Cane River National Heritage Area
Whenever we travel, we do not get on the highway with the intent of just getting wherever it is we are going. After deciding on a final destination, it is time for me to take my magnifying glass and go over all the maps of all the states on the way looking for really small red lettering signifying a tourist site. When New Orleans was our final destination, the states of Arkansas and Louisiana became my area for exploration. So, after stopping in Little Rock for lunch with our daughter’s family, we headed down into Louisiana to one of the most interesting, off the road, journeys we have found. As a result of my map explorations, we had stumbled on Natchitoches, LA and the Cane River National Heritage Area.
The Cane River National Heritage Area runs for thirty-five miles along the Cane River in northwestern Louisiana. We began our visit in Natchitoches, spending the night in a charming bed and breakfast, one of many in the area. The city of Natchitoches was settled in the 1780’s while the area was under the control of Spain. It is the oldest permanent settlement in the area known as the Louisiana Purchase. The original settlement site is now located in the city’s downtown area and in the area directly across the river from downtown.
Nachitoches developed with influences from both French and Spanish cultures. These two nationalities came into the area to trade along the Cane River and the surrounding land areas. Both the French and the Spanish, along with Africans, brought to the area in the slave trade, and Native Americans, have given us the Creole culture and its wonderful traditions. Anyone born in the area during the colonial period of the French and Spanish, and their descendants, are Creole. Another culture in Louisiana is that of the Cajuns. The Creole and Cajun cultures are often confused, and sometimes even thought to be the same. The Cajun culture, however, consists of those French-speaking people who were forced out of Canada by the British and settled in Louisiana. They do not play a role in the narrative of the Cane River.
The architecture of the area also reflects the Creole culture. One example of this is the Roque House in Natchitoches. It is of French Creole design with its typical hip roof and wraparound porch. The house was built in 1797 by Yves (also known as Pascale), a freed slave. It was moved to the Natchitoches riverfront from its original locatiion in Isle Breville, some 22 miles to the south. The house is an example of bousillage construction. Having been built of cypress half-timbers, it was then given a bousillage infill, which is a mixture of mud, Spanish moss, and deer hair.
Another interesting spot is the house where the movie Steel Magnolias was filmed. It has served as a bed and breakfast in the past but is not currently open. Nevertheless, it is fun to stop and look and take pictures of this iconic place of movie lore. Also interesting are the many small shops full of Louisiana treasures and memorabilia. You will also find many great restaurants serving authentic Creole cuisine. At the Landings Restaurant, I had my very first taste of alligator that had been cooked as part of a wonderful etouffee. So delicious!
There is so much more to learn about the history of the Natchitoches area. You can start your own exploration and your own journey by going to the National Park Service’s website at http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/caneriver.
Visiting Natchitoches was just the first stop on our Cane River Heritage experience. In my next blog, I will take you along the river to Oakland Plantation and the historic sites we saw there and along the way. It is truly fun and so very interesting to get off the highway and visit the real America, its past and its present. But first, a recipe from the area using Louisiana pecans.
Pecans have been grown in Louisiana pecan orchards since the middle of the nineteenth century, and the pecan industry plays an important role in Louisiana’s economy. So, while we were in the area, I had to stop and get some from an orchard store. While in the Cane River Heritage Area bookstore, I bought a cookbook entitled, Pecans-from Soup to Nuts, by Keith Courrege and Marcelle Gienvenu. It was published in 2009, by the Pelican Publishing Company. The book is full of wonderful ways to use pecans in your cooking. The recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs taken by Sara Essex. This recipe for baked chicken, adapted from the book, is one of our favorites.
Louisiana Pecan Crusted Chicken
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup wheat flour (you may use all-purpose flour, if you prefer)
- 1/2 cup pecan meal*
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 Tbsp. sweet paprika
- 1/2 Tbsp. salt
- a good pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 pastured chicken, cut up
Melt 1 stick of butter and pour it into a baking dish. Set aside.
Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a pie plate.
Mix together the flour, pecan meal, Parmesan cheese, paprika, salt, and cayenne in another pie plate.
Dip chicken pieces in the egg mixture, then dredge with the flour. You will want to press the flour mixture to the chicken pieces a bit to make sure it sticks really well. Put the chicken pieces in the baking dish. Turn them to coat both sides with the butter. Before placing into the oven, make sure the pieces are all skin side up.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes, or until the chicken registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. Enjoy!
*You can purchase pecan meal on line or in some specialty shops, but it is really easy to make at home. Place pecans into a small food processor and pulse until the pecans resemble bread crumbs. Go slow, pulsing only about 10 seconds at a time. If you pulse for too long, the pecans will begin to turn into pecan butter–not what you want for this chicken recipe!