by Ian Shows
by Betsy Davis
More and more people are demanding fresh, local and homegrown goods from the communities they live in, and Louisiana is responding. Farmers markets are on the rise, community gardens are sprouting up and businesses are staying true to their southern roots and all of the natural ingredients it has to offer.
As an area that’s known for its rich food culture, Louisiana is already a cornucopia of good eatsfrom its fresh seafood to its fertile soil where almost anything grows. But, as the daily consumer is becoming more health and environmentally conscious, the demand for locally-produced, direct-to-consumer goods has increased three-fold between 1992 and 2007, and markets listed in USDA National Farmers Market Directory has grown four times the amount over the last two decades to meet their demands according to a 2014 study by the United States Department of Agriculture.
And this rise in local goods is because more consumers are turning into locavores looking for fresh foods, showing a willingness to learn about farming processes to maintain integrity of the goods and producing a growing support for local businesses, farmers and agriculture—all sensible reasons to buy and eat local.
The markets featured here are only a few of the 100-plus that Louisiana has to offer today. Along with the growth of community gardens and businesses with a local edge, it’s obvious that this fresh-food demand is more than just a fad.
“We’ve come to know recently in the last few years that it’s always best to eat food from where you live,” says Randy Cheramie, executive director of the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. “Simply put, the best vegetables are at farmers markets. There’s no two ways about it — it’s cheaper and it’s just all around better for you.”
A world-travelled and renowned chef, Cheramie has had more than a lifetime’s worth of experience with food. From owning and running a restaurant, to coaching in the American Culinary Federation and the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition, gaining the acclaim of one of the top 25 chefs in Louisiana by the American Culinary Federation and now part of the full-time faculty at the culinary institute, Cheramie is well versed in all things good when it comes to what to eat and how to get it.
“If you look on the side of boxes and the ingredients in foods, like breadcrumbs for instance, there’s everything but bread in there!” Cheremaie says. “It’s scary. I made a pledge a long time ago, if I can’t pronounce it, I’m not eating it. [People] need to eat real food.”
And Louisiana really makes it easy to eat real food. Cheramie points out that the region is rich in alluvial soil that can produce almost any crop imaginable, it’s positioned next to a the bountiful Gulf of Mexico where fresh fish of all varieties fill nets to the brim. Even more so, aiding those that bring these goods to our dinner tables is valuable in these times of big industry and fast food franchises.
“We have a real commitment to Louisiana,” Cheramie notes. “A commitment to both the Louisiana fishermen and the Louisiana farmer cause we’re losing both of them. Generations of them are dying out and they need our support.”
That support comes from you, the community.
So get hungry.
Watch the videos, skim through the pictures, read the stories and get interactive with the variety of fresh and local eats out there that are featured in our magazine. Our staff has worked hard to bring you this content and we hope by taking some time to look through it all you can enjoy and appreciate the fresh and local goods that Louisiana as to offer.
by Katie Fletcher
The South doesn’t get much deeper than the bayous of Louisiana. Along these bayous French meets English to create a language unlike any other. The accents of the people around here are distinct and people talk with their hands as much as their mouths. Things are not always what they seem and this is especially true when looking at the way words are spelled. The food here is one of a kind and so are the names associated with it. We asked Rhonda Zeringue, a native of Schriever, Louisiana to pronounce some common Cajun and Creole dishes the way they are supposed to sound. She has grown up in South Louisiana and cooks most of these dishes in her own home. Here are some of the many delicious South Louisiana foods with the way to pronounce dat!
by Michael Ballard
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by Spencer Valdespino
This is a commodity that goes with pancakes, waffles, ice cream and it’s even used for marinades. Actually, the list is endless of what people put it on. From the kitchen of residential Louisiana homes to the fanciest of shelves in chef’s restaurants, cane syrup is essential in the south. Specifically, Charles Poirier’s Cane Syrup.
Sugarcane can be found in most backyards around the state. If you have ever lived here or even traveled here for vacation, it’s something the eye catches as you look out the window on the highways. And with a plethora of this specific item, companies look to find ways to use it.
Poirier’s Cane Syrup has done just that. This time consuming process of making the product is well worth the wait. The labor put into it shows the true passion that the workers embrace while making the syrups.
The process can be grueling. Growing the sugarcane takes time and there is little to do to hurry the process up. Cultivating is the first step once the sugarcane is fully grown. The employees of Poirier’s go out and manually cut the cane, which is then put it into 60-gallon syrup kettles until it comes to a boil. Afterwards, they examine the sugarcane, skim off all impurities and cook it down. The last step in the process is to bottle the syrup to bring it from the factory and onto people’s breakfast tables.
