Cajun Louisiana

Cajun Louisiana

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Louisiana cities of:

Covington, Henderson, Lafayette, Rayne, Crowley, Breaux Bridge, Eunice, Opelousas and New Orleans

Friday, October 27, 2000. This is the start of our Louisiana cruise and RV trip we have been anticipating for months. Our plan is to spend four days visiting the Lafayette area of Louisiana with our motorhome then motoring down to New Orleans on Tuesday, leaving our motor home and Saturn in the RV Park at Naval Support Activity New Orleans, while we take a 10-day cruise through the Caribbean including a transit of the Panama Canal. The cruise ship returns to New Orleans, Saturday morning November 10. We plan to continue our motorhome adventure for several more days then return to Pensacola on 13 November. The last four months of Mike's work lie ahead. Then we really start our adventure.

We packed the motorhome Wednesday night and moved it to Oak Grove RV Park on Naval Air Station Pensacola. This RV Park is located about a mile from where Mike works. When Mike got off work around noon on Friday we cranked up and headed to Louisiana.

Immediately upon leaving Alabama and entering Mississippi there were stands of Cypress trees starting to turn golden brown. In Eastern Mississippi you pass over the flood plain of the Pascagoula River. This delta area is about 5 miles wide where I-10 crosses it. The marsh grass reminds us of the "Golden Isles of Georgia". The marsh
grass has turned amber and waves in the wind on this beautiful day.

I-10 through Mississippi was a mixed bag. For the most part it is a good road. I-12 in eastern Louisiana is not bad, so far. Neither of us are looking forward to the ride on I-10 between Baton Rouge and our exit in Lafayette.

After putting 189 miles on the motorhome, we spent the night at a Wal-Mart Super Center in Covington, La., about 30 miles west of Slidell and the Mississippi border. Immediately upon arriving (4:15 PM) we unhitched and took the Saturn to H. J. Smith's Sons Country store and Museum. H. J. Smith's is a collection of turn of the century items like iceboxes and washing machines. There was a good collection of old tools and farm implements. The hardware store was one of the old time ones that had everything that "REAL MEN" want. We did not have a map or directions; only an address for this "museum" so we plugged the address into SA8 (Street Atlas 8.0 mapping software) then let the GPS (Global Positioning System) guide us from the Wal-Mart parking lot to H. J. Smith's.

GPS in combination with SA8 is a truly awesome piece of technology. In the motorhome the laptop is located on the dash where both of us can view it. The SA8 software program displays a street map, of where you are, in any amount of detail that you select. The street level detail allows you to navigate to any address. When the laptop is
connected to GPS a green arrow tracks your position. Joyce can now tell me to turn, when we cannot see street names, because she can see where we actually are on the map. No longer are we aggravated with searching for nonexistent street markers, or looking for SR-27, which the locals call Goddard Boulevard. Now all we do is plug in the address and a route comes up for us to follow, it looks like someone took a mauve magic marker and "highlighted" the route. A mans voice affectionately known as "Fred" also gives you verbal directions. Before each turn Fred will announce something like "in 59 seconds you will be taking a left on Satsuma Boulevard".

Covington and Mandeville appear to be bedroom communities for New Orleans, census data from the 1990 census indicates a median income of $28,625 and average age of 34 years with a median home costing $85,900. They are both clean communities. Mandeville has many turn of the century homes built up off the ground. These people have
experienced hurricanes. Living on the north shore of lake Pontchartrain they knew for a home to be around after one of the big blows they had better build it one story off the ground so the rising water could just flow under the structure. Isn't it amazing how smart these people were? Along Florida's barrier islands people were
building flat on the ground up until about 10 years ago. In Florida it took the insurance companies and the State to mandate that structures be built one story off the ground. Now when hurricane waters wash across the barrier islands it just washes under the structures.

Rip's, a seafood place in Mandeville, La., located on the north bank of Lake Pontchartrain, was our dinner destination. Rip's is located on north shore road overlooking lake Pontchartrain. The food was ok but nothing to write home about. We will not recommend the place or return. Joyce and I shared a bowl of turtle soup and gumbo. The gumbo was good. The turtle soup was just OK. It tasted very much like my mother's Brunswick stew, which has a tomato base.

Saturday, October 28, 2000. Traveled from Covington, La. To Lafayette (city campground) then toured towns west and north of Lafayette in Saturn. We put 125 miles on the motorhome today.

