Dave Robichaux is the hero in many of the novels of James Lee Burke.

Dave Robichaux is the hero in many of the novels of James Lee Burke.

Dave Robichaux fans know that the place to pick up the latest James Lee Burke novel is at New Iberia’s Books Along the Teche. With a pre-pay, BATT will send you the latest autographed JLB book. As lagniappe, BATT will also send you a copy of Robichaux’s Iberia, first published in TraveHost magazine. TH editor Chris Savoca printed up copies of the page for BATT and he was nice enough to edit the author’s bio to Sam Irwin, a native of Breaux Bridge, is a freelance journalist and lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, Betty. He is the author of Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean.

Here is Robichaux’s Iberia for your reading pleasure

New Iberia, the Spanish/French city with a Cajun accent in the heart of bayou country, is an unlikely locale for a literary hero, but best-selling author James Lee Burke is a big believer in writing what you know.

Burke, born in Texas but raised along the Gulf Coast and New Iberia (which means he experienced everything from andouille to zydeco*), crisscrossed the oil patch many times as a landman for Sinclair Oil Company. He also held jobs as a land surveyor, pipeliner, newspaper reporter and English professor, so Burke knows south Louisiana.

Anyone who has read Burke’s Dave Robichaux novels knows New Iberia and its peculiar gumbo of the colonial, Cajun, Caribbean, antebellum and boomtown was the perfect place to drop the quintessential hard luck lawman.

In the Dave Robichaux novels (my favorites are A Stained White Radiance and Purple Cane Road), Burke mentions several city landmarks and paints wonderful literary images about New Iberia and its environs.

Burke has said New Iberia possesses the most beautiful Main Street in the country and has Dave Robichaux describe the city’s beauty often. From A Stained White Radiance, Robichaux mused, “I look down from the window at the brick paved street in the morning’s blue light, the colonnades over the sidewalks, a black man pushing a wooden cart laden with strawberries from under the overhang of a dark green oak tree. The scene looks like a postcard mailed from the nineteenth century.”

That’s the New Iberia where Detective Robichaux settled and wanted nothing more than to live out his life at Robichaux’s Dock and Bait Shop, but bad guys know no boundaries so the reluctant crime stopper is always drawn into a case dripping with hidden contradictions and unscrupulous motives.

If you visit New Iberia, you can eat at Victor’s Cafeteria on Main Street, the same place where Dave Robichaux eats. Fictional characters like Robichaux and non-fictional ones alike love Victor’s industrial strength hamburger steak, Bayou Teche-style fried catfish or heaping slice of pie. It’s a breakfast-lunch kind of place so if you show up after 2 p.m., you’ll remain hungry.

Detective Robichaux is a recovering alcoholic but he was known to kick back a few at Provost’s Bar. Provost’s is no longer in existence (it’s now called Clementine’s Restaurant), but Robichaux insiders know the actual Provost’s bar is preserved in the new restaurant.

The city of New Iberia, in recognition of Burke’s literary artistry, has created Dave’s Domain, a 15-minute walking tour along the Main Street made famous by Burke and loved by the hardscrabble Robichaux. The tour promenades past 50 historic buildings dating from the 1890s through the 1930s. For information and tour brochures, call 337-365-1540.

James Lee Burke is a frequent visitor to Books Along the Teche, the best little bookstore around.

James Lee Burke is a frequent visitor to Books Along the Teche, the best little bookstore around.

Naturally, the tour makes a stop at Books Along the Teche, a local bookstore owned by Lorraine and Howard Kingston. It’s highly likely you’ll find an autographed James Lee Burke novel on the shelf and you can also pre-order an autographed copy of the next Dave Robichaux adventure. Burke himself was a regular visitor to the bookstore until he made his summer house in Montana a permanent home, but Lorraine and Howard love to talk about Burke’s New Iberia and you’re sure to hear a good story.

*andouille – (pronounced ahn-doo-ee) a delicious Cajun sausage that tastes great in gumbo; Zydeco – a style of French Cajun/Creole music created by the African Americans of southwest Louisiana and southeastern Texas.

 

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Peaches and Dreams

Yak has more peaches and watermelons than he knows what to do with.

Yak has more peaches and watermelons than he knows what to do with so it means it;he’s ready to play “Let’s make a deal!”

Anthony Yakaboski, a 39-year-old home health nurse, has enthusiastically thrown himself into truck farming and the freewheeling lifestyle it takes to be a successful produce man. Yak’s Produce is just north of Ruston on Hwy. 33

Yak’s fruit stand defines ramshackle. It’s nothing more than a cooler raided from a refrigerated truck, a movable building and a covered porch with a dead pine tree growing through the roof.

Little Yak (his father is Big Yak) remembers the day the old pine disintegrated on the fruit stand’s rusted tin roof. He grinned as he told the story red dirt country style.

