Regional Reports from across the state
DOROTHY ELLASON’S CATAHOULA MEMORIES
“I was born in 1929 by the light of a coal oil lamp and pine knot fire,” Manifest native Dorothy Ellason said this past Mother’s Day morning, speaking from her home in St. Louis. Born in Catahoula Parish, Ellason left Louisiana permanently for married life in Texas after she saw her future husband, Bill, return home from the war wearing his naval uniform. “That’s for me!” she cried at the sight of him.
Now comfortably ensconced in a St. Louis retirement home where her children dote on her, she said her early days in the Bayou State are like waking memories that seldom leave her.
“I had a very happy childhood,” she remembered. “My parents were fabulous people who were content with what they had, never complained about hard times.”
Jack Webb Richardson and Gladys Stutson were wed in 1917 and lived on a small portion of a huge farm that originally belonged to Ellason’s grandfather, who divided his land among his children. Her father raised cotton, Catahoula curs and sugar cane. They lived in a farmhouse that is now more than 100 years old. Two of her father’s brothers attended Johns Hopkins in Baltimore – one became a doctor, the other a dentist – but Ellason’s father was happy staying on the farm.
As a little girl, Ellason followed her father in the cotton fields like a little puppy and lent a hand picking cotton among other agrarian tasks.
“I adored Daddy,” Ellason said. “When Mama ordered him a pair of overalls, she also ordered a smaller size for me. When they later became popular for teenagers, I told my husband I had already been on the cutting edge.” She is proud she wore overalls when overalls weren’t cool.
In the form of simple pleasures and sheer resourcefulness, the hardworking Richardson family found life very rich in Manifest. Ellason remembers dresses, curtains, sheets and tablecloths made from feed sacks.
“They were pretty,” she said. “The feed sacks were printed material in pretty colors that looked like calico. I remember Mama telling Daddy when he was leaving to buy feed to make sure he chose a feed sack that matched the material she was working on for a dress.”
While colorful feed sacks were used for sartorial needs, white feed sacks were used to make sheets and pillowcases. Ellason still cherishes a quilt from her childhood that’s proudly emblazoned with a bit of sacking that reads: “Godchaux’s Sugar. New Orleans.”
Then there were the dogs.
“I grew up with a Catahoula cur dog,” she said. “At the time of the 1927 flood, Hoover was president, and Daddy didn’t like him because he ignored the trouble the flood caused for us in Louisiana, so Daddy named the cur Hoover.”
Ellason remembers when the Catahoula curs were set loose in the woods to drive out the wild hogs.
“[The hogs would] come running out of the woods, and the waiting farmers would herd them on to trucks and take them to the packing company in Alexandria; some they kept for the family table,” she said. “When it came to the curs, we followed the Bible passage about dogs because it was a time when the Bible meant something to people:
The price of a dog shall not enter a house (Deuteronomy 23:18). So all the families raised Catahoula curs but would always give away a puppy to another family and never charge any money for them because of the Bible passage.”
Ellason remembered days her father made cane syrup from sugar cane he harvested from his land. The mules would walk around the mill for hours grinding the cane to extract the juices for boiling.
“Bees would fight for the juices,” Ellason said.
Although it’s been many years since she’s lived in Manifest, she still cherishes flowers that grew prevalently in the area – gardenias and crape myrtle.
“Many people here ask me what seafood I liked to eat since I’m from Louisiana,” said Ellason, laughing. “I tell them I don’t like fish of any kind. I grew up eating black-eyed peas, turnip greens and corn bread, and it’s still my favorite food. I tell people we were Protestant rednecks from North Louisiana; we didn’t eat seafood! Over the years, I’ve taken my children back to visit the farm many times. They still never get tired of hearing all my stories of my life back then. I have had a blessed life.”
