Author Topic: Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file  (Read 1147 times)

Offline Donna Phillips

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Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file
« on: July 27, 2016, 10:36:40 PM »
According to Tony Chachere in Cajun Country Cooking, file is made in this manner: "In the month of August, during the full moon, break branches (in fully-matured leaf) from sassafras tree. Hang branches to dry in shaded, ventilated place for about two weeks. Expose to sunlight one to one-and-a-half hours before finely-grinding in a mill. Store in amber jars, tightly sealed, in a cool place or in a refrigerator for even longer-lasting quality." This quote was found in our old archived issue of Louisiana Conservationist magazine, first quarter of 1978. 

I have made a fine and tasty file by gathering sassafras leaves in early August.  If you wait too long and there is drought the leaves are not as good quality. Since sassafras trees are growing on our ten acre property, it only takes a few minutes to gather the leaves.  If you wait until the trees are washed by a good rain, your leaves will be clean for processing.  I use a 9-tray Excalibur dehydrator that has a thermostat and timer.  Leaves are spread evenly on the trays in a single layer and dried using the low heat indicated for herbs until brittle.  Since I am drying them in the dark interior of the dehydrator, the dry leaves will retain their green color.  I use my Ninja food processor to pulverize the dry leaves.  I have used an electric coffee grinder which works well for smaller amounts.  The finely ground file is sifted through a mesh wire strainer to remove larger bits of stem, leaving the fine powder.

I usually store the file in colored glass canning jars and leave the jars on our kitchen counter.  Since the house has central air conditioning, the file retains its flavor and color for quite some time.  While the store bought file is often a brown color, my homemade file is a lovely fresh green color.

The name, file, comes from the French filier, meaning "ropy" or "to twist".  Unlike Creole gumbo's other thickening ingredient -- okra -- file is stirred into the gumbo after it has been served over bowls of rice.

I have also tried shrimp file gumbo, using homemade file powder.  I watched a Houma Indian lady prepare this dish as her ancestors had done on PBS series with Chef John Foshee.  To make this dish, river shrimp was traditionally used.  I sautéed the file powder in olive oil, adding onions, garlic, and pepper at the end.  The color needs to remain green, so be careful not to burn or brown the file powder. Final ingredients are water (I prefer to use chicken broth), tomatoes, and shrimp.  The sautéed file replaces the roux in this gumbo.  The file will not settle out to the bottom of the liquid, but will remain suspended throughout the gumbo, probably because the file is so lightweight.

When August arrives, make plans to gather those sassafras leaves!

Offline saute86

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Re: Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2016, 11:18:16 PM »
When I was a kid my grandpa use to get file from a man in Lacassine. We had sassafras trees on the farm at each of the old home sites. He would trade branches for jars of file. It was green like you describe. He kept it in the fridge. It was the best tasting file I have ever tasted. Not like the dirt tasting file you buy in the store these days.
My hobbies are hunting, fishing, gardening and foraging mushrooms.
I have 27 years experience as a chef.

Offline Double B

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Re: Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2016, 07:02:03 AM »
Welcome to the forum, Donna. What a great first post! Good file powder is so hard to find. Like Sauté says, most you buy is brown dirt and taste that way too.
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Offline OrangeTxn

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Re: Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2016, 07:45:20 PM »
I like gumbo, but I have to confess, I'd never heard of File powder before.  In fact, my wife had to inform me that it's pronounced "fee-lay".  I was calling it file as in "pile"  ::)  Needless to say, I'm a transplant to southeast Texas/Louisiana.  I have had sassafras tea, though, so my curiosity was piqued.  A friend in north Texas sent some fresh sassafras leaves, so now I'll try my hand at making File powder.  I don't have a dehydrator, so I'll have to use the natural air-dry method.  We'll see how it work out.  If you have any advice to offer, please do.
Location: Orange, Tx; Southeast Gulf Coast, zone 9a.  Small home garden.

Online Maggie13

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Re: Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2016, 06:14:52 AM »

I have never heard of File powder either and I too pronounced it incorrectly.
I do not have access to the leaves but enjoyed reading your "GREAT" first post.
 Welcome to the site Donna!
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Online bigboberta

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Re: Almost time to harvest sassafas leaves for making file
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2016, 08:13:07 AM »
I will be collecting my leaves at the end of the month.  I usually get them late August early September.  I hang mine in my shop and let them dry for at least a week usually 2.  I pull the leaves and grind them in a food processor strain out the large parts then finish grinding them in a coffee grinder.

Welcome to the forum Donna.

Bob
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