This syrup is meant to be lighter when it comes to both taste and color. The reason the time is longer for certain batches is so that there is full control of how much is being caramelized. The idea of making cane syrup was something of a dying truth in the area. Youngsville, home of Charles Poirier Cane Syrup, wasn’t producing as much as it had in the past. The small town used to have a syrup mill but it shut down. It seemed to be time for a change and maybe a reboot from the local community.
Thirteen years ago, Poirier’s father told him of the great business back in the early 1900’s that his great grandfather had started in the sugarcane industry. In 1941, his great grandfather has passed away and the business had slowly followed suit.
“Throughout the years, no other family members had interest in starting the business back up until my father told me of the past business,” says Poirier. “Twelve years ago to this season is when I decided to start the business back up.”
Poirier started from scratch with mills dated 100 years old. No machines from the older times seem to work anymore and new equipment was needed to upgrade. It started as bringing a hobby back into the family because he was basing it out of his backyard. The biggest batch in the kettle was 15 pounds. He would only make it for himself, family and friends. As time passed, though, more people became interested and he figured he’d sell it to the public. Now, bigger batches are needed to be made in shorter periods.
Years later and he is still going strong with his business. Selling to residents and only Louisiana businesses, mainly in New Orleans and Lafayette, he still is able to double his profits every year. With something that seems to be on a continuous wave of falling down and gaining momentum, Poirier isn’t going to stop the cane syrup making anytime soon.
“I am just going to keep making syrup until I can’t make it anymore,” Poirier says. “I see where the demand is and I take care of the people year by year. As long I am making money from it and make a living, I am going to keep this process going and hope for the best.”
Find Poirier’s Cane Syrup:
by Claire LeBeouf
Writer & Special Sections
When Kimber Ratcliff, Chris Ledet and Nancy Bernard discussed the idea of opening a local garden, they never expected that two months later they would break ground with the help of Catholic Charities and quickly become one of the most successful charitable organizations in the area.
The original St. Francis Vegetable Garden, which is located behind the Thibodaux CivicCenter, has grown into the size of a football field that is home to fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of underlying meaning. The garden, which was started in memory of founder Chris Ledet’s father who was an avid gardener, now serves the community in more ways than one. It offers not only a place for volunteers to come together, but a place where food is grown with the purpose of helping those in need. All of the food grown in the garden goes directly to the local food bank as a way for the needy to receive healthy food choices.
While most people think of a garden as a small patch of land in a backyard, Ratcliff sees it as an opportunity to build a sense of community. With the garden now expanding to different locations, Ratlciff, Ledet and Bernard are seeing their dream come to life.
“When we started our organization, we wanted to make it possible for gardens like ours to be in parishes across the state. With the addition of the Southdown location in Houma, the food banks in Terrebonne Parish will have fresh produce to distribute at the food bank,” says Ratcliff. “Teachers in Terrebonne Parish now have a free living outdoor classroom to visit with their students.”
The success of the garden is something that Ratcliff believes is not only a reward, but something that is very important to share with the younger generation of garden enthusiasts.
“Watching children who visit the garden eat veggies they just picked, learning about where their food comes from, and healthy eating is rewarding,” says Ratcliff. “Not only are they learning about health and wellness they are learning to help those most in need in their community.”
The garden’s mission to serve and build community has spread from Thibodaux to Houma. The garden’s produce is featured in the weekly Rienzi Market and gives people in the surrounding areas an opportunity to access fresh, local foods and support the ones who grew them. Also, with the garden branching out to locations in different schools, it is able to bring the teachers, parents and students together for a good cause.
“Teachers and parents use the garden as place to teach lessons in science, nutrition and community giving,” says Ratcliff. “Children see up close how food grows and have the opportunity to pick vegetables, snack on them and take some home to share with their family.”
The St. Francis Vegetable Garden serves many purposes and strengthens families, schools and communities. Working for the greater good of the Thibodaux and Houma areas, the garden proves that it is certainly special and one of a kind.
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by Katie Fletcher
The kitchens of South Louisiana are blessed with some of the best chefs in the world. The food is just as spicy and diverse as the people who prepare it. It’s southern food with extra flavor, extra calories, and extra love. Everybody’s grandma makes the greatest gumbo, and everybody’s dad boils the best crawfish. Here are a couple of things that make the food down here a little bit different.
It all starts with the holy trinity. I’m not talking about religion; I’m talking about the sacred mixture of onions, bell peppers, and celery. These three vegetables are the backbone to many South Louisiana dishes. The smell of the trinity cooking can instantly make a mouth water and a crowd form in the kitchen around the old cast iron pot it’s cooking in. The trinity is usually, but not always broken down into two small onions, one large bell pepper, and three to four ribs of celery. The trinity is chopped and sautéed to create the base for jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée, stew, sauce piquante, and so many other Louisiana favorites.
