Today we woke up early and full of motivation for our first day of excursion into the Louisiana bayous!
When we were in Ecuador, we met an American women at the breakfast from our hostel. Her name is Jeannine, she’s about sixty years old and lives near New Orleans! She told us we should visit her there.. and we did! So she’s the one driving us around in her Chevrolet, which allows us to see things we couldn’t have seen using only public transportation…
It was cold as hell yesterday and last night, and parts of Louisiana even woke up under 4 inches of snow on the car (in the countryside, because in the city it melted immediatly)(yes, inches, America’s starting to rub on us…). So the bridges where closed, and so were some highways, and it didn’t help us to plan our itinerary. Jeannine came to meet us an hour late because the Causeway on lake Pontchartrain she uses to come to the city had been closed (it’s a 40 something mile long bridge on this huge lake). So shortly after our start, we were stopped by a nice State-trooper with a big badge because the road ahead was still iced on the shadowed parts at 10am. He was very happy to speak French with us, or rather Cajun French, which is the local French based language, that sounds like Quebec French spoken with a southern accent. He was super nice and gave us an address to go eat while the iced melted.
A little further, we visited a butcher shop who smokes his own meat. It’s a very old family run business, so they only have to comply to the rules from the time it was created. Which means they can smoke it the old way with the wood they like. It smelled incredible in there! We tasted beef-jerky, which doesn’t really exist in France, and it was delicious. We didn’t take any pictures, and we won’t tell you what wood they’re using, as it’s a secret according to them (they didn’t want to tell us, but Jeannine works a lot with trees so she just took a look at one of the logs for like 5 seconds and guessed it, the guy was stunned 😉 ).
After the smokehouse, we drove along a bayou, which is kind of a river between one swamp and another swamp. Out here every piece of land was once the riverbed of the Mississippi, the ground is soaked with water and the swamp often acts as a buffer between the salted see water and the clear water on land. In there you’ll find alligators (they’re hibernating right now with the cold), frogs, turtles, fishes, shellfishes… in big quantities, sometimes even as invasive species. So everything that lives out in the bayou is very welcome in the local cuisine!
As the climate is quite warm, often very hot in summer, there are a lot of citruses everywhere! And it was really cold just before, which means the fruit are delicious right now. So we stopped at a house where Jeannine asked a very kind old man in his bathrobes if we could pick some in his garden, and he said yes. So we got some very delicious oranges and tangerines!
Louisiana is very flat, so there are lakes everywhere, and also very clear views, which is awesome! On the left in the photo, it’s a tree covered in Spanish moss, which is a plant that gives the bayou landscape this enigmatic and gloomy look in the local folklore (well this and the voodoo myths brought from Haiti by some of the initial immigrants). It can be used instead of straw in the cob for old sugar cane plantation houses.
When the bridges where reopened we managed to get to Avery Island, the home of Tabasco! It’s not really an island, but rather a dome of salt surrounded by bayous. The dome itself is kind of a geological mystery, there are a dozen of them in the area, and they can be as deep as Mount Everest ! As it’s elevated ground, it’s a great place to settle in (but it isn’t that high above sea level either…).
The McHilleny family who produces the Tabasco created a museum to show how it’s made, but one of the ancestors also created English-style gardens to shelter a lot of plants and animals. He managed to rescue the white egrets that were almost extinct due to the use of their feathers in the production of hats. But he also mistakenly released some south American rodents who are now a plague. The garden were open to the public in the hope of developing automobile tourism, so you visit them mostly by car, and they are quite something!
During the factory tour, we understand that the success of the sauce enabled them to enter certain wealthy circles, but they also were quite handy and had natural talent for marketing. Some of them were military, explorers, politicians (not many women in power positions though) and their business has been growing for many years now, even entering pop-culture.
To summarize the process, a few peppers are grown bit on Avery Island, but a lot are grown in Mexico, South America and Africa. When harvested, they are mashed with salt, put into barrels and sent to Avery Island, where they stay a few years in the cellar. Then, vinegar is added and the mixture is stirred for a few days before bottling.
Of course, the exhibitions showed us how amaaaazing Tabasco is, and the gift shop had a lot of samples to taste, including green Jalapeño tabasco ice cream and raspberry chipotle tabasco ice cream (this one has an indescribable colour but tastes great anyway).
About food, because here that’s really something important, between lunch and dinner, we tasted fried breaded frog legs, local oysters, fried breaded oysters (we didn’t like them so much), crawfish, stuffed crab, turtle soup (from the bayou, not the sea), gumbo, local fishes… Anyway the local seafood platter is not seen as the luxury food, but is really cool !
We went home late, tired but happy, and tomorrow we’re continuing !
Bonus : seen on the way tonight !