Louisiana visit

The last of the fall travel lectures of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association was “Hello Louisiana,” on Nov. 26.

Host Monty Brown and wife Marsha set the tone by getting everyone to sing along on a verse of the well-known “You Are My Sunshine.” Its author, Jimmy Davis, later was elected to two terms as Louisiana’s governor. One of the sights we saw was the multi-arched “Sunshine Bridge,” built during Davis’s second term in the 1960s and ridiculed as going ‘from nowhere, to nowhere.” (But he sure could write a catchy song).

The introductory film showed mules, then deep swamp, with alligators, turtles, and lots of bald cypress trees, hanging heavy with beards of long Spanish moss.

In Shreveport the “Mud Bug Festival” celebrates the crawfish, now raised commercially in rice fields in the off season. The Zydeco bands included one gentleman playing, instead of a washboard, a bib of corrugated metal roofing, notched and bent to fit around his neck and hang over his shoulders.

They served the crawfish about like our lobster bakes, with steamed potatoes and ears of corn, and ate them like our shrimp, snapping the heads and the tails.

A statue marked the grave of the great black folk musician Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), born nearby in 1889. The local radio show, Louisiana Hayride, hired rising star Elvis Presley in 1954 when the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville turned him down. Its signal, heard all over the South, helped spread his fame, and his contract was bought out after a year and a half. Other stars it made famous include Hank Williams and Faron Young.

The monthly Acadia Bluegrass Festival, in Bienville Parish, features modern pickers but honors a local heritage dating back to 1913, when the Griggs Family, recording stars of the 1920s, first began to perform. That town was the site of the final shootout of the outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, who had planned to rob the local bank but found lawmen waiting for them.

Natchitoches (say it “Nagadish,” we were told) holds a big Christmas Festival, and it’s lots warmer there than here, judging from the scanty outfits of the majorettes in the marching bands.

At Avery Island we watched a man broach white oak casks of fermented peppers, mashed with Avery Island salt and aged three years, for mixing with vinegar to make the famous Tabasco sauce. It is still run by the McIlhenny family.

In White Castle, sugar cane is no longer cut by hand, but by combines, on tracks like a snow cat, with two strange spinning cones out front, with spiral blades, that chop the cane into chunks and feed it through a snowblower-like rig, filling following dump trucks.

The family cooks up part of the harvest in giant old copper kettles to make syrup for local sale. The bulk goes to a nearby modern mill where it’s hydraulically pressed and cooked into turbinado, still containing some molasses. That is piled in giant mounds in a building like a salt shed, then refined at a bigger mill elsewhere.

The old state capitol in Baton Rouge, built in 1855 and famously ridiculed by Mark Twain, still stands. Its replacement, an office tower built in the 1930s by Huey Long, is the tallest state capitol. Long was shot to death in its lobby by a disgruntled citizen, and the marble columns still bear the bullet scars.

The ferry to Algiers, near New Orleans, is free to foot passengers. Before its Victorian cottages got trendy it used to be affordable housing for the city’s black musicians. A tiny corner store, Coca Cola sign on it, said “Daigle’s Grocery” and looked like it could have been here in Maine, owner’s name and all.

The presentation closed with old Bourbon Street in New Orleans, pre-flood, apparently – very busy. Jazz clubs were on every hand, balconies on all the buildings. A tap dancer, looking for donations, did his thing on a brick street corner.

And a bright neon sign advertised something else the city is famous for: “Big Daddy’s Bottomless Topless Table Dancers.”

Missing verse found

I wrote last week about the song we sang in elementary school about fall leaves, and said that I could recall only the first verse. I wrote those four lines in my column, and wondered if anyone might recall the second verse.

Well, much to my surprise and pleasure, Ellie Conant Saunders of Westbrook called and recited the second verse for me, and here it is:

Soon little leaves heard the wind’s loud call.

Down they came fluttering, one and all.

Over the bright fields they danced and flew.

Singing the soft little songs they knew.

I thought that she must have sung the song in school, too, but she told me the interesting information, that she knew the poem through reading it. She and her sister went to the library each week, picking out the books they wanted, and her father read that poem to her, which she memorized.

I thank my parents, too, for subscribing to “My Bookhouse,” for us. several volumes of fairy tales, poems, short stories, all beautifully illustrated. They read to us, too, as did our nurse maid. We had books by Eric Kelly, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson (my favorite was (and is) “A Child’s Garden of Verses”), “The Children of Dickens,” shortened versions of his works and many others, which I still keep in my bookcases. I’m thankful that we were read to.

Ellie said that her father had memorized the complete poem, “Hiawatha,” by Longfellow. That’s remarkable.

More cranberries, please

We enjoyed our cranberry relish at Thanksgiving, and I decided to print this coffee cake recipe this week, also using cranberries. It is from Mary Webber’s “Frugal Family’s Kitchen Book,” 1985.

CRANBERRY COFFEE CAKE

1-1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons margarine

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 cups cranberries, chopped

Mix together dry ingredients, then cut in margarine until crumbly. Combine egg, milk and vanilla; add and mix well. Spread in greased 8-inch-by-8-inch pan. Sprinkle cranberries over this batter, then sprinkle topping over all. Bake at 350 degrees about 45-50 minutes.

Topping

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons margarine

Mix flour, sugar and cinnamon together. Cut in the margarine until crumbly.


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