Eat well, it’s a heritage thing
At Thanksgiving, we celebrate the bounty of our harvest, and there is plenty to celebrate here. The cornucopia overflows in south Louisiana; we can fill our holiday tables with nothing but home-grown foods and eat like royalty.
William Darby visited southwest Louisiana 200 years ago, and recognized then the prospects for our natural bounty.
He wrote that “few spots on the globe of equal extent exhibit more diversity …, or a greater variety of soil and vegetable production. … Here are beheld all the changes of soil, from the deep fertile loam of Bayou Bouef to the sterile pine woods, from the broken hills of Bayou Crocodile … to the marsh plains of the gulph [sic] ,,, and from the deep and almost impervious woods along the Atchafalaya, to the widely extended plains … upon the banks of the Mermentau and Calcasieu. … Every plant and shrub cultivated in Louisiana (has) been introduced or attempted [in the region].”
Today the plants and animals that we’ve introduced to the area, combined with those that were here a long time before us make a list to marvel over — not to mention a table full of good eating.
We harvest grains from the prairies: rice, corn, wheat, soybeans. The Gulf and our rivers and bayous and wetlands provide abundant seafood: crawfish, catfish, alligators, oysters, shrimp, turtles, crabs, and fish from sac-a-lait to snapper.
We have cattle, hogs, chickens, rabbits, sheep, and goats from the farm, squirrel and venison from the woods, ducks and geese and maybe frog legs from the wetlands.
Our gardens provide tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, greens, eggplant, peas, beans of all sorts, mirliton, peppers ranging from hot to sweet, okra, onions, squash, turnips, and more.
For sweetness (and maybe some homemade wine) we grow fruits and berries: oranges, satsumas, peaches, pears, lemons, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, figs, mayhaws, muscadines, and some others I’ve forgot.
But we can’t forget sugar, syrup, honey, pecans and the other stuff that make dessert a perfect complement to a cup of hot black coffee.
Of course, a Louisiana Thanksgiving is memorable not just for what we harvest, but what we do with what we’ve grown. Next to the vegetable garden is the herb garden, where we find the things that add a bit of spice, a special aroma, an unforgettable flavor to the things coming out of our kitchens.
And we have a long tradition of good cooks who keep alive old family recipes. Jambalaya, crawfish pie and filé gumbo are more than words in a song in south Louisiana.
We have contests to decide who makes the best boudin — and everybody’s a winner because nobody in south Louisiana makes bad boudin, or gumbo, or sauce piquante, or anything else.
Lots of Americans eat well as they count their blessings at Thanksgiving. In south Louisiana we are especially blessed because we feast every day. We just do a little more of it at Thanksgiving.
Go ahead. Take an extra slice of that cane syrup-glazed turkey. Or another spoonful of cornbread and oyster dressing. Or a bigger wedge of pecan pie. Think of it as helping to maintain your heritage.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589