Hot two steppin'...

Trip Start Sep 27, 2010
Trip End Mar 23, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Monday, February 14, 2011

Our journey westwards now, took us along the infamous I-10. I say infamous because whenever you mention this route to anyone over here, you get a groan accompanied by a knowing nod. On our first trip back in 2006 we travelled east along it all the way from Florida to Arizona and
the stretch around Houston was some of the worst road we encountered then – and since! However this trip was not plagued by bucket sized pot holes as before, but by traffic. In all our 30,000 or so miles (in Bree and something like double that in Scoobie) we hadn't really encountered much in the way of traffic jams; other that rush hour build ups in the cities. Even the multitude of road works that are 'stimulating’ the USA haven’t caused us that much trouble. BUT today was different, it was Saturday so OK maybe a few more out and about, the first hold up – standstill – lasted about 30 mins. Entertainment was provided by impatient motorists who decided to try to leave the interstate via the verge between it and the service road (frontage) running parallel to it. Fine in theory, fine in a 4 wheel drive truck,
not so good in a car and not so good when you try it slowly and at a sharp angle! Many got stuck in the soft mud, but luckily many were helped by other motorists stopping to pull them free. Even though the drivers weren’t all blond with short skirts!! Anyhow, we eventually got
going and never saw anything that may have caused the hold up, perhaps it was an accident that had been cleared by the time we got to the scene. We had a second hold up, again for about 30 mins – not sure why; so bottom line was our journey took an hour longer than we thought. We passed out of Texas having spent many weeks in the state we have come to
be very fond of, and into Louisiana. We drove past rice fields and on long low bridges that span the coastal swamps, quite a change in scenery. We were heading for a city park which housed the Acadiana Nature Centreand campground in Lafayette, it’s just off the 10 so no big detours
from our main route. It has proved to be a good choice, quiet with lots of trails and wildlife yet close to the city and not too far from the things we want to see.

This area is of particular interest to us because of the Acadian connection. I see frowns forming…well when the French settlers were thrown out of Nova Scotia because they refused to swear allegiance to the British; they were put in ships and cast off to find a new home. They were turnedaway from the east coast ports and eventually settled here in Louisianain the 1760’s…

Just a little aside here, not that I want to give you a history lesson, but I found this interesting;

1604 first French settlers in Nova Scotia (bay of Fundy)

1620 Pilgrims arrive in Plymouth Massachusetts

1713 England acquires Acadie (now Nova Scotia)

1755 England at war with France deports the Acadians

Their name was distorted over the years and by Native Indian pronunciation, to become ‘Cajun’ a word now associated with the distinctive type of cuisine and music in this area. Evidence of their distinctive culture is all around, though it is said that any one from modern day France would
have difficulty in understanding their version of the language and that it would be like us speaking  to someone from Shakespearean times. We took a trip to the Acadian Cultural centre, where the great displays chronicled the way the ‘new’ settlers took to their life here. They embraced the land and the waters, remember its swampy! and began to put their unique stamp on it.

The cuisine (I Know here I go; on about food again! – but it’s interesting, well I think so anyway)  has had many influences. The Acadians brought their ‘roux’ and the maize and potatoes they had learned about from the Native Indians, the Africans, their Okra which is used to thicken the gumbos that this region is famous for. The Chinese taught how to dry shrimp & use rice and the Creoles from the West Indies added the hotpeppers and what you have is distinctly Cajun.
In Breaux Bridge, not far from Lafayette we found Mulatesfamous for its Cajun heritage. We dined; Malc on alligator, I played it safe with grilled catfish (having had a gumbo in New Orleans on our first trip and being so ill I was convinced I was about to die, so neveragain) and we attempted the ‘two step’ another Cajun tradition – we didat least as well as everyone else there anyway! It was great fun.

The main reason we have come to this area is that it is not far from the place where they manufacture Tabasco sauce, a long time favourite in the Thornley household. Though you can
probably guess who uses it most! About 40 miles south of Lafayette is Avery Island, home to the Mcllhenny’s empire. With the promise of a factory tour we headed off. The island is actually a salt plug in the surrounding swamp land and this together with the cultivation of the peppers has lead to its nickname of the ‘salt & pepper’ island. In fact it’s not strictly an island but is surrounded by canals and swampy areas, on arrival we were required to pay a $1 toll to enter, this is used to helpfinance the nature reserve and gardens that are also here.

 At one time over 700 acres were cultivated, but now that is reduced to about 30 with the bulk of the peppers being grown in South America. However all the production is carried out here. The peppers are harvested when they are exactly the right shade of red (indicating perfect ripeness) and then mashed and put into barrels that have previously hosted Jack Daniels! So maybe that’s the draw for Malc?  Anyway it is left for 3 years in these, which have now got holes in the
tops to allow for fermentation and with a layer of salt on top to prevent any ingress of insects etc. Next the ‘mash’ is mixed with vinegar and a little more salt, whilst being stirred for a further month then strained. The resulting ‘sauce’ is bottled in those very recognisable shakers. The residue from the straining is used in other recipes; the barrels when they reach the end of their life are chipped and used for flavouring BBQ’s.But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s just the  traditional Tabasco they make here; when we went intothe inevitable ‘shop’ it was a real revelation. Jalapeno ice cream coming to you soon if you are anywhere near us! It was yum – and that from someone who isn’t crazy about Tabasco in the first place.

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