The use of spices in Cajun cooking is a staple in South Louisiana cuisine. For years, seasoning has been used on traditional red beans, gumbo, and étouffée to add a unique Bayou flare.
Cajun or Creole seasoning is made up of salt and pepper with a variety of spices like cayenne or garlic powder, says John Folse Culinary Institute graduate Kamal Jones.
“As we season or cook our meals in class, we use separate seasonings that essentially make up what many consider to be Cajun spice,” Jones says. “The blends of certain seasoning are what give our food down that special kick, I would tell you my secret blend but you’ll just have to wait to see it in stores one day.”
Cajun or Creole seasoning is made up of salt and pepper with a combination of additional spices, with cayenne and garlic powder being the most common. Local Louisiana grocery stores carry over 50 brands of Cajun spices making the flavor possibilities endless.
Louisiana-style spice blends have gained popularity, reaching grocery stores all around the country. In 2010, spices exported from Louisiana accounted for a $12 million industry, according to the World Trade Center New Orleans data. The market for these products has continued to grow over the years with the addition of new spice blends and brands.
985 Products is a new player in the spice game, releasing their Cajun All Spice and signature hot sauce this year.
“This blend is a true representation of what my family cooked with and the spices I use to this day,” says John Kerry, co-owner of 985 Products. “This is the most competitive industry, and that is why we have spent years perfecting our ideal seasoning.”
The 985 Products are named after the 985 area code that covers the 11 parishes in South Louisiana’s Bayou region. The products can be found in 13 retail locations in Louisiana and surrounding states and more being added later this year.
“It’s funny because we released our products in the 985 area after all other locations,” says Brandon Halfen, 985 Products president. “We wanted to create a buzz and then release it for people here to feel a sense of pride.”
South Louisiana prides itself on its deep-rooted history and culture and locals use that culture as an inspiration for their own creativity and crafts.
“Everyone has different stories. In South Louisiana, people bring their stories to life through various types of art,” says Alex Gwinn, a craft-show regular and Thibodaux native. “Just like a pot of gumbo, you can add varying ingredients to make something really special and unique.”
The Bayou Region is home to many craft shows including Southdown Marketplace, Thibodeauxville and Poche Plantation Arts and Crafts Charity. And even when the main focus isn’t on crafts, local arts are almost always present at the many festivals across the state. From jewelry, bath and body products, cards, artwork, personalized items, candles, bows, and more, local artisans bring their culture and heritage to life.
Hailey Cortez, Thibodaux native ad owner of Grey Handcrafted, makes essential oil jewelry and says crafting is all about connecting and community.
“[South Louisianans] already love to talk, so talking about something you personally developed and hearing the background of businesses is really easy, fun and enjoyable,” Cortez says.
Gwinn, who grew up spending weekends going to craft shows and markets and now drags her friends along, says supporting local businesses and people is important.
“The really cool part is learning the background of the item or business,” Gwinn says. “It’s fun and it makes you appreciate the product and the person who made it.”
Hunting in South Louisiana is a way of life that dates back to the first settlers of the region. It’s a a life of enjoying and living off of the abundant natural resources like ducks, deer, squirrels and rabbits.
“It’s here and we have it here to enjoy,” says Capt. Chuck Comeaux of the Wildlife and Fisheries Department in Thibodaux. “We’re blessed here, in ‘Sportsman’s Paradise.’”
Comeaux says hunting and fishing in Louisiana goes back to the first settlers who hunted to eat, sell or trade.
“Most of our ancestors here, down South, started as hunters,” says Comeaux. “The society became all about hunting and fishing.”
Since then, the hunting tradition has changed a little because of government regulations and less dependence on hunting to survive, Comeaux says. And even though hunting is not the only way to make a living today, some of the traditional practices, passed on from generation to generation, are still common today.
“Hunting is in my blood,” Comeaux says. “My grandpa, my father, me and now two of my sons, we all hunt because that’s what we were raised to do.”
Another local hunter, Houma resident Aaron White, who grew up duck hunting with his dad, says he’s looking forward to passing on the tradition to his own kids one day.
