Part of my job as editor of Country Gardens is to nose around and find compelling stories and locations for the magazine. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time with a group of writers exploring a very special part of our country, the Acadiana region of French Louisiana, composed of 22 of the state’s most southern parishes. Acadiana is unique primarily because of its strong French Acadian culture, language, and traditions. Many of the residents of Acadiana are Cajuns (the name comes from the Acadian settlers who, in 1755, were forced to leave their native Canada and find a home elsewhere). Their French-Canadian customs and language came with them as did their love for merriment, strong work ethic, and ability to live off the land. Here are just a few highlights from my too-short visit.
After checking into our immaculate cabins in Palmetto State Park (Vermillion Parish), we found our way to Dupuy’s Oyster Shop (established 1869) in Abbeville, where I devoured the best crab cake of my life, described as “a delicious blend of Louisiana crabmeat brought together by a Béchamel sauce, drizzled with crawfish, white wine, capers, and diced tomato cream.” The next morning we had a late breakfast of fried catfish and étouffée at Surie’s Grocery and Restaurant (above) in Kaplan. Rice farmers in these parts are also crawfish farmers, and we visited Travis Richard and his family’s Stansel Rice Mill in Gueydan, while workers were hauling in the last of the season’s crawfish. Lunch at Shucks! in Abbeville was notable for a truly phenomenal dish called candied oysters (oysters topped with feta and blue cheese and sugar cane pepper glaze and then char-broiled). Really. I can’t stop thinking about them.
Next up was Rip Van Winkle Gardens in Iberia Parish. Atop a coastal salt dome on Lake Peigneur, Rip Van Winkle Gardens (above) is 25 acres surrounding the Joseph Jefferson Home, built in 1870 by acclaimed American actor Joseph Jefferson. Jefferson purchased “Orange Island” in 1869 and built his winter home here to enjoy the fine hunting and fishing and relatively mild climate for 36 winter respites from the stage. Though Jefferson performed a great many roles in the theaters around the world, it was the role of Rip Van Winkle, as adapted by Jefferson from the Washington Irving tale that ensured Jefferson’s fame. He played the role more than 4,500 times. It’s easy to lose yourself in this wonderland of flora and fauna, a semi-tropical paradise where irises, magnolias, hibiscus, camellias, azaleas, and a breathtaking array of annuals paint a landscape across the Southern sky.
After an enjoyable evening spent in a very cool bousillage cabin—the walls were made of mud and Spanish moss—on the bayou in St. Martin Parish, we departed for the new “green” St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center (above) for a tour. We were all impressed with the center environmentally friendly features: a wind turbine, reclaimed materials, a cistern, as well as a rain and drought tolerant garden. Way cool. And last but certainly no least was a too-short visit to Washington and Harbourage House, the home of Dennis Anderson and Dexter Stockstill. Their restored 1869 Acadian cottage (below) is surrounded by an acre of beautifully designed gardens and outdoor rooms. Southern hospitality is alive and well in southern Louisiana.