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{Guest Post} Can’t Take the Cajun Out of the Girl

Today I bring you a guest post from a fellow Cajun girl – Jenna Sauber of LagniappeI’ll just let her take it away! Also, you can see my food story on Jenna’s blog today. Check it out and show her some love. Thanks 🙂

I discovered Addie’s blog just a couple of months ago, and was instantly intrigued – a fellow Louisiana girl, and a food blogger? Done! I’m pleased to be guest posting on Culicurious today about how family’s love of cooking has shaped who I am today. I’ve shared links to a couple of favorite recipes at the end of the post. Check them out on my blog, Lagniappe, and follow me on Twitter @cajunjen. Thank you, Addie, for letting me guest post today!

Some of my earliest memories are of food. Egg in the basket for breakfast at my grandparents’ house; PawPaw Hubert’s butter beans and shrimp later that day for lunch; and fresh peanut butter fudge for a snack from MawMaw Margie. Or at my other grandparents’ house, I’d watch as my PawPaw Richard spent what felt like hours stirring his pot of pralines before spooning them out in neat rows on brown wax paper on the kitchen counter, as they hardened into the perfect creamy and caramely cookie, with just enough pecans. Then MawMaw Vickie and I would go pick figs from the tree in the backyard, and maybe have a tomato and cucumber salad for lunch, sprinkled with salt and pepper and a splash of vinegar.

Jenna's grandpaw cooking a meal in a black pot

And then there were the giant pots of chicken and andouille gumbo, jambalaya, or alligator sauce picante. My mom’s family would cook for festivals and fairs, weddings and parties, fundraisers, and holidays. I can still see us at a music festival in West Virginia years ago, my uncles stirring their cast iron in the back of the tent, my aunts yelling out “Fried catfish platter!” or “Gumbo bowl!” as I handed people Mardi Gras beads and smiled and said “Lagniappe!”

My favorite times were, and still are, the seafood boils. After I moved away from Louisiana, the highlights of my summer vacations and visits at Christmas were the moment we’d sit down to a table full of spicy boiled crab, crawfish, and shrimp, with plenty of corn, potatoes, and sausage mixed in. We’d use blue hospital trays that also were serving dishes for giant watermelon slices. They kept in all the juice, except for what flew in our faces, hair, and on our clothes. I shunned claw crackers (or nut crackers) and used only my hands and a butter knife. I could go through six or more crabs in a sitting, or six pounds of crawfish. My hands became pricked and red and my mouth would be on fire. But I loved it.

Crab Boil

These days, I get a taste of Cajun cooking maybe once or twice a year when I visit, and it often fulfills me until the next visit. For years, I ordered sausage from Jacob’s to make my own meals in DC, and family would ship me seafood overnight, or send me home from visits with frozen containers of oyster dressing or jambalaya, and bottles of homemade hot sauce or a package of Heavenly Hash candy at Easter. To make up for all the months in between, I cooked some of my favorite recipes myself. Looking at the picture on my kitchen backsplash of my grandfather stirring a pot of something delicious, I’d use one of his stainless steel spoons, put on some Harry Connick, Jr., and make my own pot of gumbo or crawfish fettuccine or red beans and rice. I’d use recipes that my aunt cut down to size (so that something for 500 people was more manageable), or that I had learned by heart from watching my mom so many times over the years, or by following my uncle’s handwriting on a piece of notebook paper now splattered with roux.

I love to cook, and I love to eat, but I’ll never be a chef. I’ll never work my way through Julia Child’s cookbook, and I won’t ever apply to be on Chopped. I actually rarely use recipes the way they’re meant – they’re more of a guideline. I don’t bake. The only dessert I really make, and it takes a lot of work, is pralines. It requires me to call my “Aunt” Kay, who is the only person who could ever make them as good as my PawPaw. If I’m in a panic about why the candy isn’t turning yet, she’ll calmly walk me through the steps to fix it. It happens every year, and it’s part of my routine now. It’s like she’s expecting my call.

Crawfish Étouffée from Jenna S.

What I cook and why I cook are mostly about the memories for me, and the feeling I get from doing it. Whether I’m sitting down to a freshly made po-boy, or I’m making the first shrimp and corn soup of winter, it feels like home to me. Anyone from Louisiana can tell you how much it’s about the food there. It’s a way of life. And in a family of home cooks, I took that to heart, especially since it was one of the few things I could hold onto when I moved away. When I cook cherished recipes now, it brings a little piece of where I’m from into my kitchen. When I cook for friends, it shows them a little piece of who I am. For a minute, it makes me feel like I’m six again, standing next to one of my family members, watching their every move, inhaling the smell of seafood, of hot sauce, of smoked meat, of pecans. It’s me throwing my empty crab shells out into the swampy waters of Lake Veret, or sneaking in one more bag of Zapp’s chips.

We can’t really relive our childhoods, but through my memories and cooking, I can recreate a little piece of it every time.

How has your upbringing and your memories of cooking and food shaped who you are today? A couple of my favorite recipes are linked below. They’re easy and simple! Try them out and let me know what you think.

Shrimp and Butter Beans
Crawfish Étouffée

thanks,

Jenna

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