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A scarce first edition of an 1878 cookbook containing the first recorded recipe for jambalaya has been listed for sale on AbeBooks. The Gulf City Cook Book was compiled by the “ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church South” from Mobile, Alabama. This historic church still exists although the current building was built in 1896.
The book, published by the United Brethren Publishing House, Dayton, Ohio, is bound in blue cloth with gilt lettering. As well as a host of Cajun and Creole recipes, the book includes remedies for illnesses and guides to making drinks. The recipe calls the dish “Jam Bolaya” and describes what needs to be done in two sentences. It does not include sausage, which is a key ingredient for most modern jambalaya recipes.
The origins of jambalaya are from Louisiana’s Spanish and French roots. The first appearance of anything relating to jambalaya, the word “jambalaia”, was in a 1837 French book written in the Provencal dialect. In 18th century Louisiana, Spanish colonists lacked saffron in order to make paella so they improvised and jambalaya was the result. Andouille, a French sausage, is often used in modern recipes.
The first edition of the Gulf City Cook Book is listed for sale at $7,500 by a bookseller called Yesterday’s Gallery in East Woodstock, Connecticut. It is the only copy on AbeBooks. The University of Alabama published a reprint in 1990. This is the first time that a first edition of the Gulf City Cook Book has been offered on AbeBooks since our launch in 1996.
Churches have a long history of producing cookbooks, as a way of sharing recipes and raising funds. Scarce examples published in the 19th century are priced anywhere from $300 to $1,500 depending on condition and their historical significance.
Collectors of cookbooks often look for early editions where particular dishes are documented for the first time. Early English and French cookbooks are particularly treasured as they helped shape the cuisine and kitchens we know today. The most expensive cookbook is ever sell via AbeBooks was Mastering the Art of French Cooking (signed first editions of volumes 1 and 2) by Julia Child for $7,500.
In case you are looking for something to cook this weekend, the 1878 “Jam Bolaya” recipe, lacking sausage, is….
“Have the lard hot, put in flour, cook to a light brown, with a medium-sized onion. Take the giblets, neck, small part of the wings and feet of your chicken, and put in the lard; add half a cup of prepared tomatoes, two dozen oysters, with their liquor, pepper and salt to taste; put in nearly a pint of rice, one table-spoonful of butter, stir frequently when nearly done, set back on the stove and let steam.”