Yak-fruit-stand

Yak’s Fruit Stand, Farmerville, La.

“I had a feller working for me and he called and said the tree fell on the roof,” Yak said. “I told him to go on home but he said he wasn’t hurt or nothing and would finish the day out.”

 

Presentation is nice in chain store supermarkets but Yak’s Fruit Stand is too busy for Yak to spend much time making the displays look slick.

July is prime harvest time and the young truck farmer is busy overseeing pickers harvesting his 6,000 peach trees, 60 acres of purple hull peas, five acres of watermelon patches and various blackberry sta

 

nds, squash plots and okra fields. He even has a full acre of tomato rows. Yak’s busy playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with his customers. He’s busy negotiating prices from the Union Parish watermelon growers. He’s busy serving the best peach ice cream I have ever tasted. Peach ice cream? Yak purees his culled peaches into a fine syrupy cream and mixes and dispenses it from a soft-serve ice cream machine.

Fresh Ruston peaches grown by Yak.

Fresh Ruston peaches grown by Yak.

Yak’s farming skills are only ten years old and he credits County Agent Rafash Brew with teaching him the ropes. Brew says the credit is all Yak’s.

 

“It’s all him,” Brew says. “I don’t have to do a lot with him anymore. Years ago, we probably used to talk

 

every other day. But now, if he runs into something he might holler at me. A long time ago, I used to have to tell him everything to do, but not no more. He’s the type of folks you want to work with.”

Brew passed along this county agent nugget of wisdom: “The closer you get to the fourth of July, the better the peaches.”

If you decide to trek up to Louisiana peach country, you might want to plan your peach fetching trip around the last weekend of July when Farmerville celebrates its Watermelon Festival.

sevins

Sevin’s – A Cajun Restaurant in Farmerville, La.

By Brew’s logic, another person

 

you want to work with in Farmerville is restauranter Thomas Sevin of Sevin’s, A Cajun’s Restaurant in Farmerville proper.

Sevin’s (pronounce it Cajun-style…Say-vans) is on La. Hwy 2. For Sevin, a Farmerville resident since 1989, La. 1 and La. 2 are two thoroughfares that have defined his life thus far.

 

Sevin is originally from down the bayou and the La. Highway 1 town of Galliano.
As Sevin knows, La. Highway 1 is a road that can take you somewhere. Bayou Lafourche is wide in Galliano. The French Cajun and Creole cuisine culture is also broad on the bayou and traveled easy with Sevin when he ended up in town that was only 30 miles from Arkansas.

Sevin’s seats about 120. The ambiance is casual, but comfortable, and the food is definitely Cajun—real, authentic, bona-fide Cajun cuisine cooked by a bon cadjin from down the bayou. After 21 years, Sevin still has his bayou Cajun accent.

“My recipes are old family recipes,” Se

 

vin said. “I fry things like Mamma used to do and I make my gumbo the way Mamma made hers.”

Boiled crawfish by Sam Irwin

Thomas Sevin said serving boiled crawfish was new to Farmerville in 1993 and the reason his start-up restaurant was a success.

Sevin attributes his initial success in 1993 to boiled crawfish.

“Boiled crawfish was new to the area,” Sevin said. “That was my big thing. It was very smart to boil crawfish. You can’t be from south Louisiana and not know how to boil crawfish.”

 

Sevin’s continued success was built on developing a menu that came to feature crawfish étouffée, classic Louisiana fare like white beans and red beans and rice as well as shrimp, oyster and catfish dishes.

I would be remiss if I didn’t advise you to ask for a serving of Sevin’s remoulade sauce to go with your entree. Dip your bread, your shrimp, heck, lather your ribeye steak in the remoulade—it’s that good.

Sevin’s Restaurant is definitely “A Cajun’s Restaurant.”

“It is a Cajun’s restaurant,” Sevin said. “It’s referring to me as a Cajun. A lot of people go up north and try a Cajun restaurant and tell me it wasn’t good, that it was all cayenne and Tabasco. I’m proud to be a Cajun, but a lot of people don’t know what being a Cajun is all about.”

Thomas Sevin is educating north Louisiana, one meal at a time.

Yak’s Produce
12095 Hwy. 33
Farmerville
318-368-4546
Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Sevin’s Restaurant
1110 Sterlington Hwy.
Farmerville
318-368-2400
Wed. (lunch only) 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Thurs. 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sat. 4 p.m.-9 p.m.

 

Farmerville Watermelon Festival
318-368-9242

Vacation Rentals
318-547-6447

 

That’s the latest from LaNote.

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My Summer Reading List – Heavy Books and Light Reading

These books are too heavy! But in the Kindle they're just right, said Goldilocks.

These books are too heavy! But in the Kindle they’re just right, said Goldilocks.

