Piney Woods hospitality always includes food
Whether the recipe came form Great Grandma, or you made it up yourself, eating well is nice

By Tom Kelly
Editor and Publisher

One of my earliest and fondest recollections of childhood in rural Winn Parish is visiting at the home of Uncle Amon and Aunt Dora Kelly, who lived and raised a large family of somewhere around fourteen children--no one could ever be certain of the count of the extended family that grew up there--on a huge hill country farm in the woods at the end of a long, winding dirt road which led off Highway 34, just across and up a step or two from the Gaar's Mill cotton gin and grist mill.

It was always near a meal time when you arrived, and Aunt Dora would come down the long front porch with the greeting, "Y'all come in! We've got a thousand good things to eat, and they're all peas!"

Aunt Dora always had a spread, the peas of course, and including what today would be an astonishing variety of meats and vegetables, all raised on the farm, and prepared on the wood-burning stove. Today, this would be called "soul food," served at home, or in a restaurant which could range in "fancy" all the way from a simple Blue Light Cafe on one of Ruston's back streets, to a chrome-and-neon spot in any major American city's "recommended" stops.

So, today the topic is dining in Louisiana, and I have collected a handful of cookbooks with recipes for everything from . . . well, you'll recognize most it.

There are seafood recipes aplenty. All are presumed to be good, and for "outsiders," or people who are "not from here," are always considered a signature item for Louisiana food. But the truth is, in North and Central Louisiana, we don't eat seafood every day, unless catfish counts. The dishes for which the seafood--crawfish, shrimp, oysters, etc.--is famous are not true North Louisiana fare, and most Piney Woods cooks don't know as much as they think they do about the real stuff. A rule of thumb: don't go for the gumbo or étouffé items north of Bunkie unless the cook's maiden name is Broussard or Ortego or Prejean. There is more than enough genuinely good food, home cooked or otherwise, in North Louisiana to keep us smacking our lips for years.

I don't remember where I picked it up, but it seems like "150 Louisiana Fast Fixin's," from Mamaw Barbee, comes from Sabine Parish, possibly while visiting the Zwolle Loggers and Forestry Festival. There are seafood recipes, and also a number of treats from all over. For feature here, I picked a simple dish that sounds delicious as a possibility for a relaxing weekend meal on the back porch or in the back yard patio.

Louisiana German Coast Ribs and Kraut
3-4 lbs nice slab of spareribs
2 large (16 oz) cans sauerkraut
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup boiling water.
In large greased pan spread sauerkraut evenly and sprinkle with sugar. Place spareribs over this. Add hot water and cover. Bake at 350 for 1 to 1 1/2 hrs, or until meat juice is clear. Yields 4-5 servings.

A favorite for at-home meals or a church "Dinner on the Ground," is an old staple, Chicken and Dumplings. "Cooking With Jesus," is a collection of local fare published and sold by New Beginnings Baptist Church, 2169 Punkin Center Rd., Castor LA, 71016. Passing up the irony of three versions of Deviled Eggs in that book, I decided to go for Kathryn Piercy's entry.

Chicken and Dumplings
1 hen
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sweet milk
All purpose flour
Boil the chicken. Make sure to leave enough broth to make dumplings. Take chicken off the bone. For dumplings, put beaten egg and one cup sweet milk in bowl. Add enough flour to make a stiff dough. Roll out thin, and drop into hot broth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The Jackson Parish Chamber of Commerce has issued a fine collection of favorites from Jonesboro area cooks, Taste of the Pines. For the hunting crowd, there is Squirrel Mulligan, a pure Piney Woods classic that not everyone could make, even if the squirrels were free. Here's how it goes in Hazel Martin's recipe:

Squirrel Mulligan
3-6 squirrels
chicken (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño pepper
Pressure cook squirrels, or boil until tender. Put in salt, garlic, jalapeño pepper.
Step 2
1 large onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 pkg spaghetti
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
Enough water to cover and cook
In large heavy boiler (Dutch oven), cook the above until tender. Add 1 quart tomatoes, more if you like, de-boned squirrel and chicken. Check for seasoning, and add more if needed. Also, liquid may be added it is too thick. Simmer slowly for about 20 minutes to mix flavors. Add spaghetti last, to avoid it getting mushy.

One could spend a lifetime touring Louisiana, eating three meals at a different restaurant every day, and never repeat a meal. From Springhill on the Arkansas border in the north, to Venice at the watery end of the Mississippi, there are local food experiences beyond all imagination. Writer John M. Bailey has selected a list of the "best of the best," from all parts of the state--villages, towns, cities, divided into six regions, and put the most scrumptious recipes into a book, Louisiana's Best Restaurant Recipes. I found a copy at Uncle Earl's Pea Patch Cafe, in Winnfield recently while enjoying a lunch of their famous blackeye peas and cornbread, garnished with a private recipe of chow-chow made by the cook, Brenda Johnson. (See recipe).

I can tell you, from personal experience, if you want real Cajun seafood, take a week and tour Southwest Louisiana, starting with Don's Seafood and Steakhouse in Lafayette. If you get to New Orleans, have lunch at Galatoire's in the Quarter. Try the cold raw oysters at Pascal Manales on Napoleon Avenue. Splurge on a fancy meal at Commander's Palace in the Garden District, and Mr. B's Bistro on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Go to Veterans Boulevard in Metairie and have a real po-boy at Parran's. Get over to Mandeville for some Chinese at Trey Yuen. Find your own special place--they're there by the thousands, and they don't last if their food is not special--not even the little hole-in-the-wall joints. On your way home, have a piece of pie and a sandwich at Lea's Lunchroom in Lecompte. If you want to buy the book to plan your tour, it's available at the Pea Patch in Winnfield.

I think I need a vacation.