“My dad starting taking me duck hunting when I was really young,” White says. “I’ll never forget the excitement of the upcoming duck season. I still feel the same today.”
Vacherie native and avid hunter Thomas Joseph, Jr. says he has been hunting as long as he can remember — leaving with his dad and brothers before the sun came up and not coming home until after dark.
“I remember helping my daddy prepare for his hunting trips when I was a little boy,” says Joseph, who enjoys small-game hunting like rabbits and racoons best. “I was so excited, that I used to be ready and out of the door before he was. I loved every moment of it.”
Joseph says even though his own children aren’t interested in hunting, he shares his knowledge and love for hunting with many of his friends, nephews and other relatives.
“It was a tradition in my family growing up,” Joseph says. “Even though my daughter doesn’t like to hunt, I’m glad I can call on some of the people that I’m close to to come with me when I have a taste for rabbit stew.”
Camping in South Louisiana is the Cajun way of taking time off and getting together with family and friends to play in the water — whether it’s boating, swimming or hunting and fishing. Louisiana isn’t home to many beaches, so locals make do with what they have building get-away homes on bayous, lakes and the Gulf.
“Nothing beats going to the camp for a weekend,” says Blaine Landry, who has a camp in Grand Isle. “I meet so many people out there just by anchoring my boat next to theirs. Someone offers you a beer and the next thing you know someone’s frying fish and grillin’ for everyone. Then next time you go to the camp you’ll see them again on the water or at the gas station or wherever and they act like y’all are lifelong friends. You can’t find that anywhere else.”
When locals refer to “camps,” it means anything from a trailer on stilts to a mansion somewhere on water that isn’t a primary residence. Most all camps are raised high to avoid flooding using the space underneath for parking, storage and party space. Camps can have a single owner or be shared by family and friends with different people claiming different weekends and parts of the summer or even be rented out. Camps can also be grouped by function — a hunting camp just for the guys or a camp to bring the whole family. From Grand Isle on the Gulf of Mexico to Bayou Dularge and Lake Verret, these getaways are just a way for South Louisianans to enjoy the water.
The camps “down the bayou” — a phrase locals use to describe the areas along the bayou toward the Gulf of Mexico — in Chauvin, Dulac, and Dularge are noted for their vibrant colors, mismatched knicknacks, and wrap-around decks. Some camps are smaller, one-story houses. Others are big enough to house several families and feature pools and hot tubs. Some of the more modern camps have elevators, electronic boat lifts, and a floating cabana.
The older camps along the bayou ― the ones that survived the hurricanes ― were originally homes to local families. Although there are quite a few surviving camps, in the last few decades there’s been an influx of larger modern camps. These new camps were built solely to be rented as summer vacation spots.
Boudreaux’s Marina owner Andre Boudreaux says most camps today are boarded up in the off-season and rented out from March to October. Boudreaux, who works in Chauvin at the marina and as a boat captain, says his customers become regulars pretty quickly. Most people will rent a camp for an entire summer. Boudreaux says almost no one lives in their own camps these days.
Rayford Reeves, who owns a luxury houseboat that docks in Dulac, says the houseboat is a great investment — a party and a place to stay all in one. The houseboat has several bedrooms, a kitchen, an upper deck with a grill, and a boat lift for his motor boat. Reeves says he uses his houseboat to cook for and entertain business partners, party with his friends, and relax after a demanding workweek.
“I can take my friends out for a day of drinking and partying on the water and no one has to worry about getting home safely,” he says. “They can all crash on the boat! It’s a mini getaway.”
In the Bayou Region, most traditions come from different cultures melting together. According to “The History of Crawfish in Louisiana,” crawfish boils originated from the Cajuns and from the local Native American tribes, who used to bait reeds with deer meat and catch the crawfish out of the creeks and ponds. Locals have taken traditions from both of these cultures and made them their own over time.
Crawfish are not just a meal in South Louisiana, they’re a party. In fact, there’s an entire season the Bayou Region dedicates to crawfish boils. From February to July, weekends mean gathering your friends and family around folding tables on the back patio, drinkin’ your favorite beer, and blasting the radio while mixing crawfish dip.