Left the Wal-Mart Super Store parking lot in Covington, La at 9:30 AM Sat morning. I-12 continues to be a good road with manicured medians and shoulders. Miles and miles of longleaf and slash pines. Visible along the interstate are borrow pits that were used during construction to elevate the interstate roadbed. Of course the borrow
pits are now lakes. Exit 42 has a nice small truck stop with a truck wash across the street, we will keep this truck wash in mind when traveling through the area. It looks like a great place to get the motorhome washed. Full time RV'ers have a hard time locating places to wash their RV's, as most RV Parks do not allow you to wash your
motorhome in their Parks. Made our way to Kliebert's turtle and alligator farm in Hammond, Louisiana. Nearing the turtle farm we see a sign-stating no through trucks, so we left the RV at a BP Station and continued on in the Saturn. Arrived to find that it is open noon to dark, March - Oct 31. Well, this October 28th but it is 10:00am. We
decide not to wait two hours for it to open. Kliebert's turtle and alligator farm will have to wait for another visit.

In Baton Rouge I-12 ends as it merges with I-10. I-10 west to the Texas border is the quintessential Louisiana Interstate that everyone talks about. We travel at 55 in order to keep the RV from going air borne. Giving credit where credit is due, Louisiana is repairing the interstate. We encounter new asphalt pieces that are just fine, then
just as suddenly it is back to the concrete moguls Louisiana is noted for. The new asphalt parts are good, the old concrete slabs are VERY BAD!

We made it across the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge with no problems, even though our speed got down to less than 50. For those not familiar with the I-10 bridge over the Mississippi River it is a very high bridge with steep approaches. Ocean going freighters and tankers pass under the bridge to and from loading docks in Baton Rouge and points north. It will tax the drive train on RV's for a short time. Joyce was having flash backs, because the last time we crossed that bridge, in the motorhome, we had a small fire in our motorhome's parking break as we descended the bridge due to a problem with our parking brake dragging. No problems are experienced this trip. About two miles west of the Mississippi River is Love's Truck stop, this would be a good stop for anyone needing fuel, as it is a large place.

Crossing the Atchafalaya Basin swamp on I-10
is a unique experience. To construct this bridge across the swamp required dredging a channel that materials and cranes on barges could be moved to the construction site on. I read somewhere that the 20 mile crossing of the Atchafalaya is the most expensive 20 miles of interstate anywhere. I can believe it. Atchafalaya refers to both a river and a large wetlands region; the name derives from the Choctaw hacha
falaia, meaning "Long River." The river itself serves as a major distributary of the Mississippi and Red rivers, and runs through a swampy wetlands called the Atchafalaya Basin, which is about twenty miles in width and one hundred and fifty in length. Since the eighteenth century, a small number of Cajun fishermen and trappers have depended on the basin and river for their livelihoods. Although a misconception holds that Cajuns primarily inhabit swamps like the Atchafalaya, the basin remains largely unpopulated, except by wildlife. Spanned by an 18-mile elevated section of Interstate 10, the basin is enclosed by artificial levees on its eastern and western sides. During major floods, the region serves as a containment area for rising waters. Swamp maples are turning a beautiful golden that accentuates the fall colors of the cypress and willows as we cross over the I-10 section of the Atchafalaya.

We stopped at exit 115 in Henderson, on the western side of the Atchafalaya, to eat at the "Boudin Shack". Mike loves their famous crawfish boudin balls. Joyce had red beans and rice. They were excellent. The Boudin Shack is a hole in the wall with Cajun food that is "to die for". Many people who travel in this part of the country go out of their way to experience their exceptional Cajun cuisine.

We arrived in the Acadian RV Park operated by the city of Lafayette, around 12:30, checked in with Joe Thibodaux, the super nice man running the park. Several of our RV friends had told us about this park and how much they liked Joe. We had standing instructions to tell Joe hello. (Jim & Akrien Taylor and Jessie and Ursula Earnest I told Joe hello for you). This is a nice place, just like you said it would be, and the $9.00 per night for a 50 amp hook up is about as good as it gets. Thanks!