JOURNALISTIC COURAGE IN CONCORDIA
Four years ago, Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, began reporting on the unsolved 1964 murder of Ferriday resident Frank Morris, a black shoe shop proprietor killed by the Ku Klux Klan. His work culminated in more than 150 articles on Morris’ murder and other unsolved civil rights-era killings. Despite a number of threats and lost subscriptions, Nelson doggedly pressed on for the next four years.
The LSU Manship School of Mass Communication nominated Nelson for both the Local Reporting category of the Pulitzer Prize and the Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism. Nelson was named a Pulitzer finalist. Debbie Hiott, chair of the Local Reporting category of the Pulitzer jury, expressed amazement that the Sentinel was able to consistently publish the stories connected to the case.
“We call newspapers the first draft of history,” Hiott told The Poynter Institute. “In this case, that first draft was never made, so [Nelson] went back and made sure people knew what really happened. The fact that he kept digging – that was impressive.”
Nelson was awarded the prestigious Payne Award this past April in Eugene, Ore. According to the judges, the award was recognition of “the huge social, economic and political pressures on a small-town paper in the South to keep a racially motivated killing in the past. There was great personal risk. … This is as pure a definition of journalistic courage as one could craft in 2011. For Stanley Nelson to start down the tunnel and follow it for four years required a degree of ethical fortitude that is rare and should be celebrated.”
On April 8, the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication likewise bestowed upon Nelson their Courage and Justice Award.
FORK IN THE ROAD
A quarter-century ago, Avoyelles Parish native John Ed Laborde had been making sausage bread, a recipe he got from his high school American history teacher, for nearly two years when what could only be described as a lightning bolt of divine inspiration struck him: crawfish bread. He mulled the creation of his infant idea over in his mind for a year while he slowly experimented making the final outcome. Satisfied at last with his culinary endeavor, he applied to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival jury for his mudbug bread to take a golden place in the sun as one of its vendors. Once, twice, thrice, he applied only to be turned down and told to forget about it because it was not a heritage type of offering. Undaunted, Laborde sat down and wrote a research treatise of sorts on Louisiana bread, crawfish and cheese and how they were connected. The Jazz Fest jury came back with a verdict of “You’re in,” and the rest is history.
Ask anyone who attends Jazz Fest the first thing he or she is going to eat, and the answer is almost always the crawfish bread. And there are only two places in Louisiana where this manna can be partaken of: New Orleans at Jazz Fest time and Laborde’s Panorama Foods, located in Marksville.
May, June and July are rich times in Avoyelles Parish, with the Cochon de Lait Festival in Mansura and the Fourth of July celebration in Marksville. Laborde, former mayor of Marksville, also caters from the savory confines of Panorama. He is constantly traveling the Bayou State looking for the freshest and best-tasting food to use in
In a story written by Sam Irwin for Country Roads, Laborde said he buys his smoked sausage from Turkey Creek. His crawfish come from Cottonport, not China. He buys his goat cheese from the fine folk in Moreauville.
“Everything I bought I know who grew it,” Laborde said. “The goat cheese? I know
who made it. When I bring my child to school in the morning, I see the goats in the field every day. I know
the goatherd. “
He gathers his fresh produce from the verdant fields of Avoyelles Parish rife with parsley, green onions, peaches, watermelon, squash, green beans and zucchini – just to name a few. He is also a strong proponent of the Marksville Farmers’ Market held in Courthouse Square and going strong for the past few years. Here you can buy raw local honey (so good for allergies), goat cheese and other goat products, herbs and fresh produce. When he caters events, it is usually likely that anything he serves that evening was prepared with ingredients he purchased the same morning at the Marksville Farmers’ Market.