I like to read. But what I really like to read is a good story. That’s my highest compliment: “It was a good story.” My rating hierarchy also includes “It was OK,” “I finished it,” “Life’s too short” and “Meh.”

My friend Butler says he doesn’t like to read. He says, “I can’t understand how it can be the best of times and the worst of times at the same time.” I’m glad he enjoys reading technical manuals, however. He can fix anything.

I do most of my reading on a Kindle Fire. Yes, some folks say they like the feel of a book in their hands. They also say “I prefer the sound of a record to a CD. You know records are making a comeback?”

Paradise Records, the legendary record store at the north gates of LSU.

Paradise Records, the legendary record store at the north gates of LSU.

I say, “Sure, they are. I have beach front property to sell you.” Records are not coming back. 45s are not coming back. 12-inch remix records are not coming back. Like Paradise Records, they’re gone with the wind, y’all.

I like my Kindle. At 14.6 ounces, it’s in the bantamweight class of book readers. By contrast, Keith Richard’s Life, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and the Autobiography of Mark Twain come in at nearly ten pounds. I have dozens of books in my Kindle and it still weighs less than a pound. I do a lot of reading in bed and trying to hold a three-pound book is very tiring. I fall asleep after two pages. At 564 pages, I’ll never never get through the rock god’s rambunctious story without resorting to amphetamines.

Like a good story, a Kindle is light and breezy. My wife does a lot of news reading with her I-Pad but that’s too heavy for me. I can hold my reader with one hand. One flick of a finger and the page turns. The best feature ever? I can make the type large enough to read without my glasses. Even the Kindle reading experience on my I-Phone is satisfactory. It’s great for the doctor’s office, especially if the waiting room is stocked with copies of Yachting Today and Big Game Hunter.

Are books on the way out? Maybe. E-books are accounting for about 20 percent of books sales. One of the managers at the Barnes & Noble at Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge said e-book sales have held steady at about 20 percent for a few years. Customers who want the latest thriller from James Patterson will rush in to buy the book because they absolutely have to have it. Not me. Today’s book’s all seem to require a recurring character or are part of a trilogy and I’m tired of reading those kind of stories.  I liked the Jack Ryan books but man, what a world that guy lived in… Post-apocalyptic caveat: if you read electronic books, I hope you griots out there have good memories. We may need you in a post-Fahrenheit 451 world.

I search out the “good story.” So without further ado, here is my summer reading list:

The Gold Finch, by Donna Tartt. At 800 pages, it was a risk to buy. I’ve bought too many Kindle books that were in the Life’s Too Short (LTS) category. The good angel said, “But it won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. While the other voice said “But I bought a lot of dog books too!” That’s when I discovered that I can borrow e-books from the East Baton Rouge Public Library. As a parent, I wanted to slap the hell out of main character Theo Decker. Every choice he could make was a bad one. But Theo’s character flaws made for compelling reading. Stephen King thought so too. My rating? A Good Story.

The Left Overs, by Tom Perotta. I confess I got this book after watching the first installment of HBO’s version of the book. I was intrigued by the show and also determined not to be shocked again by any Red Wedding Game of Thrones surprise. I might have borrowed TLO from the EBR library but the search mechanism to find e-books available it cumbersome. So I bought it from Amazon. In one click the book was on my Kindle at 11:30 p.m. Ain’t science grand? The book was a fun read – I was done in three days, so it gets the AGS rating.

The Monuments Men, by Robert M. Edsel. This book is a perfect example of why reading on a Kindle is a great experience. When Edsel was describing the Madonna of Bruges, I was able to search for a picture of the famous Michelangelo sculpture. Forget the movie and read this book. I like George Clooney but someone should have told him he was making a movie about real art war heroes and not Oceans 14. Monuments Men, a history, gets a half-Good Story/OK rating.

Darkness, Take My Hand, by Dennis Lehane. I searched out Dennis Lehane. I like a good thriller and I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s movie version of Lehane’s Mystic River. Yes, Darkness, Take My Hand sounds like one of those racy stories my grandfather used to read in True magazine but it was OK. It is one of those recurring detective novels that everyone wants to read. Don’t you know by now the detectives will always get their man, albeit at great personal cost. If the personal cost was so great, why don’t those dicks go into real estate or something. Anyway, DTMH gets an “It was OK.” I’ll probably pick up another Lehane novel before too long but only if I can borrow it from the library.

This summer I’ve also read:

Sugar in the Blood, by Andrea Stuart, (Good Story for a history book)

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. A fascinating post-apocalyptic where clones could be king. (Good Story)

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. Unfortunately, this was part of a series and the latest in the series. I missed all the back story. I liked that it was set in French-speaking Canada, but come on, the entire Quebec police department was corrupt and plotting to destroy Canada’s infrastructure and nobody saw?  (I Finished It).

Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling (OK), and A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre (OK). Both of these books are about the intrusion of government surveillance in out daily lives – a trendy topic, don’t you think? Bring back the Cold War. Together, both books are a “Meh.”

Louisiana Crawfish: The Book!

Louisiana Crawfish: The Book!

But I put my money where my mouth is and I have entered into the ranks of published authors. If you care to take a look, please download, borrow or buy Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean. And for pure fun, you might enjoy The Ransom of Red Goat, a comic-crime novel featuring NOLA wise-guys, Cajun smugglers and intellectual strippers and the Estrogen Cosa Nostra. I hope you find them A Good Story.

 

 

 

Who will win the battle of nerves between NOLA wise guys, Cajun smugglers and the Estrogen Cosa Nostra?

Who will win the battle of nerves between NOLA wise guys, Cajun smugglers and the Estrogen Cosa Nostra?

 

 

 

 

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The Bells of St. Louis

NOLA Mule

A ride through le Vieux Carre of New Orleans is best on a mule.

If a church bell rang in the French Quarter and there was no one to hear, would it still sound peaceful?

My wife and I spent a few days in New Orleans this past weekend. We had dinner Thursday night at the Bourbon Room and breakfast Friday morning at Pierre Maspero’s.

We even went on one of those touristy carriage rides.

Afterwards, we were strolling Jackson Square when Victoire, the bell of St. Louis Cathedral began to toll. I stopped and absorbed the sound simply because I had the time. I was not in a hurry but the peaceful moment passed too quickly.

The next afternoon, my Facebook feed informed me that the laissez-faire of the French Quarter was disturbed by a shooting in the wee hours. Nine people were shot. (A tenth victim reported that he had been grazed by a bullet the next day). New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas told the TV cameras that two “cowards chose to settle their dispute with no regard to others. I hope they (the shooters) are watching this. I hope their momma and them are watching this.” (Note: a few dates later one person died from her wounds).

The initial Times-Picayune article about the incident said the shootings took place “in the 700 block of Bourbon Street, two blocks from Jackson Square and just around the corner from Pat O’Brien’s and Preservation Hall.” I’m not faulting the writer for failing to note that the violence occurred a mere block from St. Louis Cathedral. Lord knows that the Church (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, etc.) have not always been shining examples of non-violence. And maybe today’s tourists visit Pat O’Brien’s and Preservation Hall a bit more than they visit church.

Bob Dylan has always heard the bells and he most certainly heard Victoire when he lived in le Vieux Carre and recorded Ring Them Bells in 1988 at Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio.

Ring them bells, for the blind and the deaf.
Ring them bells, for all of us who are left.
Ring them bells, for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,
For the child that cries
When innocence dies.

Is there anyone in today’s music business of Bob Dylan’s stature who is singing about social injustice, non-violence and civil disobedience?

Which brings us to the question of how many bells must chime before we stop gun violence in the French Quarter, in Tuscon, Arizona, in Blacksburg, Virginia, in Newtown, Connecticut…? The answer, of course, is blowing in the wind.

Here’s a link to Kate Hutchinson’s The 10 Most Powerful Protest Songs of the 21st Century.

Louisiana Crawfish: The Book!

Louisiana Crawfish: The Book!

Sam Irwin is the author of Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean.


 

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Crawfish v. Crayfish

Gov. Earl Long, Gov. Jimmie Davis and Speaker of the House Bob Angelle of Breaux Bridge

Mayor Louis Kern, Gov. Earl Long, Gov. Jimmie Davis and Speaker of the House Bob Angelle of Breaux Bridge and his wife, Madge, share a joke at the 1959 Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration. The Centennial was the precursor to the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. (The man behind Long (seated) and Davis is unidentified. He was probably a bodyguard.T

 

Though the crawfish versus crayfish debate should have ended when Governor Earl K. Long proclaimed Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World when he signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 17 (pictured below) on March 9, 1959, I’m happy to see that mention of the Cajun Crustacean still provokes passion, debate and even fury.

Resolution declaring Breaux Bridge Crawfish Capital of the WorldEven before the mad governor settled the issue, the word crawfish had already won out over crayfish. During my research for Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean, I learned that the word crawfish may have been first used to identify the Constantine Rafinesquedecapod by nat- uralist Constantine
Rafinesque in 1817 in Florula Ludoviciana. Rafinesque, of French/German descent and born in Istanbul, was  documenting American flora and fauna in the Ohio Valley (Jerry G. Walls – Crawfishes of Louisiana). Apparently, Rafinesque heard the word crawfish being used by the frontiersman of the Appalachians. (1817 — is that too early to begin using the the term hillybilly and/or redneck)?

When the Cajun French of the Atchafalaya River and Creole French of New Orleans began building the crawfish industry in the 1920s, they would have used the French word écrevisse (ay-cray-veese) for crawfish. Crayfish, when pronounced Cajun-style (cray-feesh) is much closer to the word écrevisse than crawfish.