Recipes in South Louisiana are passed down from generation to generation. Whether they are scribbled down or memorized they are held close to the hearts of the people that enjoy them. When a recipe is written down it is often times hard to recreate because the measurements are not the average teaspoon, cup, or oz. My grandma, like many other Cajuns, has her own measuring system. I have tried countless times to cook her recipes but they never come out the same. There’s something about the way she does things that makes everything taste just right. Over the years I have watched her cook and her measurements can be roughly translated to: “A pinch of salt.” About a teaspoon, she uses this measurement when she’s adding salt to bread dough, or a pot of food.
“Equal parts flour and oil.” About ¾ cup of each to make a roux for a Gumbo or stew, it gets a little tricky when it’s an extra large gumbo for the whole family.
“A handful or two.” About a cup to two cups, this can be anything from nuts in a bread pudding to crawfish tails in a bisque.
“A dash of. “ About ¼ teaspoon, usually referring to spicy ingredients like Cayenne and Tabasco.
“Just enough to cover.” About two cups of rice and three and a half cups of water. To transfer the rice to the pot she always uses a plastic parade cup, that’s about as far as measuring cups go for “A heaving spoonful” About a tablespoon, she uses this measurement when talking about sugar, but she always sneaks in a little more. Her motto: “It can never be too sweet.”
Meat and Seafood
Food doesn’t get much more local than Louisiana. From a young age, children are taught how to peel crawfish and shrimp. They know to how to ‘pinch the tails’ before they know how to tie their shoes. Food here is fresh and seasonal. Fish are caught the same day they are fried. Louisiana is covered in water making it the perfect place for fishing. People spend hours fishing their favorite spots to bring home ice chests of fish to clean and eat. Crabs are picked apart to get the ‘good meat’ for soups and stews. Oysters are very popular and can be served many different ways. A common way is too shuck it and eat it raw straight from the shell with hot sauce or ketchup. The meat around here can get kind of wild. Sure we eat chicken, pork and beef, but to some South Louisianans turtle, alligator, and frog legs are delicacies. It’s not uncommon for chili to be made with deer meat or for duck to be served with rice and gravy. People take pride in catching and hunting their food and are always willing to throw it in a pot and share it with family and friends.
Cuisine in Louisiana is still cooked the way it has been for years, slow and seasoned. It’s made with love and served in huge portions. Invite people over and enjoy one of these recipes. Louisiana food is an experience that allows people to stop from their busy day, sit down with family, and enjoy food that is rich with flavor and soul.
by Andetrie Vicks
Rienzi Market is more than just a place to buy fresh produce, it’s a place that gives back — the local bounty — to the community.
“There is something special about going to the market and buying fresh food that has been grown by members of the community you live in,” says Kimber Ratcliff, the Rienzi Market coordinator.
Located behind the Thibodaux Civic Center on Rienzi Drive Extension at the St. Francis Vegetable Garden, the market got its start in 2015 as part of the St. Francis Vegetable Garden’s mission to educate and give the community access to fresh, local foods. The market originally was open for eight weeks in the spring and fall at peak growing seasons, but vendors and the community wanted more. And as of this spring, the market is now open year round from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, making it convenient for the public to shop for items after work and/or school.
Depending on the growing season, the market features citrus, eggs, mushrooms, sprouts, carrots, lettuce, shallots, kale, Swiss chard, honey, chicken, crabs, vegetable plants (for the planter working on their own garden), jams, jellies, pickles, all grown and produced by the farmers themselves. Coming in a few weeks are fresh caught, local crawfish, crabs and shrimp. There is even an Alaskan native who now lives in Houma, who fishes in Alaska and then brings wild Alaskan salmon to the market.
“All your grocery shopping can be done in one spot and it is more affordable,” Ratcliff says.
There is always a crowd of community members at the market buying their produce and meats fresh from the growers/producers. No matter the weather the shoppers still show up because as Ratcliff says, “they value what our farmers can produce.”
Many farmers develop relationships with the community members, even the children. Some of them sit on the trucks with the farmers talking to them while their parents shop, and everyone is invited to walk through the garden to see what’s growing. The setting is an open field with each vendor showcasing their wares on either a table or the back of their truck. Being out in the open field, there’s a sense of openness and freedom that’s separates it drastically from a regular trip to the grocery store.
There is no selection process for the farmers/producers. The only requirement is that the farmers grow their own crops, or fishermen catch their own seafood and they are welcome to come and sell their goods at the market. There is no requirement to grow using any particular method or soil, either. Farmers can use whatever growing method works best for them including organic, natural (meaning they don’t use any chemicals, not certified organic), greenhouse, hydroponic, and conventional. Consumers are welcome to talk to the farmers about their growing practices and the products they have for sale.
For more information on the vendors and their goods go to the market’s website at http://rienzimarket.com/.
And, a Ratcliff says, the market will remain open as long as the vendors show up to sell their products. It’s a way of letting the community know that there are local farmers who need local support in order to remain in the farming business. So stop by, have a chat and buy some produce!