By Cynthia LeJeune Nobles
It’s Easy to BUY LOUISIANA!
Our state has some of the world’s most knowledgeable and hard-working farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. With every dime I spend they are top of mind.
An obvious reason to buy Louisiana products is that our purchases help keep our economy rolling.
According to the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, our farm and forest industries directly contribute well over $11 billion annually. This figure doesn’t even count the massive number of support jobs agriculture creates.
For anyone who appreciates good food, another reason for buying local is that products grown nearby usually don’t spend months in holding refrigerators. And they are often sold without the use of preservatives.
To me, Louisiana-grown food is just plain tastier. Maybe it has something to do with “terroir” (tair-WAH). This fancy French word describes wine, meaning that when you drink something grown locally you are tasting the soil, the climate, and the craftsmanship in which it was made. Over the past few decades the term has expanded to encompass food. So when you buy a bag of sugar produced in Thibodaux, a crate of peaches grown in Ruston, or a true Creole tomato raised in the lower river parishes, you are buying a part of that region’s terroir, its geographical area, as well as its culture.
It doesn’t take much effort to find Louisiana products. Commissioner of Agriculture, Mike Strain, recently reminded me that a simple way to identify local foods is to look for labels that indicate “Certified Louisiana,” “Certified Cajun,” Certified Creole,” “Certified Farm to Table,” and “Louisiana Grown. Real. Fresh.”
Most of our nationally-based grocery stores are good about carrying staples such as Louisiana rice, sugar, and pecans, and Cajun- and Creole-themed food products. They’re also getting better about featuring such items as Louisiana-grown strawberries, blueberries, sweet potatoes, citrus, and melons.
Farmers’ markets, of course, are excellent places to buy just about anything grown in your region.
Many vendors also sell directly from their farms, through memberships, and at drop-off locations.
Some farmers’ markets carry freshly slaughtered, yard-raised poultry and colorful arrays of eggs.
Foster Farms chickens are commercially grown in the northeast Louisiana town of Farmerville, so look for their label in grocery stores. A few other brands that either grow or process chickens here are Miss Goldy, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms, and House of Raeford.
Louisiana’s two large commercial egg growers are Cal Maine Foods and Jordans Egg Farm. And keep an eye out for eggs produced by Gunter Egg Farms, LSU Central Research Station Poultry, Inglewood Farm, and Little Solar Farms.
It’s getting easier and easier to fill your freezer with straight-off-the-ranch Louisiana beef, pork, lamb, and goat. Consider building a relationship with Kentwood’s Iverstine Farms, Three Twelve Beef in St. Francisville, or Trotter Beef in Natchitoches. Gonsulin Land and Cattle in New Iberia delivers beef, lamb, and pork locally, and Abbeville’s Brookshire Farms has pickup locations throughout the state. The Shreveport/Minden area has Wooldridge Land and Cattle, and Parish Meat Processing will help you locate a live animal from a farm. The venerable Superette in Eunice is Louisiana’s largest state-inspected animal processor, and they source and supply from local farmers.
Back in the 1980s Louisiana had over 1,000 dairy farms. Today we have less than 85. This alarming trend makes it extremely important to support the few dairies we have left. Although some regional creameries such as Morrell, Feliciana’s Best, Hill Crest, and Flowing Hills all sell at farmers’ markets or convenience stores, most small dairies sell to large processors. In grocery stores look for Brown’s Dairy, Borden, and the iconic Kleinpeter.
Fresh Louisiana shrimp, fish, oysters, and crabs are pretty easy to find. You can even have seafood shipped from many old-line seafood markets, such as Baton Rouge’s Tony’s Seafood and Schaeffer’s in Metairie.
Ordering Louisiana seafood in restaurants is a little trickier. Although Louisiana Act 372 requires restaurants to post a notice if they serve imported shrimp or crawfish, you never know the origin of everything else. You’d be surprised how many “Louisiana” restaurants serve imported fish, as well as shrimp and crawfish. To make sure the oysters in my Rockefeller and the crab in my au gratin were caught in Louisiana, I usually ask my server where my seafood comes from.