T. H. Huxley - The CrayfishBiologist T. H. Huxley used the term
crayfish in his scientific tome The Crayfish: An Introduction to the Study
of Zoology
(1880) and crayfish became generally accepted in scientific
writings. But due to the popularity of the Louisiana crawfish, crawfish is also
widely accepted as well.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. The French speakers of Louisiana
gave crawfish to the world. The French in Europe had a long tradition of
enjoying crawfish as a delicacy and brought their love of crawfish to
Louisiana. The English never liked the French much (see Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and they didn’t eat crawfish either, according to geographer and ethnologist Malcolm L. Comeaux in his Historical Development of the Crayfish Industry in the United States (1974) paper. Glen Pitre’s wonderful The Crawfish Book has a lively discussion of the etymology of the crawfish, but ironically, an American word is used to describe French Louisiana’s most famous delicacy.

Be that as it may, one thing is clear: the Cajun Crustacean is conquering the world one epicurean at a time.

Ecrevisse de Louisiane


 

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Posted in Agriculture, Breaux Bridge, crawfish, Cuisine, Henderson, Louisiana, observations, St. Martin Parish | 3 Comments

Hey, Yankee. It’s CRAWWWWfish, not CRAYfish!

Guest blogger Dennis Lanning and I met only once. He’s an avid mountain biker like me, and when two cyclists meet on the trail head, modest braggadocio ensues. When I learned Dennis was a freelance journalist, our online friendship continued. Maybe one day we’ll share some oysters at Shuck’s down in Abbeville.

Dennis responded when I put out a call for crawfish stories. Here’s what happens when a Yankee doesn’t pronounce crawfish just right. It’s another tale of the crawfish.

Hey, Yankee. It’s CRAWWWWfish not CRAYfish!

by Dennis L Lanning

After years of passing up this part of the country, for reasons unknown and to my great regret, I vowed to visit every town up and down the Mississippi from NOLA to Baton Rouge on both sides of the river. There’s a lot of history, famous locals and great food here and I set out to discover it all.

Books Along the TecheAs a long-time James Lee Burke fan, I wanted New Iberia to be one of the first stops on my odyssey after leaving I-10, heading south towards the river towns. I got a motel room out by the 4-lane and made daily forays to Main and St. Peter Streets, catching the local sights Burke uses as backdrops to his novels, including The Shadows, Bayou Teche, the Jesus memorial, Avery Island, and, of course, Books Along the Teche. This is the local source for everything JLB, including a nifty little walking tour-map of those landmarks incorporated into his masterful writing about this corner of Louisiana.

Driving back and forth along Center Street over those few days, I kept passing by a little white shack, set back from the road and appearing to my urban eye as ready-to-be condemned. Cars would frequently pull in and out, and finally the difficult-to-read signage piqued my curiosity enough for me to stop and check it out. I recall seeing something like: T-Bob’s Boil House. Not having a clue what a “boil house” was, I decided to go inside. Walking up a couple of creaky steps, opening the screen Crawfish Shackdoor and timidly peeking inside, I saw that it didn’t look much better than the outside, from what I could see through the pinkish, pungent steam permeating the air.

I was looking at the scribbled menu board hanging on the wall when a giant apparition appeared out of the mist. He said, “Hep ya?” “Yeah, I want to try some “CRAYfish,” I said. Looking me dead in my eye, with an expression of mirth and mayhem, he exclaimed, “CRAWWWWfish!” “Yeah, yeah, of course, “CRAWWWWfish.” I began blabbering apologies and feeling like I had just been scolded by my second grade teacher for forgetting to raise my hand to go to the toilet.

To avoided feeling even more insipid in front of the sweat-laden boil-master, whose once-white t-shirt was covered with bloodlike stains from their “mix,” I ordered a 5 pound sack – with corn and potatoes, not having the slightest idea what I was doing. When I asked, “Is it spicy?” he smiled that wicked little grin again and said, “You a Yankee better stick with the ‘mild’.” He told me to come back in about 10 minutes and my order would be ready.

I drove over to a convenience store for something appropriate to drink with my anticipated crawfish feast. Unfamiliar with Louisiana beers, the bee-hived redhead behind the counter suggested something from Abita Springs Brewing Company, only a few miles down the road. So I bought my first 6-pack of Abita Amber and went to pick up my order.

When I came back, I saw him stirring this huge cauldron of boiling liquid filled with bright red shells. He looked almost happy to see me and sort of smiled as he handed me a hot and heavy brown paper bag with steam and exotic aromas seeping out. All by itself, my brain had signaled my mouth to start watering and I felt pretty silly drooling on myself while trying to pay the bill.