Joyce and I took the Saturn and visited Rayne and Crowley then up to Eunice. We made an afternoon and evening of it. In this part of Louisiana every small town is the "Capital" of something. Breaux Bridge is the "Crawfish Capital of the world", Church Point is the "Buggy Capital of the USA" Rayne is the "Frog Capital", Crowley is the "Rice
Capital" and Eunice is the "Cajun Capital". Rayne, Crowley, Jennings and Eunice is rice-growing country. Very flat land that is just above the water table. The locals say the highest point in town is the railroad crossing at 5 feet above sea level. In Crowley we see huge rice processing plants complete with a series of large silos, two sets of silos were labeled, one Mahatma, the other Water Maid. Crowley is a lovely town with the main street circling around the courthouse like many old towns used to. Several of the commercial buildings in downtown had large, murals on the exterior depicting scenes from the area. There is obviously a talented artist in the area. Crowley had many ante-bellum homes with lovely manicured yards and centuries old live oak trees.

In Eunice we toured the Eunice Museum located at 220 south C. C. Dunson Drive. The museum is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is actually a converted train station. Collections include artifacts of pioneer farming, and early cattle ranches, spinning wheels and looms. A two-block walk west of the Museum is the "Prairie Acadian Cultural Center", part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. This is a very
informative exhibit center where many aspects of the Prairie Acadian Culture are explained and depicted in a series of displays.

At 6:00 PM we attended the Liberty Center for the Performing Arts where every Saturday evening from 6 to 8 PM they put on a live Cajun radio program. We had read about this "event" from several sources but mostly from reports given by fellow RV'ers that have attended and enjoyed the performance. The crowd on this night was evenly split
between native Acadians and tourist. The Acadians are of French ancestry and the program and music are mostly in French. A comedian told jokes in English, thank goodness! Most of the music was in French and consisted of lively music featuring an accordion and fiddles. There weren't any slow songs. Most of the crowd was over 50. One couple was celebrating their 50th anniversary. The Acadians danced to most of the songs. The tourist just watched.

After the Liberty Center radio show everyone heads to D. I.'s, a Cajun restaurant featuring live Cajun music. The fun continues until heaven knows when. We did not follow the crowd to D.I.'s. Instead we opted to head back to the motorhome which is 40 minutes away.

Sunday, October 29, 2000. We spend an hour or so experiencing the nature trail in Acadia Park where we are staying. The nature trail meanders along Francois Coulee. Coulees are slow moving streams. The confluence of Francois Coulee and the Vermillion River is on Acadia park property. The Vermillion River has a noticeable flow whereas the Francois Coulee does not.

Louisiana has Parishes vice Counties. The Parishes derive from their French and Predominantly Catholic makeup. The Parishes correspond to the Catholic Church parishes as defined by the early church.

We arrived at Vermillionville a living history attraction featuring Acadian and Creole structures, music; a cooking school, traditional crafts demonstrations by costumed instructors and a docent led interpretative walking tour. We were fortunate to have a docent assigned to just us. She was a knowledgeable French-speaking native of the area that really wanted us to know and understand the trials and tribulations experienced by early Acadians. Vermillionville is the original name of the modern-day city of Lafayette, the self-proclaimed capital of Cajun Louisiana; it also is the name of the living history museum and folklife village located in Lafayette. In 1844 the city's name was changed to "Lafayette" to honor Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman who fought for the republic in the
Revolutionary War.

This replica of a 19th century Cajun and Creole community consists of twenty historical or recreated structures, including a circa 1840 dwelling. Craft demonstrations included seeding, carding and spinning cotton into thread or yarn. Spools of thread were then mounted on looms for weaving. The docent informed us that the women and small
children of the day would go behind the field hands and "glean" the fields of cotton for their personal use. Small children picked the seeds out of the cotton while older children and women spun the thread. All of this was done using the cotton that was "left over" from the commercial plantations. Of course all of the good cotton was
sold. Another craft demonstration was quilting making. An elderly lady was making a quilt. She explained that quilt making was a social event and educational experience. In times past families used to have quilting parties where the ladies would gather and make a quilt. Quilt making involved seeding the cotton ball and carding the cotton
just like spinning thread except the carded cotton was kept in squares as it came off the carding tool. This was a truly educational demonstration for me. I have always read about the invention of the cotton gin, but did not completely appreciate all of the labor intensive steps involved in removing the seed, carding, and finally taking the carded cotton and spinning it to make thread. Wow! What an effort just to get one thread. ONE thread! And to think that it takes many spools of thread to make anything. It makes me really appreciate the "hard times" early settlers of this country endured.

