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Youngsville cookbook: ‘Zyedeco, Blues and Gumbo’


LAFAYETTE, La. — The culture of Acadiana is inextricably intertwined with its music and food. Carolyn Shelton pulls all of those elements together in her new cookbook, “Zydeco, Blues and Gumbo.”

The focus is Creole cuisine from the people of African descent who live in the area.

The book features recipes from a number of well-known musicians from around the area, including Terrance Simien, Carol Fran and the late Zydeco Joe Mouton from Lafayette Parish. From St. Landry Parish are recipes from the mother of Geno Delafose, Goldman Thibodeaux and Zyedeco Joe Citizen.

“I’m highlighting a lot of old and young zydeco musicians,” said Shelton, a Youngsville native who has lived in other parts of the country much of her adult life. “My attempt is to, I guess, kind of tell their story, share their contributions and give them a voice.”

Shelton grew up in the country near Youngsville under the influence of her mother, Angelina Zeno Mitchell and grandmothers Antoinette Roy Prejean Zeno and Laura Richard Mitchell.

“And my great-grandmother, Malee, didn’t speak a word of English,” Shelton said. “She would be talking to us in French and she’d be eating that couche-couche in a bowl.”

When Shelton was a child, she moved to Houston with her mother, who returned to Youngsville, then back to Houston more than once. But even in Houston, Shelton didn’t entirely lose contact with her culture.

“Because of the Louisiana connection, the language, the food, the religion, the people of Louisiana formed their own community in Houston, Texas,” Shelton said. “It was a community called French Town in Houston.”

Shelton later married and became a flight attendant and traveled the world before returning to southwest Louisiana nearly three years ago.

Over the years, she has had an interest in the food of the area. This is her fourth cookbook.

“I never stopped writing cookbooks,” she said. “They were always small runs, but they gave me entree into TV shows and venues where I could do cooking demonstrations. It provided me contact with major companies.”

But her goal is not so much to make money, but to highlight the culture she has known all her life — not just the icons of the culture, like zydeco musicians, but also the mothers and grandmothers who are never publicly acknowledged for their contributions to the food culture of the area.

Her greatest reward has been the feedback from people who express their appreciation for the nod she has given to them indirectly.

“I’m ecstatic about giving a voice to those old Afro-Creole cooks. I didn’t realize how rich my culture was until I left and came back, traveling all over the country,” Shelton said.

“I’m in love with the entire culture — the Creole, the Cajun, the blacks, the whole gumbo pot.”

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