I don’t remember now how much it cost, but by weight and volume I do recall it was a paltry sum for what later turned out to be like finding buried treasure. You don’t know what you’ve found until you see the bounty inside. Worrying that the paper bag would leak through, I rushed back to the motel for my crawfish initiation (but, no need to worry, inside the traditional brown paper bag was a leak proof plastic liner).

Where I come from crawfish (pronounced crayfish) are used as bait and there are no celebrations if you find one. It goes into a fish’s mouth, not yours. Could this be a reason why southerners have such a low opinion of northerners? Obviously, we have little appreciation for some of the finer things in life. Well, this is one Yankee who learned better, right at the source.

Dennis Lanning & BoomerRipping open the bag, I was blasted by the intense aroma which quickly permeated the room, while the boil liquid spilled over the table edge onto the rug. My dog Boomer, who travels everywhere with me, sat entranced, drooling all over my shoes and licking the carpeting. Gathering a pile of napkins and my 6-pack of Abita, I made my first attempt at eating those little red beauties.

I probably should have asked how to properly eat them, but I already felt pretty intimidated. It only took a few to figure out the process, after which I was in crustacean heaven, up to my elbows in heads, shells, red seasoning and burning lips. The “mild” mix was the hottest thing I had ever eaten; thankfully the smooth, rich amber ale cooled me down. Discovering the corn and then the potato at the bottom of the bag, I alternated between a few crawfish, then some potato or corn. While also spicy, their starchy sweetness helped alleviate the painful romance going on in my mouth.

Ecstatic over my crustaceans and craft beer, and wondering how long it might take me to eat 5 pounds, I looked down at Boomer sitting quietly next me, with that expectant stare he has when he patiently waits for his share of whatever special item I might be enjoying. In this situation the aroma was so intoxicating that he could not control the volume of drool running out of his mouth.

MuttweilerHe really wanted what I was eating this time, even though he didn’t know what it was. Boomer is more than a dog; he’s been my faithful travel companion since 2004 when he adopte
d me at the Utopia Animal Rescue in Medina, Texas. Since then he’s covered over 100,000 car miles, living in motels, tents and at times the car and sharing a myriad of meals. He has even written a book about his travels, called, MUTTweiler: An AutoDOGograph
y, available on Amazon.

Generally, I will not give him anything spicy, but those bright red beauties must have sure looked good to him because he eagerly wanted his share. When I reluctantly gave him a sample, he was hooked too. And never mind the heat; he had cayenne pepper stains on his paws and a smile on his face! Only now, instead of DogBreath – I called him FireBreath!

As I sat breaking off heads and sucking the meaty jackpot out of the remnants of that 5 pound bag, I realized how empowering even the smallest new experience can be. I had lived half my life in New York and the other half in California. It had been rich and rewarding in the good ways. Yet here I was, deep in the heart of Louisiana eating little spicy, boiled crustaceans for the first time and thinking this is nirvana. This feeling is more than simply the sense of having had something good; it transcends the usual sensations of smell, taste and satiation to lodge somewhere in your brain, so that the moment stays fresh, and in the present forever. I could not have been happier then or now, in recollection. It is thrilling to realize such a small experience can instill such enchanting memories.

###

Louisiana Crawfish: The Book!If you want to read more amusing tales of the crawfish and other bits of crawfish lore, buy a copy of Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean. It’s available at the better bait shops and book stores, online retailers and it’s also in an e-book.

But you get some old-fashioned Cajun lagniappe when you order it through Sam Irwin’s website, www.CrawfishLa.com.

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Tales of the Crawfish: Dr. Scramuzza, you’re needed at the crawfish boil.


Crawdaddy No. 1 by Thomas MannIt’s only fitting that Thomas Mann’s new sculpture, Crawdaddy No. 1., is set on the promenade of St. Charles Hospital. Mann gave me this great photo of Crawdaddy No. 1 at my Octavia Books book signing event. He even bought a copy of Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean. I autographed the book for Thomas with the inscription, “Thomas Mann is Crazy for Crawfish.”

 

New Orleans seafood maven, Al Scramuzza, aka the “Crawfish Tycoon,” “the Nabob of Crawdad” and the “Gaeckwar of Crawdadia,” often played up the healing properties of the humble crawfish in his television commercials for Seafood City.

A patient, appearing listless on your television screen, would have no response to a prime quality steak. He wouldn’t budge for caviar nor would he bat an eye for coq au vin. Scramuzza, dressed in a doctor’s white smock would enter the scene with a stethoscope around his neck and examine the stricken patient.  The cure was always crawfish from Seafood City. When presented with a platter of boiled crawfish, the patient would rise to his feet and dance about. Now that’s a sure-fire cure!

 

So when patients show up at St. Charles Hospital, perhaps they’ll be reminded of the benefits of crawfish and Al Scramuzza. Crawfish is good for everything that ails you. It’s got to be. Just ask Dr. Al.


His Seafood City commercials were unabashedly corny. Watch one -they’re all over YouTube.