Joyce and I decided to experience Mulate's for our dining experience of the day. Mulate's is located in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana an eight-mile drive east on highway 94 from the RV Park. Mulate's is an authentic Cajun Restaurant and Dancehall. Many of the cypress beams supporting the building were hauled in from the nearby swamp in Henderson (Atchafalaya Swamp). The floors have supported five generations of Cajun dancers. You hear as much French spoken as English. I think all of the songs were in French, at any rate I never understood any of the words. We had a bon temp! (good time). We are picking up some of the French lingo. Lagniappe (a little something
extra) an example would be the piece of candy or gum that a barber may give a young boy after getting his haircut. Then there is laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the good times roll)! Trust me these fun loving people know how to laissez les bon temps rouler! The fried alligator at Mulate's was very good. We will try this again.

Monday, October 30, 2000:

Tony Chachere's in Opelousas, Louisiana opens its factory for tours at 9:30 am. Tony's Cajun food factory is where we are headed. Opelousas is 20 miles north of our RV Park in Lafayette. There is an Opelousas welcome center and a Jim Bowie Museum as we enter town. We tour both before heading to Tony
Chachere's. Jim Bowie lived in Opelousas and to prove it they have his marriage records on display. Jim Bowie was a frontier man. The Bowie knife bears his name to this day. Jim died at the Alamo along with (Davie Crocket) I think. Back to Tony Chachere's. Tony was a pharmacist who liked to cook. Late in life he wrote a Cajun cookbook.
The book was a roaring success. People started asking where they could get the ingredients that were utilized in many of his recipes. Tony started packaging the ingredients. Today his grandson is the company President and all five of his children are on the board of directors. They specialize in a variety of Cajun spices. In addition to the spices they also box "Southern White Beans & Rice", "New Orleans Red Beans & Rice" and "Home-Style Black-eyed Peas & Rice" just to name a few of the products. A staple of Cajun cooking is red pepper. Cajun's use it like other people might use salt and pepper. The inside of Tony's factory had a pungent odor emanating from a variety of spices, although I suspect the predominant one was red pepper. They utilized a state of the art air filtration system to
minimize the effect but nothing could completely neutralize the aroma of that much red pepper and other spices. They issue a facemask for each individual on tour. This was a fascinating operation. Look for some of Tony Chachere's Cajun spices the next time you are in the spice section of your local grocery store. Remember Cajuns use it in place of or in addition to regular salt and pepper.

The next stop was "Savoie's Real Cajun Food Products", on the outskirts of Opelousas. This stop turned into the treat of the day. Savoie's makes a wide variety of Cajun food products beginning with several types of smoked sausage. Savoie's does not advertise that they give plant tours but we had information that, on occasion, they
would if approached properly. We took a chance, looked up their address in the phone book, then let the GPS and Street Atlas guide us. We arrived at an OLD country store a few miles out of town. This place did not look like what we were looking for. It wasn't, the sausage processing plant was out the back door in a modern plant not
readily visible from the road.. We asked the elderly lady cashier if they possibly gave tours of the sausage factory. She quietly went into a back room and came out with Ms. Eula Savoie. Eula has built Savoie's into a good size business with nearly 70 employees. Most of her employees have been with her for 20 to 30 years. They speak of
each other as family. Eula warmly greeted us, then called one of the plant workers and asked her to give us a tour of the plant. That was the start of our treat! Watching sausage being made is an experience. We witnessed it all from the grinding of the meat to the smoking of literally thousands and thousands of foot long links of sausage. Several hours later we emerged from the plant knowing that if we did not experience anything else this day would be a winner. The plant housed modern production equipment all the way from state of the art cookers and smokers to the grinding and mixing equipment. One room contained what looked to be 50-gallon plastic drums of spices. The
lady in this room was mixing the spices that would go into different sausage products. The bags of mixed spices she was preparing looked to be about eight to ten pounds that would be used with a 300-pound recipe of sausage. Our tour guide told us that the red pepper they used had a "heat" content three times greater than what was available
in grocery stores.

