In my previous post, I introduced the Cane River National Heritage Area in Louisiana. We began our visit of the area in Natchitoches, a charming small town in northwestern Louisiana. After spending the night in one of the city’s several Bed and Breakfasts, we headed out on Louisiana Hwy 494 to see one of the area’s main attractions, Oakland Plantation, part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park.
In 1789, Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prudhomme obtained a grant for land from the Spanish government. On this land he built the plantation, originally named Bermuda. The plantation remained in the hands of the Prudhomme family until 1997, when the family sold the property to the National Park Foundation. The Park Service has restored the main house to what it would have looked like in the 1960’s.
In addition to the main house, there are 27 buildings which are original to the plantation. A National Park Service guide took us on a tour of the property and many of the outbuildings. This is not one of America’s most popular national historic sites, so we had the guide all to ourselves. She spent a lot of time with us, patiently answering all our questions, and helping us better understand what life had been like at Oakland for all the people who lived and worked there. It was truly a community unto itself. In addition to cash crops, the plantation had to provide food for all its people by growing crops and raising livestock.
Following the Civil War, those who had once been slaves on the plantation became sharecroppers. These sharecroppers and their descendants were part of the plantation’s history for many years, deep into the twentieth century. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a sharecropper as “a farmer, especially in the southern United States, who raises crops for the owner of a piece of land and is paid a portion of the money from the sale of the crops”. This payment could, in part, be in the form of credit to obtain the things the sharecropper and his family would need, such as food, housing, and seeds for planting.
Many of the buildings used by the sharecroppers at Oakland Plantation still remain. They are furnished much as they were when they were being used. There are artifacts from the lives of the sharecroppers’ families inside these dwellings, such as toys, photos of school graduations and weddings, periodicals, and craft items made by members of the families.
There is so much more information I could give about this amazing historical site. I think it better, however, if you head out on your own onto the back roads of this nation, discovering its rich history, its exciting stories, sometimes heroic, sometimes tragic, and the lessons we can learn to make it a greater nation with even greater stories to tell. Enjoy the journey!
You can learn more about Oakland Plantation by going to the NPS site: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/caneriver/oak.htm
In my last post, I discussed the difference between the Creole and Cajun cultures. Creole cuisine is also different from what we know as Cajun cuisine. There are two main areas in which Creole and Cajun foods differ. The first is that Creole food uses tomatoes, whereas Cajun food typically does not. Another difference is that when making sauces or roux, Creole dishes use butter and Cajun dishes use oil. Creole food is considered “city food”, Cajun is known as “country food”. With that explanation, let’s make an authentic Creole dish!
While we were in New Orleans, I bought a small cookbook, The Little New Orleans Cookbook, by Gwen McKee, with illustrations by Joseph A. Arrigo. It contains recipes for fifty-seven Creole dishes. The book was published by Quail Ridge Press and is available for less than $10.00 from Amazon. The inspiration for my Shrimp Creole came from this little book.
A classic roux, made with butter, is what makes this recipe a typical Creole dish. It takes some time to make properly, but the slow stirring is a wonderful time for slowing myself down! I love these moments when I am making something special for the people I love…and I think they appreciate the effort since there are rarely many leftovers. So put on some music you like, maybe some New Orleans jazz, and stir away! Making the roux:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1 cup celery chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
In a cast iron pan, or a pan with a heavy bottom, melt the butter on medium-high heat. Gradually add the flour, whisking constantly for five minutes. Turn heat down to medium and continue cooking and whisking for ten more minutes. The mixture should be the color of peanut butter. Add the green pepper, onion, celery, and garlic. Continue stirring the roux mixture for another five minutes, until the vegetables are softened. The roux may become even darker in color, that is okay.
Making the Creole: Add to the roux
- 6 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Good dash cayenne pepper
- Tabasco sauce, to taste
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Bring to a boil, then simmer for fifteen minutes. Add 1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed. Simmer ten minutes or until shrimp are done. Turn heat off and allow the creole tosit for at least ten minutes. Serve over hot rice or grits. This recipe will serve four.* Enjoy!
*The sauce in this recipe is so good, and we have over a cup left after finishing all the shrimp. I put it in the freezer and use it as a sauce for later side dishes, such as pasta or rice…so yummy the second time around, too!