Al ScramuzzaI videoed Al in 2013 leading an audience at Jefferson Parish Library in New Orleans in a rendition of the Seafood City jingle and it was a lot of fun watching him an all of his many fans. Watch the video.

Also, Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean is available at the better bait shops, bookstores and online retailers. It’s even available in e-book format, but when you order through www.crawfishLa.com with PayPal, you get some good old fashioned Louisiana lagniappe.Louisiana Crawfish

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Posted in Agriculture, Breaux Bridge, crawfish, Cuisine, Henderson, Louisiana, New Orleans, Restaurants, St. Martin Parish, Writing | 5 Comments

Wading In: A Crawfish History

Louisiana Crawfish BookIf you like crawfish, you’ll enjoy this link to Country Roads magazines interview with me about Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean.

Author and journalist Sam Irwin was the prime candidate to write a history of crawfish. Born in Breaux Bridge (known as the “crawfish capital of the world”), Irwin worked at his grandfather’s crawfish plant between semesters at what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His grandfather, Joe Amy, was considered one of the pioneers of the business, entering the market in 1932. During his summers at Amy’s Fisheries, Irwin was primed to witness the Atchafalaya Basin’s shift from a fishing economy to one based primarily on crawfish. Drawing upon interviews with major players, decades of newspaper archives, and his own personal experience, Irwin has compiled an expansive history of the critter known as “the noble crawfish.”  Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean was released by History Press on February 18. Fresh off the book’s publication, Irwin took a little time to discuss his research process and to explain why he was the right man for this job.

CR: First of all, why crawfish?

SI: Why crawfish? Well, you know, in retrospect it almost seems as though I was destined to write it, because I grew up in the crawfish industry. I worked with my grandfather and my father in our crawfish plant in Henderson. And we supplied crawfish meat to all the restaurants that sold crawfish, like Piccadilly.

Before that we had a grocery store and a fish-buying business—which had been started, kind of, on a boat in Butte La Rose. Because people lived up and down the Atchafalaya and on the little bayous and bays that came off the river. It was fairly remote; we were just able to get to them by boat. There were several enterprising people who would go up and down by boat with supplies for the people that lived along the river. They would also buy their fish from them and bring them back to Atchafalaya Station, where there was a railroad crossing.

This is all back in the 1920s. Somewhere around 1966, crawfish became my grandfather’s predominant business.

Read the story…

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Tales of the Crawfish

Crazy for CrawfishThe working premise of Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean was people are crazy for crawfish.

I asked my friends and readership to send me their crawfish stories and you all responded. Some were crazy…the one where the husband used his wife’s new dress as a temporary crawfish sack is pretty funny… and other were tales of largesse like the one from Professor Randy Holmes of Virginia State University. It was a “Christmas Crawfish Miracle.”

Here’s a crawfish story.

It’s Christmas Eve, just a few years ago. The Holmes clan is down in New Orleans for the holidays and visiting friends and family. It’s dinner time, and we’re scrounging something up. Marie’s mom offers to cook something–pancakes and bacon, I think, which sounds pretty good. But when we’re back in LA, visits are measured by meals rather than by days, and we want to get as much of the great food we can’t get in Virginia as possible. How about crawfish?

It’s Christmas Eve, it’s sorta late; where can we get some boiled crawfish? So I call K-Jeans, a seafood market on Carrollton and Bienville in Mid-City, not far away. It rings a while, then someone reluctantly picks up. I ask, “Do y’all have some crawfish?” The reply is, “Uh, we’re closed.” There’s a pause. “How much you want?” “10 pounds?” I say. “You got cash?” “Sure.” “OK. Come around back.”

So Marie and I head over. The place does look pretty much closed down, but there are a few lights still on. I go around back, and knock on the door. Nothing. Knock again. Nothing. I look around front, but nobody’s moving around. Marie shrugs her shoulders. I knock again on the back door, and this time it opens. It’s a young dark-haired man wearing shrimp boots and a flannel shirt.

Christmas Crawfish Miracle“I called about the crawfish?” I said, and he let me in. In the back of the store was the big storage fridge and their cooking rigs and a basket of boiled crawfish. “10 pound?” he confirmed. “Yep.” So he weighed me out a 10 pound bag full, and I handed over the cash–$30, I think.

I wondered about corn and potatoes, but that didn’t seem to be in the cards, so I returned to the car, carefully stowing the crawfish so they wouldn’t topple over and remind us of their spicy aroma for the entire 1000 mile drive back to VA. Back at Marie’s mom’s house, we scarfed them down with cold Abita.

It was a Christmas miracle.

A Christmas miracle indeed.

Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean is available at the better bait shops, bookstores, online and www.CrawfishLA.com.

