Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Louisiana celebrates 200 Years of Taste

By the time 1812 rolled around and Louisiana was granted statehood, we had already gained a reputation for a land where you could really enjoy an exotic and truly unique meal. Unlike anywhere in the United States, the last 200 hundreds years has seen an evolution in its culinary landscape and a return to agriculture that waned at times.

The Louisiana Bicentennial Commission’s Foodways Committee felt sharing the history of our cuisine throughout the year was extremely important. As life gets faster, humans try to keep up with technology, population shifts and relocation and the availability of foods, sharing the history and ethnic influences of this cultural aspect is a priority of food historians and industry stakeholders.

The people that have settled in Louisiana during its history have shaped the cuisine of the regions of the state. Those people have come from France, Canada, Ireland, England, Croatia, Basque, Spain, Africa, Caribbean, South America, Vietnam, Hungary, Germany, the Middle East and many others.  That’s a lot of flavor.

The Foodways Committee set forth to further its historical and culinary educational intent by producing a series of pop up banners that will travel to state libraries this year. Eight panels which will be exhibited for several weeks at each stop gives an overview of the geographic differences in types of cuisine, ethnic influences and produce availability.

“As a French Creole from Southwest Louisiana, my food memories include boudin from Abe’s on Saturdays, when my mom grocery shopped and sweet dough pies at the cash register,” said Erica Papillion, Louisiana Restaurant Association Director of Communications. “Since I moved to New Orleans in 2004, those delicacies are not readily available, but I enjoy snoballs, which are a uniquely New Orleans treat and the variety of Gulf fish that is much more pronounced on menus.”

As it appears on the introduction panel produced in partnership with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, statehood cemented the relationship between the people of Louisiana and their fondness for all things edible.

The people of Louisiana—the Native Americans, the Europeans and the Africans—together melded their raw materials, their techniques, their labor and their spirit into a unique cuisine. The food of Louisiana is arguably the only true cuisine that has developed in the U.S. Statehood clarified and defined Louisiana so that the foods and foodways were identified with the state and at the same time became part of our identity.

An important point of the panels is the fact that the cuisine is no doubt regional and based on the bounty of those areas and the peoples that settle there.

From the white tablecloth restaurants and urban street food of New Orleans, the seafood of the coast, the game of the north and the pork of the plains, the food is connected by a certain attitude, but greatly influenced by the availability of the ingredients that geography presents.

“I grew up in LaPlace, the Andouille Capitol of the World and was always within influence of the famed New Orleans restaurants,” said Wendy Waren, LRA VP of Communications. “My husband is a Cajun from Eunice and grew up on a rice and crawfish farm. Pair that with my position at the LRA and there’s a lot I’ve tried and a lot I love.”

In the Northern part of Louisiana, the cuisine reflects that of the Caddo Indians, original residents of the southern Plains, particularly Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. The influence of the Caddo is great here. It was they who created the plains that allowed bison to wander the state and it was their influence carried along by the Spanish who established the corn flour tamál, formed around minced and spiced beef. The Spanish left hogs in the area which became feral and proliferated. Cattle and hog farms occupy an important aspect of the region.

This area looks to Texas and the Spanish, as well as to the French in the south, to find its identity. Shreveport, the Red River and the Texas Trail were created to encourage trade with Texas and Mexico and allowed the food of these regions a spot on the Louisiana table. 

Along the coast of which Louisiana has 7,700 tidal miles, oysters, shrimp, crabs and countless varieties of fish are harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, bays, bayous and estuaries and have found their way to the restaurant tables as a the star of the entrée.

“I grew up in Houma where the freshest seafood is served daily in restaurants and in homes,” said Alice Glenn, LRA Education Foundation Executive Director. “Crabbing and fishing with my dad was something I always looked forward to and just this morning I received an email from him stating ‘Red snapper season opens this Friday! Who’s in’?”

What part of Louisiana are you from, have you traveled to or have gone on business where the geographic and ethnic differences were prevalent?

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