Georgiana, Jim Pierson and Harold Barrier.
Catholic Daughters such as Mary Goodman and Phyllis Wren have served important kitchen roles through the years, but Moore says you could never list everyone who has been involved without leaving someone out.
“It’s a fun event you look forward to,” Miller says.
How do you know the Catholic Daughters’ gumbo is good?
Wingerson says he likes to receive the stamp of approval from Marioneaux’s widow, Esther.
When she tastes the gumbo and declares, “This is almost as good as Harold’s,” that’s the highest compliment you can get.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or

Louisiana Turkey Gumbo
When: Friday, Nov. 2, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Where: Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Brincefield Hall, 385 Lumen Christi Lane, Salisbury
Sponsor: Catholic Daughters of Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Cost for meal: Eat-in or take-out, $8, includes gumbo, salad and dessert; quarts, $9 each.
Pre-orders: Available by emailing Handmade crafts also will be available for purchase.