Their method of making roux piqued my interest. For those of you not familiar with Cajun cooking a roux is the base for many Cajun recipes most notably gumbo. It is a LABOR INTENSIVE step in the cooking process. Roux is gravy produced by mixing oil and flour in a cast iron pot while continuously stirring it over moderate heat. It must be continuously stirred! Did I emphasize continuously? If it is not continuously stirred it will get a "burnt" taste. If it gets that "burnt" taste you have to throw that batch out and start over, and stir it continuously this time. I have often wondered how restaurants and other institutional operations made so much roux. Now I know. They get it from Savoie's in five or six gallon containers. Savoie's also packages smaller quantities that are marketed with the gravy
mixes in some parts of the country. Savoie's has perfected large cooking drums that look very much like an ice cream churn turned on its side. Blades continuously turn and scrape the cooking roux from the sides. The eight or ten cast iron roux cooking drums are lined up in a long row. Every roux cooker was making roux when we went
through. The natural gas flame made this a hot room. When I say large cooking drums they cook six hundred pounds of flour in each cooker, in addition to gallons and gallons of cooking oil that mixes with that six hundred pounds of flour. It cooks in those drums for six to eight hours. Much of the prepared roux was being packaged and shipped in six-gallon institutional size plastic containers. The difference in cooking times determines whether it is a light roux
(caramel color) or dark roux (more chocolate in color).

From Savoie's we headed south to Cretien Point Plantation. This Plantation home is famous for the Stair Case made famous in Gone With the Wind. It was the center of a 10,000-acre cotton plantation. Damage from the Civil War is evident. Not much else to tell you about it.

Our next stop was Acadian Village in West Lafayette. They have assembled about 20 of the oldest structures within 60 miles of Lafayette and situated them into a Village along the banks of a bayou. In this setting Acadian Village has also preserved many farm implements, spinning wheels, blacksmith tools, fish traps, boats, carriages and a multitude of other memorabilia from the 1800's. This was a great exhibit.

Jean Lefitte National Historical Park:

Like most National Parks, this is a class exhibit complete with a 40-minute film chronicling the Acadians journey to Louisiana and the tyranny they experienced at the hands of the British when they were expelled from Acadiana (present day Nova Scotia). Other exhibits portray Cajun cultures in the wetlands and prairies of Southern Louisiana.

We were going to eat at Miss Helen's in Scott, Louisiana at the end of the day. So many of our RV friends have recommended Miss Helen's that we were excited about experiencing it for ourselves. It was not to be. We arrived at "Miss Helen's" only to find that the name had changed. We asked some locals where Miss Helen's was and they pointed to the current restaurant but added "it ain't no Miss Helen's"! We nodded that we understood and thanked them for warning us. Our back up dinner spot was Don's in old downtown Lafayette. Don's is a "white table cloth" type place that is well advertised. We have much better Cajun food in Pensacola. We were disappointed. Let's leave it at that.

Tuesday, October, 31 2000:

Nottoway Plantation

We got up intending to take a leisurely 155-mile drive east on I-10 then down River Road to New Orleans. That is exactly what we did. Our only stop was to tour Nottoway Plantation. It is the largest Plantation home in the South. NOTTOWAY is an American Castle, a gem of Italianate and Greek Revival style
boasting 64 rooms and over 53,000 square feet of total area supported by 22 massive cypress columns. It was completed in 1859 for John Hampden Randolph, an extremely prosperous (7,000 acres) sugar planter. A Northern gunboat officer, a former guest of the Randolph's, saved Nottoway from total destruction during the War Between the States. This place is beyond opulent! Every room displayed intricate lacy plaster frieze work, hand-painted Dresden porcelain doorknobs and hand carved marble mantles. The main floor had a 65-foot long Grand White
Ballroom in which 5 of the 7 Randolph girls were married. The docents were excellent, well educated in the history of Nottoway and its contents. Mr. Randolph was extremely wealthy and wanted it to show. He was a meticulous man and kept all of his records. These records and a diary kept by one of his daughters document the life and times
of Nottoway. John Randolph's slaves were very important to him, how important is revealed in his writings. He paid a doctor $200 per-month to visit his slaves and provide them with health care. The doctor trained one of the slave girls to be a nurse and she cared for them between doctor visits. After the Civil War, when the slaves were
freed, the majority of them returned to Nottoway and worked for Mr. Randolph on contract. During the Civil War John had taken his slaves to Texas where he farmed cotton. After the war the now "freemen" who signed a contract to work for him returned with him from Texas to began life anew at Nottoway.


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Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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