Every year around the holidays when I was a kid, my grandmother sent my dad a care packages from Louisiana–andouille sausage, hand pies, pralines, and boudin. That was in the days before FexEx overnight shipping, so by the time the package arrived, battered and reeking of woodsmoke, the boudin and hand pies would have rotted. My mom refused to let him open the box in the house, so he’d take it into the backyard, then cut through the layers of packing tape with a butcher’s knife to salvage whatever he could. The bag of pralines were pulverized to dust, the boudin and hand pies covered with the mold. As a result, I grew up thinking food from Louisiana–boudin and sausage at least–were delicacies to be avoided.
It wasn’t until I was in college, and started accompanying my dad on trips to visit his mother that I developed an appreciation for the region’s culinary traditions. He always took an insulated food bag with him, and we would drive to different towns, gathering food along the way–smoked andouille sausage from Robicheaux’s in Iowa, spicy boudin from Hackett’s in Lake Charles, packages of real Louisiana crawfish tails from whatever Winn Dixie had them on sale. He took great care with his purchases, hauling the food bag from hotel room to hotel room, constantly double checking that the ice packs stayed frozen. You’d have thought he was transporting a heart for transplant. By the time we flew home, the food bag weighed 30 pounds and we could barely zip it closed.
My dad died last December, after a long battle with cancer. He cooked as long as he could, sometimes sitting on a stool by the stove, and when he was too weak to stand, insisting on directing from a chair nearby. An original foodie, one of his greatest disappointments was that in his final months, the medication gave everything he ate a metallic taste and consequently, he lost his appetite.
I thought a lot about my dad on my recent trip. I had some wonderful meals, most of them prepared by friends, or friends of friends, who shared my dad’s belief that a home-cooked meal is an expression of love and friendship. And even when I ate out, as I did a couple times in New Orleans, the meals, sometimes fancy, sometimes simple, were a celebration.
So here are some photos of the things I ate. I think my ‘ole dad would have been proud of me.
This guy was selling tomales on Highway 182, just outside New Iberia. On the west coast, tomales are the size of your hand and come served in a corn husk, over which you can pour salsa or green tomatillo sauce, but this man’s were slender, no bigger than a small egg roll, and came floating in a zip lock bag filled with red liquid similar to tomato juice. He told me to heat all the tomales at once, in the juice.
Le Jeune’s Bakery in Jeanerette has been around since 1884 and only sells two things: a soft-crusted French Bread, and ginger cakes. I must have passed Le Jeune’s a dozen times over the years, but never stopped. One day, I was driving past and noticed the red light was on, signaling that the bakery was open. A sign in the window directed customers to go around to the side door. The loaf of bread I bought was still warm. The baker wrapped it in paper, and gave me an extra plastic bag in which to store it to keep it fresh.
One Saturday, the Senator and his wife, Maggie, invited me to go crabbing. We only caught six crabs with the nets, so the Senator stopped by L & L Seafood and picked up five and a half dozen blue crabs which he boiled in a 60-quart pot when we got home. We sat around his kitchen table, cracking the shells and picking out the meat. I think I ate six crabs by myself. The corn is from his garden.