|For a long time roads weren't an option in South Louisiana. This was some wild country back in the day, not Bourbon Street wild, but wilderness wild. The incredibly wet, squishy ground made bayous the only reasonable routes for transportation and Bayou Teche was the Superhighway. Following The Teche, we set out to discover the real Acadiana.|
|Our odyssey began in Breaux Bridge, which gets its name from a footbridge across the bayou built by Firmin Breaux back in 1799. The town, officially dubbed The Crawfish Capital of the World" by the Louisiana legislature, is said to be the first place where mudbugs were ever offered on a menu, and the birthplace of Crawfish Étouffée. Well then, let's eat!|
|We headed for Rocky and Lisa Sonnier's Bayou Boudin & Cracklin, a real slice of Cajun culture on the banks of Bayou Teche. The menu is flexible, depending on the time of day and day of the week, but there is always boudin, pronounced approximately boo-daah, and cracklins. Traditional boudin is made with sausage casing and stuffed with a delicious mixture of pork, pork liver, onion, spices|
particular afternoon the Sonniers were serving up some seafood
boudin alongside the standard variety. Crawfish, shrimp and
crab are used in place of the pork products, and seeing as how
we were in the capital and everything, well, what else could we
Good thing too, because there ain't no better boudin,
Since Rocky is known in these parts as the Cracklin King, we had to take a crack at a crackle too. Most people might call these pork rinds but that would be like calling The Queen Mary a boat. These are fresh fried and have a flavor no bagged pig skin could ever match. Long live the king.
|Rocky and Lisa also offer cabins overlooking Bayou Teche, for a real Cajun bed and breakfast experience. I tell you what, nothing says good morning like a plate full of cracklins and a gator on your porch. As tempting as a stay in the Fifties Cabin, described in the brochure as the Most modern with Elvis and decorations from the 50's sounded, we decided to move|
Bellies filled, we headed south tracing The Teche through St. Martin Parish down into Iberia Parish. In the town of New Iberia, The Shadows-on-the-Teche is certainly worth a look. This beautiful example of an antebellum mansion from the early 1830s is now a museum. Better yet, it's right on the way to the promised land for pepper sauce lovers, Avery Island.
Every bottle of Tabasco sauce ever made came from this little island. A massive salt dome, said to be the size of Mount Everest, lies just beneath the surface, and pushed this spot up above the surrounding swamp. The deposits led to the island becoming the site of America's first commercial salt mine. Turns out this also happens to be the perfect place to grow peppers too.Just prior to The Civil War, Edmund McIlhenny married into the Avery family, moved onto the island bearing their name, and started a life of salt and peppers. After the war, he began experimenting with a sauce made from those peppers. It seems that he got the
first thing we noticed upon our arrival to the island was
the smell. It simply reeks of Tabasco, which is not a bad
thing as far as I'm we're concerned. After a few minutes,
we got used to it.
Either that or our smell buds had been completely fried.
We got to see the big barrels of mashed peppers being aged for the required three years. Next we saw the liquid from that properly aged mixture being drained off and stirred into giant vats with vinegar and salt from the island's own mines. At the end of the hall, we watched while the final product was squirted into bottles, labeled and boxed up for shipping to the far corners of the globe.
A member of the McIlhenny family still personally oversees every aspect of the operation. The peppers are grown with seeds, chosen by a real live McIlhenny, from each season's best plants. Meticulously tended in their patches around the island until harvest time, the peppers are hand picked at the perfect point of redness. Each pepper picker carries a "petite baton rouge" (small red stick) to match the exact McIlhenny-decried shade of crimson. This attention to detail continues throughout entire production process.
is of course the obligatory crap shop at the end of the tour.
Anything and everything Tabasco is available here. The usual
souvenir items, plus countless varieties of Tabasco sauces,
condiments, canned goods and prepared foods. Now we both like
hot stuff as much as the next guy, but the gift shop had a
few items that tested our limits. Let's just say that ice
cream and soda pop aren't improved by the addition of Tabasco.
Sharing Avery Island with the Tabasco plant is a botanical garden and bird sanctuary, Jungle Gardens and Bird City. In the 1890s, just before taking over as
his Bird City, Mr. Ned planted 170 acres of native and exotic
plants. These Jungle Gardens are lovingly landscaped with
azaleas, Japanese camellias, Egyptian papyrus,
bamboo and of course live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A shrine
to an ancient Buddha, a gift to McIlhenny back in 1936, stands as
the centerpiece of the Jungle.
|It really is a beautiful place and we had a fantastic afternoon. Ah Southern springtime! Blue skies, colorful wild flowers, the kudzu coming in and the algae pond scum greening up so nicely. Beautiful, and made even better by the fact that we didn't get attacked by a single carnivorous swamp dweller. For most visitors this should never be an issue, since they drive through the gardens in the|
folks at the front gate gave us the green light, and it seemed
like a great way to experience the landscape until we rounded
a corner and found ourselves about ten feet away from a six
Yup, this is a nature preserve so there are no fences or cages. No motes or walls or any other barriers. The gators roam free to feed on any stray cyclists
Seems like plenty of precaution, if not for the fact that we had just come from the Tabasco tour and smelled like delicious sauce. Do we know if anyone has ever been eaten?
mood to find out we gave the gators plenty of room, and
enjoyed the rest of our ride without incident. We even hung
out with Buddha for a while. Very peaceful, Zen even. Once
the sun started getting low we headed back out to follow
Later we learned that alligators don'treally think of humans as a delicious dish. No mention though, rather the smell of vinegar, peppers and salt might
Do gators like Tabasco?
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com