Panorama Foods,815 Tunica Drive W., Marksville, (318) 253-6403
FORK IN THE ROAD
SWALLOW AT SOILEAU’S
Soileau’s Dinner Club first graced the Opelousas area in 1937, opened by Clarence Soileau during the later years of the Great Depression; it has remained a revered eatery all these years. Subtle examples that bespeak true Cajun origins are apparent to me – when a gumbo is described as “Hen and Sausage ” on the menu, I know these people are true Cajun epicures who can probably whip up a pretty mean étouffée. The seafood gumbo is made with shrimp, crabmeat and crab fingers – the latter ingredient being another bona fide Cajun identifier to me. After you wade through the excellent choice of appetizers such as the fried crab fingers, fried mushrooms and gumbo, Soileau’s signature dishes await like a stellar marquee of flavor, warmth and Louisiana spice. The Catfish Opelousas is a dish created of tender catfish fillets topped with succulent crawfish and crabmeat. I don’t know who Uncle Cliff was, but he must have been really special to have this dish named after him: Snapper “Nonc” Cliff is made with grilled fillet of snapper upon which is ladled the brick red-and-coral divinity of shrimp Creole baked with a topping of seasoned bread crumbs and served with a salad, grilled veggies or a potato. The Gourmet Special is a combination of shrimp Creole, creamy crabmeat casserole, crab fingers, Soileau’s wonderful bell peppers stuffed with crabmeat and crawfish, seafood gumbo and fried shrimp. Another delicious combination is the Creole Shrimp Dinner, consisting of old-fashioned shrimp cocktail in that wonderful sauce, Shrimp Creole and shrimp that’s stuffed and fried.
One of my favorite cuts of meat, the filet mignon, receives a most original rendition in the Pecan Brochette – tender pieces of filet mignon are tossed with delicious grilled pecans. Equally delicious is the Pepper Steak, filet mignon that’s been grilled with roasted bell peppers and onions – a combination of flavors that seems to blossom on your palate before deliciously melting away.
Soileau’s Dinner Club, 1618 N. Main St., Opelousas, (337) 942-2985
It may be a somewhat unpleasant subject, but I hope all dog-lovers will allow me this indulgence. A recent report filed by Jamie Anfenson-Comeau of Eunice Today noted that local veterinarians are concerned about a marked increase of canine parvovirus, a potentially deadly illness. As deadly as parvo is, it is equally easy to avoid by making sure your dogs have basic vaccinations.
Dr. Andre Joubert Bourne of the Eunice Animal Hospital and fellow vet Dr. Ned Frugé are alarmed at the increase.
“We’ve been seeing lots and lots of puppies that have not been properly vaccinated coming in with the parvovirus,” Bourne said. “The parvovirus that we’re seeing now seems to be more virulent; we’ve been losing more puppies whereas in the past couple years, we haven’t seen it this bad.”
Parvovirus is a disease that’s passed among pooches through contact with an infected dog or its poop. Even after any dog leavings are washed away by rain or otherwise, the virus can stay active in the same area for six to seven months. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, fever, lack of appetite and bloody BMs. Dehydration can result, and that just paves the way for secondary infections.
Dr. Tim Deshotel of the Northside Veterinary Clinic is aware of the strong need to inform anyone who adopts a puppy about parvovirus.
“A lot of people don’t understand this,” Deshotel said, “and they don’t understand why their puppies keep dying.
I’ve seen cases where people lose two or three puppies in a year because the virus is in the environment in their house. If someone lost a puppy due to parvo, it’s best that they wait six to eight months before getting a new pup.”
Deshotel recommends keeping puppies in a safe environment away from home before cleaning your living area using a 1:10 ratio bleach-and-water solution to kill any remaining viruses from previously infected pooches. And despite the virulence of the disease, with aggressive treatment such as antibiotics and intravenous fluids, when caught early enough, most dogs can be cured.
Dogs can’t tell you when something is wrong until the obvious occurs, and in the case of parvovirus, this disease can be entirely prevented by early vaccinations. Veterinarians suggest that a series of four vaccinations, beginning at age 6 months, will keep parvovirus at bay. According to Deshotel, one vaccination alone is not enough; puppies should receive all four to ensure they live a frisky, disease-free life.