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My High School Classmate Marks 40th Year in Farming

Dane BerardSugarcane farmer Dane Berard of Breaux Bridge runs his operation pretty much like the other 483 growers of the Sugar Belt. He and his partner, Glenn Thibodaux, have an investment in their sugarcane and soybean farm and have been successful for many years.

The 3090-acre farm is located partly in the Au Large area around Breaux Bridge High School and some of it is in Grand Bois east of Parks. They have variety of soil types but are losing their prime sandy soil to housing.

“It used to be we had 65 percent sandy and 35 percent black jack and heavy gumbo,” Dane said. “Now it’s the other way around.”

Dane’s father, Maurice, grew okra, pepper, sweet corn and cabbage farmer on nine acres to feed the family and seven acres to feed the livestock. Dane and his brothers were relied upon to pick vegetables and keep the fields clean.

“My dad is the smartest man I know and he only had a third grade education,” Dane said. “He fed nine kids and got us all through school.”

Dane started farming soybeans right after he graduated from Breaux Bridge High School in 1972. He got into sugarcane farming because the Breaux Bridge Sugar Mill was recruiting young farmers in the late 1970s. He partnered with Glenn Thibodeaux in 1980.

“They said they’d get us started if we were interested,” Berard said.” I was able to plant 154 acres of cane in 1980 and I kept a soybean/wheat rotation. When I got bigger, to about 600 acres of cane, I stopped beans. Later, my uncle and I got into a crop rotation. ”

Two of his brothers, Phil and Jeff, work with Dane and his daughter Kassi has been on the tractor now for two years. Blue, Dane’s son, also worked on the farm but Dane lost him to the higher wages of the oil field for now.

“If cane was still at 38 cents I’d be able to compete with oil field wages,” Dane said. 

Dane’s farming credentials are solid. He and his partner Glenn are good sugarcane farmers and do everything by the book.

But if you visit with Dane in the fields you’ll notice he’s anything but conventional.

He wears his hair long, as long as he did when he was in high school in the 1970s. Of course, he has a good head of hair, not something many men in their 50s still have. He’s an apparent believer in “If you got it, flaunt it!”

He’s outspoken, and when he answers his mobile phone, he’s likely to address the caller as “Baby” or “Hey, My Boy.” He sometimes refers to himself in the third person.

And then there are the sunglasses. Dane’s sunglasses are anything but conventional. His choice of eyewear harkens back to the day of Elvis’ Las Vegas show.  

“These are my Dolly Parton sunglasses,” he said, as if that explained it all.

“I also have some Loretta Lynns and Tammy Wynettes,” he continued.  “Sometimes I find me some Aretha Franklins.”

There is a perfectly valid reason for the flamboyant sun shades.

“My wife would buy me some $125 Ray-Bans and I’d wear them, put them down and then forget where I put them. Then somebody would walk off with them. Then I bought some Loretta Lynns. Guess what?  Nobody steals them.”

Then there’s the canaille factor. Dane is what the French speakers of Breaux Bridge would call “canaille” (pronounced ka-nye). In other words, he’s a bit of a rascal.

Being rascally is one thing, but Dane knows his farming and welcomes family into his operation. Kassi and Blue were driving the seed cane wagon as their father planted cane in the rows when they were just ten years old.

Kassi BerardNow Kassi is hoping to make a career of farming. After receiving her degree in business marketing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2007, she tried out oil field sales for a couple of years but her heart was on the farm.

“There’s nothing else I would want to do,” Kassi said. “To me, this isn’t work. I love farming.”

In addition to her tractor duties she does all the payroll and immigration work.

“Basically, I run the farm,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Her father agrees.

“If I wouldn’t have her right now, well, I could put someone here and there on her tractor,” Berard said.  “She does serious work in the field and serious work in the office.”

Kassi’s face appears on the “We’re harvesting. Please drive safely” billboards the American Sugar Cane League has installed around the Sugar Belt this year. Two jumbo billboards are located on Hwy. 90 between Lafayette and New Iberia and a third is on Hwy. 190 near Erwinville. Several junior billboards on placed on Hwys. 1, 20,  31, 182, 308 and 1035 in the St. Martinville, Jeanerette, Vacherie, Napoleonville and Thibodaux area.

“I’m so proud to be associated with the League’s safety campaign,” Kassi said. “I really love sugarcane farming and I’m grateful to have been the farmer featured on the billboards. It’s exciting.”

Boisterous, but deeply spiritual, Dane takes time on a daily basis to give thanks.

He says his farming partner is his second-best friend on the farm. So, his best friend is his wife?

“No, she’s my second-best friend at home,” he said. “My best friend is Jesus Christ.”

That’s how Dane Berard farms, upon a firm agricultural foundation and a solid spiritual bedrock.

(The above article first appeared in the November edition of the Sugar News e-newsletter. If you’d like to receive the Sugar News in your email box, visit www.LaCane.org).

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