Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Orleans: Day 5 Cajun Country

Friday, we were off bright and early to Cajun country/Erath Louisiana. The first stop was the Acadian Museum and a discussion with a member of the Acadian founding family, Warren Perrin as well as local officials and government members. Here is a photo of the Acadian flag (or one of them? Maybe the original from when they first moved from Canada)

Mr. Perrin was proud to tell us that no artifact is ever thrown away. They will find a place for whatever is sent or donated even if they have to hang it from the ceiling. The result is a comprehensive collection of photos, hunting implements, household items (the butter press was cool!), original clothing & shoes, and information on anyone you might have heard of from Erath, LA.

After a thorough tour of the museum, Mr. Perrin took us to a family property where these Graton or Cracklin's were waiting for us. Pretty awesome looking right? We were able to watch a demonstration of how the pig's skin is cleaned and fried for cracklin's.

The family also has a few rice fields, which also act as crawfish fields, if you'll remember from the first day.

A friend of the family brought his truck with four or five full sacks of crawfish that represented the morning catch.

His fingers are so weathered that he doesn't even feel them when they pinch!

The legend is that when the French Canadians/Acadians left Canada, they forgot the lobster. He walked all the way to Louisiana to catch up with them and by the time he arrived, he'd lost so much weight that he was now a crawfish.

One of the great caterers in town is famed for her Rice Gravy so she brought over a few trays, explained how to make it (ground pork and beef, seasonings, rice... it was pretty awesome!) and then had to leave because she was feeding Rice Gravy to 2,000 people the next day.

Two girls from the family put on the wading boots and went out to empty the crawfish traps. When the group was taking a tour of the organic garden, the girls offered to let me have a try. I stripped off my camera and sweatshirt and was out there in the boots before anyone could notice. It as awesome to wade around in the uneven terrain of the rice field. The nets in their hands are for poking the ground so that you are aware when there will be a dip or a hill. I was not great at remembering to check and stumbled more than once.

When we gathered again at the fryer, these fantastic little nuggets were waiting. Shrimp, with cream cheese and a slice of jalapeno, wrapped in an onion wrapped in bacon and deep fried.

The younger of the two chefs gave us a demo. The resulting snack is gooey and crunchy and spicy all at once.

When they passed the tray around saying "now y'all can try 'em." We were embarrassed to admit that most of us had already tried at least two.

Next was the fried sweet potatoes. We were able to ask questions about how long the oil is good for (it's lard and as long as it doesn't get above 400 ever, you can keep it as long as you want)

Close up of the fryer...which he used to fry a whole bunch of things after the cracklin's, shrimp-jalapeno-cream cheese-onion-bacon bites and sweet potatoes

Then here is the cooked sweet potato. They quickly sprinkled sugar on it when frying was finished.

The older Chef demonstrated the trimming and dressing of a Boston Butt. He had one all ready to go once he'd demo-ed it (Cooking show style). The roasting was done in his "Cajun Microwave" which I think you can get online. There was a joke about how, at the end of a long weekend of working with the Cajun Microwave, you can throw your dirty clothes in it and take it all home. I'm not sure if he was serious.

This was a tub of lard kept to the side for cooking. I just couldn't resist documenting it after the huge quantities of lard we'd seen in Mexico. Gotta love the lard!

Here are the crawfish that the girls and I "caught" or more, shook from the traps that we pulled out of the water. We were all struck by how brave these tiny things are. When they sense you getting near (maybe feel the shadow or see you?), they pop up on their tails and raise their claws into the air. It is a clear challenge that is highly entertaining since you're going to soon be eating them.

This is the main feast table. The front is Rice Dressing, the back corner is a sweet potato casserole with pecans and frosted flakes on top, the middle was sweetened greens with bacon, then other sweet potatoes, and a potato salad that was more hard boiled egg than potato. The green stuff are herbs for self-garnishing and the you can see the Cajun Microwaved Boston Butt. When he cut it, all of the hot sauce and spices that he'd injected into it oozed out. It was really, really good. Turns out that the demo Boston Butt went into the deep fryer as well. Who knew meat could be quite that juicy!?

This was the crawfish etouffee. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten. They made so much of it! I was talking to a guy who didn't even want any. He told me, "I eat this stuff all the time. Tomorrow is Friday and I've gotta eat it. So today, I'm going for the pork." It was astounding that these people get to eat these amazing dishes all the time. I mean, to have this etouffee so often that you're blaze about it!? Sign me up!

Finally, D.L. Menard, 2010 & 2011 Grammy nominee played his award winning song for us, accompanied by his daughter on the wooden spoons and a local friend no the accordion.

It was all kind of amazing. I mean, a really wonderful day filled with sweet people who were open to sharing everything they could about being Acadians/Cajuns in Louisiana. We could not have felt more welcome, or more full since we were plied with fantastic fig cake for the bus ride home.

Honestly, I know it was a lot of pictures, but this was probably my favorite day of the trip. Thanks to the people of Erath who hosted us!

1 comment:

  1. I am absolutely loving these New Orleans posts! I want to eat absolutely everything. on. this. page. Your curiosity and enthusiasm show through and you think to include the details most people would leave out (like how long to keep the lard), so thank you!

    P.S. I'm not surprised the rice/crawfish field excursion was no problem to you after freshman year marsh mucking ;)