Each crawfish boil is different depending on who’s doing the boiling. Though the basics stay the same–a huge pot of boiling water, crawfish, and seasoning–the extra bits thrown into the pot vary depending on personal preference of the chef. Onions, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, corn, mushrooms, garlic, and sausage are the usual additions to crawfish boils. Some people throw in bits like broccoli, green beans, celery, artichoke, lemons, pineapple, asparagus, olives, eggs, pickles, and even hot dogs and chicken wings!
Mae Heck, a Thibodaux native, has been boiling crawfish for over 50 years. Heck has been boiling crawfish for her family every Friday during seafood season because “it’s the best reason to bring my family together.” Heck says another reason she likes boiling crawfish so often is because she feels like she’s mastered the craft. She said that the key to a perfect boil is how long you boil for.
“I bring my crawfish to a boil for four minutes then I let them soak for eight,” Heck says. “I bring them back to a boil for another three or four minutes. That’s the perfect crawfish.”
Crawfish are such a massive part of Southern culture that “Lent” has become synonymous with “crawfish season.” Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays in Lent, so every Friday finds people setting the table with their crawfish trays. Although there are plenty of seafood restaurants in southern Louisiana, it’s businesses that sell crawfish by the sack that really see business boom during crawfish season.
Angie Francis, owner of Bayou Cane Seafood in Houma, says, “Crawfish season is always the best time of year for us. We sell seafood all year long, but the anticipation of crawfish season drives people crazy. They have to have it.”
Francis has owned Bayou Cane for 10 years and says she still doesn’t know how to prepare for crawfish season. She says that every season is different and the size and quality of the crawfish depends on the weather each year. Regardless, business is always booming during crawfish season for her because, as Francis says, “people love their crawfish.”
The sun beats down on South Louisiana, the sweltering heat and humidity smothering the summer fun, yet that’s not enough to keep the spirits down. Instead Cajuns do like most things and replace the agony by consuming food. The particular cure for summers on the bayou are the combination of two ingredients: ice and sugar. Don’t let this simple recipe fool you, snowball lovers are crazy for this icy and refreshing treat.
First, it’s always called a snowball-not a snow cone or shaved ice. The ice is fluffier and better absorbs the flavors rather than trickling to the bottom of the cup.
Before the 1930’s, the ice was shaved by hand which resulted in a chunkier texture. It was in 1933 that Ernest Hansen invented a ice-shaving machine that created the consistency of snow, coining the term “sno-ball”. Ernst opened his first snowball stand in New Orleans, Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, which still runs today.
Next is picking the flavor, often referred to as “juice.” With options from strawberry to crawfish flavored snowballs, the possibilities are endless.
Over the years, snowball stands have provided the bayou area with its fair share of icy goodness. While some businesses have been around longer than others, snowball stands pride themselves on their specialty snowballs.
Curtis’ Snowballs has been serving the Thibodaux area for 39 years and continues to create signature flavors from scratch.
“The flavor is the most important factor” says employee Amy Rivera.
Many of the signature flavors are created daily with real cane sugar and secret flavor combinations. Curtis’ is famous for their Snickers bar inspired snowball that includes chocolate flavoring, peanuts, and warm fudge.
So what is the secret to the perfect snowball? The answer to that is different for all snowball stands.
“It may sound silly, but there is almost a science behind the creation of a snowball,” says the owner of Sno Shack Snowballs, Danielle Dufrene. The Sno Shack offers over 50 flavors with the addition of their very own concoctions like their specialty snowball, “Glow Worm.”
Its name and green color may initially seem odd, but its popularity amongst customers says otherwise. “Seeing our customers walk away happy with our snowballs is what makes me love my job,” says Danielle. “My kids love helping me at the stand. They see their school friends and it makes it fun for all of us.”
As for the best-selling flavor, both locations agreed that Strawberry takes the prize. But whatever your flavor of choice is, treat yourself to some toppings like condensed milk, gummy worms or maybe some extra juice. After all, it is your own creation.