Baton Rouge/Plantation Country
FAREWELL TO THE FERRY IN ST. FRANCISVILLE
Early last May, in the glow of a sunset sky luminously painted in periwinkle blue, rose and mauve streaks rising over the glassy Mississippi River, the state-operated ferry that traveled between West Feliciana and Pointe Coupee parishes for decades sailed for the last time. The M/V St. Francisville was bid fond adieus by several hundred people who sailed on her final trip and gathered together in a farewell party that was organized by Steve and Erika Neal via Internet invite.
“That thing went viral,” said Steve Neal, in a report filed by James Minton in the Advocate.
Of special importance to the Neals was the attendance of 79-year-old Emily Williams, who for more than 30 years sold pralines, snacks and other goodies to motorists awaiting the ferry’s arrival. One of St. Francisville’s better-known denizens, Williams enjoyed her work even during inclement weather largely because of the people she met, whom she described as “strange people from strange places.”
The completion of the new John James Audubon Bridge that will connect the two parishes necessitated the end of the ferry, and the impending threat of high floodwaters heralded a premature end to the ferry line to avoid any risk of danger.
Jessie Dedon, 77, remembers the ferry from the 1930s and ‘40s with much nostalgia.
“It’s a sad occasion,” she said. She remembers when the ferry was but a flat barge navigated by “a little bitty tugboat.” Her husband was known as Catfish Dedon and provided a living for his family by working to keep the ferry approach smooth on both riverbanks.
“It cost a nickel to ride it,” Dedon recalled, “but it couldn’t carry but two cars.”
Point Coupee and West Feliciana parishes are an enchanting area there in the sweep of the Mississippi. While driving to visit family members in Avoyelles Parish, I always remember the sign outside of New Roads that pointed the way to the ferry.
When the hour of 6 p.m. struck, it marked the end of deckhand Scott Dusange’s last shift. Dusange will transition to a different job in the Department of Transportation and Development. Dusange said he would miss his former job where he spent 12-hour days on the river.
“If it wasn’t for the people,” he said, “a crossing would take forever.”
Rising over the river was the symbol of the future of these two rural parishes: the new John James Audubon Bridge.
Already deemed the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere, it opened to traffic ahead of schedule because Ol’ Man River waits for no one.
FORK IN THE ROAD
GRAPE TIMES IN
I love to sit in the quiet of evening and nurse a glass of wine – I absolutely relish the crisp aromatic fruitiness of a Riesling or Pinot Grigio, the buttery oaken quality of chardonnay, the clean fruity nectar of Viognier, the dry Ernest Hemingway bite of a red Tempranillo or the soft black cherry-and-currant swirl of a pinot noir. From shiraz to velvety merlot, cabernet to Chianti, swirling the glass for the rise of the aroma is as pleasurable as sipping. Having said all of that, wine, to me, is even better when paired with food.
The Grape in Baton Rouge has both an extraordinary wine list and a menu with dishes I would call wine-friendly – delicious when paired with a complementary wine. You can start your meal with Cheese and Charcuterie, an international selection of cheese and cured meats. Unbearably refreshing for summer would be the Smoked Salmon Flatbread – the delicious smoked flavor of the salmon is accompanied by cucumber and onion, feta crème, aioli and arugula. Coax that creation down with a crisp white. The Knife & Fork Steak Sandwich is a tender filet mignon topped with caramelized onions, blue cheese and horseradish sauce; combine that with the ruby blackness of a cabernet and know dining nirvana. As an entrée, the grilled fish tacos on white corn tortillas with the combined spiciness of tomato salsa, jalapeño coleslaw and cilantro would be accompanied perfectly by a Riesling, a soft, crackling fruitiness that perfectly balances the acidity of Mexican/Latin-type dishes.
The wine list here covers the spectrum of wines; while I am not a fan of Moscato, sauvignon blanc or zinfandel, lovers of these wines will find a good selection to choose from at The Grape.
The Grape at Perkins Rowe, 10111 Perkins Rowe, Baton Rouge, (225) 763-2288
Greater New Orleans
In the blistering days of summer, the sight of their heart-shaped leaves bobbing in the shade somehow imparts a fleeting feeling of cool relief. Caladiums in summer are about as New Orleans as it gets – exotic, elegant-looking sprouts native to the tropical clime of South America that wave in the wind like a sultry lady’s fan.
