Episcopal Church of the Ascension taking Gumbo Orders

By BETH BUNCH,

What does the time prior to Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl have in common? If you’re a Pine Belt resident, then you’ve probably come to expect the famous gumbo prepared by the Gumbo Gourmets at Hattiesburg’s Episcopal Church of the Ascension. This year’s pre-sale has started with pickup scheduled from 10 a.m.-2p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Parish Hall of the church. The cost is $14.

There are times the sale has been so popular they had to stop taking advance orders before the published cutoff date. The Gourmets have been making and selling their famous gumbo for more than 21 years. “We started in very small batches and mostly sold to church members, but it quickly grew to the greater Hattiesburg area,” said a spokesperson for the group.

The original fundraiser came about as a means to support the church youth group who was planning a trip to Kentucky to assist in rehabilitating homes. Today, proceeds from the gumbo sale support the Outreach efforts of the church. Outreach efforts support the Hattiesburg area and as far away as orphaned children in Uganda.

The church counts on the gumbo sale to enable them to carry out the church’s Outreach programs. “It’s a perfect blend of a great product and the community’s support, which makes for a great blessing,” said the rector. “The community’s support is validation for what we do. The sale has grown a great fellowship.

The gumbo, which sells for $14 a quart and just needs rice added to it, is offered twice a year – a couple of weeks prior to Thanksgiving and again prior to the Super Bowl, with many people purchasing during both sales to stock their freezers for the coming year until the next sale.

The group prays for good weather each year but will sell in any weather. It has been known to snow a little on sale days in the past. 

The Ascension cooks begin preparing for this large under-taking about two months in advance, ordering supplies and preparing the space needed for the cooking.

The now-famous recipe was developed by the late Bill Jordan, a church member with a Cajun background.

The only change that has been made to the recipe is to standardize the ingredients to allow a consistent batch each time, but it’s still Bill’s recipe.

The recipes secret ingredients include the Cajun trinity and the talent of the Church of the Ascension family.

In their recipe, the gourmets use several hundred pounds of chicken, sausage and shrimp to make the many quarts of gumbo, plus or minus what the cooks sample. There’s also crushed and diced tomatoes and okra with a number of cases of the green stuff going into the making.

After all, it has to have okra to be gumbo. That’s what makes gumbo gumbo.

Their cookware for this event includes 160-quart pots, of which they used eight at one time.

While there are probably many loyal members of the com-munity who have been purchasing the gumbo from the beginning, members of the church and their families have eagerly continued to enjoy the tasty Cajun gumbo.

Volunteers are an important part of this worthwhile endeavor and it takes pretty much the entire membership of the Church of the Ascension’s help in preparing a batch of gumbo, either by setting up, slicing sausage, stirring, washing pots, pouring up or selling the gumbo. Everyone has his or her own special talents they use during the preparation process.

At least 30 or 40 members are usually on hand for at least part of the cooking day.

The cooks start the creative process early in the day the day prior to the sale. They start cooking early in the day, adding various ingredients at different intervals during the day and cooking until late evening. The slow cooking allows the ingredients to marry. When the stirring paddles can stand vertical alone in the gumbo, that’s a sign the gumbo is done.

Those who have purchased the gumbo in the past are included on the church’s “Gumbo Mailing List,” which serves as a reminder of the upcoming sales.

At one time more than 600 postcards were mailed out to all areas of Mississippi and locations in Louisiana, in addition to email reminders which are sent out.

In the past, customers drove up from Lake Charles, La., to pick up gumbo.

Because of the popularity of the gumbo, pre-orders are taken via the church’s website (see Gumbo under the About Us tab) or you can call the church office. 

They do urge that you pre-order because they do typically sell out.

The church hasn’t missed a sale since its inception, even in 2005, just three months after Katrina. They did sell out early that year became many had lost their reserve supply of gumbo when their freezers were off. 

The Parish Hall is located on the 36th Avenue side of the church.

To pre-order, call the church, (601) 264-6773 or email

coa@megagate.com or order on-line at www.ascension.ms.