As an aside, it’s great to see that distillers are making spirits from Louisiana commercial crops. A few who use local sugarcane to make rum, vodka, or gin are Lacassine’s Bayou Rum Distillery, Lafayette’s Wildcat Brothers Distilling, Donner-Peltier Distillers in Thibodaux, Yellowtail Vodka in Sulfur, and New Orleans-based Roulaison Distilling, Cajun Spirits Distillery, and 73 Distillery. Rumor also has it that the LSU AgCenter has developed a short-grain rice for a New Orleans saké (rice wine) company.
I have a bottle of J. T. Meleck’s vodka, which is handcrafted from rice grown in the small town of Branch, not too far from my house. It’s after 5 o’clock. I think I’ll mix up a cocktail, toast our Louisiana farmers, and see if I can taste the terroir. Cheers!
Do you have a Louisiana agriculture story or a recipe you’d like to share? Contact me at email@example.com
Cynthia Nobles is the cookbook editor for LSU Press and the author/co-author of several historical cookbooks, including A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, The Delta Queen Cookbook, and The Fonville Winans Cookbook.
Makes 4 entrée servings
2 small or medium purple eggplants, unpeeled
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped bell pepper
1½ pounds Louisiana shellfish (cleaned shrimp, crawfish tails, or crabmeat, or a combination)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chicken stock
1½ cups breadcrumbs, divided
Salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1. Bring a big pot of water to boil and heat your oven to 350°F. Halve eggplants lengthwise. Use a paring knife to score the insides in a crisscross pattern, being sure to not cut down through the skin. Scoop out pulp with a spoon or grapefruit spoon, leaving ¼ inch on the eggplant skin. Chop pulp into ½-inch pieces and reserve. Skin side up, boil the eggplant shells in the water 3 minutes. Drain and reserve.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over moderately high heat and sauté onion and bell pepper until soft. If you’re using shrimp or crawfish, add them now. Stir in eggplant pulp and garlic and stir constantly until eggplant is tender and most of liquid is evaporated, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Remove skillet from heat and stir in stock, 1 cup breadcrumbs, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Stir in parsley, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, and beaten eggs. If using crabmeat, gently stir that in.
4. Mound stuffing into eggplant shells and top with a mixture of remaining ½ cup breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and melted butter. Place stuffed eggplants in a lightly oiled baking pan and bake until deep brown, about 30-40 minutes. Let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
Braised Beef Ribs
Makes 4 servings
This company-worthy dish is better made a day ahead. And since the vegetables end up pureed, don’t bother to chop them too fine.
8 bone-in, Louisiana-raised beef short ribs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups beef stock
½ cup tomato sauce
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms, sliced
Hot cooked rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes for serving
Garnish: chopped parsley or green onions
1. Preheat your oven to 325°. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven on the stove at medium-high. Generously season the ribs with salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Dredge the meat in the flour and brown them well on all sides in the hot Dutch oven.
2. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Stir in the stock and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover the pot, and bake until meat is just tender and falling off the bone, 2-2½ hours.
3. Carefully remove meat from the pot and set aside. Skim the fat and puree the vegetables in the liquid with an immersion blender or in a blender. Add mushrooms and bring to a quick simmer on the stove. Stirring occasionally, cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 6-7 minutes. Taste for seasoning. The gravy should be nice and thick. If not, add a little cornstarch mixed with water.
4. Add meat and any accumulated juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook enough to heat the short ribs through. Serve meat and gravy over rice. Garnish with parsley or green onions.
Louisiana Greyhound Cocktail
Makes 1 drink
The Greyhound Cocktail got its name from its place of origin, the restaurants at Greyhound bus stations. This drink is sublime when made with freshly squeezed Louisiana grapefruit juice. But since local grapefruit won’t be ripe for a month or so, go ahead and use bottled juice for now. It will still be delicious.
2 ounces grapefruit juice
1½ ounces Louisiana-made vodka
Garnish: mint leaves and a slice of lemon
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the grapefruit juice and vodka and stir. Garnish with mint and lemon.