Their leaves are 6 to 12 inches long, and their rubbery stems spring from tubers. The foliage comes in many painted, alluring varieties that light up the shady areas required for their planting: watermelon-pink, chartreuse, lacy white, red, rose, wine. Caladiums love being planted in the shade of a spreading oak or any shady spot that, at the maximum, receives two hours of morning sunlight. According to Rick Bogren of the LSU AgCenter, if you plant them from tubers, look for the rosy-white sprouts on the knobby side and sow it upward; the smooth side is planted on the bottom.
Due to their vivacious color, it’s probably best to plant only one color type in your garden to avoid being too busy, but if you simply can’t resist the many gorgeous varieties, then plant them as groupings of one color together.
Caladiums usually can stand alone, but they are beautifully paired when planted near another shady plant favorite of mine, impatiens. The scarlet, coral, rose or white varieties of impatiens can be beautifully matched to the riotous
shades of caladiums.
If you plant caladiums from pots, the top of the root ball must be even with the garden soil, and they must be placed 8 to 12 inches apart. Mulch and water them immediately, and keep them well-watered throughout the summer months. When cool weather arrives, if your area is well-drained, you can simply allow the plants to go dormant for the winter; otherwise, the tubers must be gently removed with their leaves attached and placed in a
spot free from rain. When the leaves die, pull them off, and store the tubers indoors in paper bags.
Caladiums first enchanted me the day New Orleans was threatened by Hurricane Frederic in 1979. I was recovering from major surgery, and because we lived close to Lake Pontchartrain, my mother evacuated me to what was then simply called the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter. The weather was wild, rainy and windy, and our room overlooked the brick courtyard, where, planted around the iconic black licorice stick figure
of a lighted lamppost, bold fuchsia-faced caladiums stood up to the pelting rain and danced saucily in the wind. As I sipped chicory coffee, I felt it was one of the most archetypal New Orleans pictures I had ever seen.
FORK IN THE ROAD
K-PAUL’S LOUISIANA KITCHEN IN
The menu at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen tends to change somewhat, based on what fresh ingredients can be obtained to cook the daily fare. But one thing is certain: Any day you decide to feast at this French Quarter eatery, you will not be met with disappointment. It seems like only yesterday word was spreading about Paul Prudhomme’s blackened cuisine and martinis served in Mason jars, yet this restaurant has remained a French Quarter mainstay for decades.
K-Paul’s Deli-Style Lunch Service by name might conjure up visions of pastrami or corned beef on rye, but this is deli-style served by a Louisiana cuisine master. The Fried Goat Cheese and Apple Salad is a tangy and sweet, crisp and crunchy mouthwatering blend of ingredients: Slices of fresh goat cheese that have been battered and fried to a crisp adorn mixed greens topped with sautéed apple slices and toasted pecans, christened with a honey-apple vinaigrette. Try K-Paul’s version of the old standby, Caesar salad, built with Romaine lettuce drizzled with a dressing made of homemade vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, egg yolk, anchovies, Creole mustard and ground Parmesan and Romano cheeses and then topped with fried chicken bits that have had a good toss in garlicky butter.
If you really want your tummy to have a Cajun adventure, order the Fried Boudin Po-Boy. Eight inches of buttered French bread served with Creole mustard-mayo hold fried patties made from a mixture of fresh ground pork; the holy trinity of bell peppers, onions and celery; rice; and Cajun seasoning.
If you’re having dinner in this cozy place with the cool brick walls, the Duck and Shrimp Dulac is a wonderful entrée. This dish is prepared by first browning seasoned julienned strips of duck breast in butter. After the pan has been deglazed, leeks, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and shrimp are added. It is served with pasta.
K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, 416 Chartres St., New Orleans, (504) 596-2530