Tag Archives: Crowville Louisiana

On our Journey to Ithaca

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.  

From “Ithaca” by the Greek poet, C.P.Cavafy;  first published in 1911 (and read at Jackie Kennedy’s funeral in 1994)

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Looking from LSU toward downtown Baton Rouge

In Andy’s Corner today we have the grand finale to our cat blogging.  It’s hysterical.

As for me – I’m thinking about “Ithaca,” a poem which I love, and our journey.

It was July 1975.  We were a Coloradoan and a Californian – and we were on our way with our 18-month-old and our 4-year-old to live and work in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A new adventure had begun.  And what an adventure it was – lasting 26 years.

Because we lived near LSU and Andy was employed there, our new friends tended to be university folks who had mostly moved from other states to join the LSU faculty.  Even at the Baton Rouge Unitarian Church, which quickly became a source for many friends, there was a preponderance of out-of-staters, many employed by Exxon or other chemical companies which were located in or near the city.

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But then we met Katie.  Yes, Perry, who was Katie’s husband and was also a professor in the sociology department at LSU, was from Maine with a Harvard degree, but Katie was from north Louisiana.  Or, as she pronounces it, “Luze-i-ana.”  Katie is now 88 and recently returned to Baton Rouge after visiting us in Glen Ellen;  our friendship of over 40 years has been filled with adventures and new knowledge, including the summer we all “raised” monarch butterflies, the spring we met up in Stockholm, Sweden, and the week we joined her at Owls Head, Maine  –  plus, we’ve gotten a glimpse of what it was like to have grown up in Crowville, Louisiana.

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Crowville is in Franklin Parish, north and a little west of Baton Rouge; its location on the Macon Ridge is considered a “terrace” between the alluvial plains of the Mississippi River on the East and the Ouachita River on the West.

Katie, born in 1930, and her brother Joe, born in 1935, were reared on their parents’ small farm in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  Joe calls it “diversified self-sufficiency farming,” which was typical of that area.  That description is important because that type of farming is partly what made their lives there so unique.  We might call it “living off the grid” and “homesteading” today.

The farms were generally small, 25-80 acres, and farmed by family members – with only occasional help from others.   Plantations – which so many of us associate with Louisiana – were elsewhere.   Yet on these small acreages families managed to grow and produce almost all of their food.  They had summer and winter vegetable gardens,  a pea patch, a potato patch and bee hives, and fruit trees.  And, of course, the wild blackberries that love Louisiana!

I always think of corn as a midwest crop, but corn was also an important crop on these small farms in Franklin Parish because it helped feed the animals – as well as the people. Mature ears of corn were ground into cornmeal at a local gristmill and then the cornmeal was used in cornbread – which was a staple on the dinner table almost every night.  Young corn was cut off the cob and turned into a creamed corn dish, rather than eaten as corn on the cob.

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When the weather is hot, make cornbread in a skillet on top of the stove.

Katie’s folks also raised a couple of cows for milk and butter, chickens for eggs – and later to fry.  And a hog per year.

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I know I know – that’s not a cow – it’s probably a steer or a bull, but it’s the best I can do

As with most born and bred North Louisianans, Katie’s vocabulary is infused with colorful local expressions, a good number of them involving farm animals.   Admittedly, it helps to hear Katie herself tell the story but if you were feeling down, you might be “as low as mule’s puke.”  If a bit dense, you “wouldn’t know sheep manure from wild onions.”  Or one that I had to sneak past the propriety critics, he was such a loser that he must have been “raised on the hind teat.”

Thinking about mule’s puke, mules were needed to pull the ploughs in that era, since tractors weren’t widely used until the 1950s.  Katie’s uncle was “walking in tall cotton” (or doing well – which is better than being “poor as Job’s turkey”), since he had 30 or 40 mules.  The only problem with that is that they need to drink lots of water (preferably from a river) during planting and harvesting, and herding them to the river – freed from their ploughs or harness or constraint, says Katie – who occasionally helped with that – is a little like herding cats.  Thirty really big cats.

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This isn’t on Katie’s property – but it gives you an idea of mules and ploughing.  And did you know that a mule is the sterile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (mare)?

The term “Southern Belle” has distorted the view many folks have of women born and raised in the South.  I’d put a real Southern Belle up against the Annie Oakleys of my West most any day.   Katie (who, I should add, is one tough cookie) is rightfully proud of the long line of strong Louisiana women from whom she’s descended.  Katie’s maternal grandmother, affectionately called  “Mammaw,” was not only the mother of 10 children and an outstanding cook but was so tough that “she could hunt a bear with a buggy whip” – or so all the family says.  And there were bears there.  Yet this tough woman bathed and dressed up each afternoon, and parasol in hand, skin untouched by the sun, walked into town to do a little shopping.

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Mammaw – who could “hunt a bear with a buggy whip”

Katie’s mother, whom the grandchildren called “Gaga,” another strong woman and great cook, worked 6 days a week for 30 years as the postmistress in Crowville, while her husband managed the farm and took care of the livestock (and washed the dinner dishes).

Katie’s family has shared some of the North Louisiana family recipes they fondly remember – and still enjoy – so when we had our San Francisco family up here a few weeks ago we served them Gaga’s angel biscuits;  they all went “gaga” over them!

Even if you’re a proclaimed eggplant hater, you must try Gaga’s Eggplant Fritters;  they’re unique and wonderful – and quite easy to make.  And don’t wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the Sweet Potato Pone.  With these old-fashioned southern dishes on your plate, you’re bound to feel, for a brief moment, like you’re living in Franklin Parish back “when Hector was a pup.”

Next Tuesday we’ll have a lagniappe blog (how apropos) about hog-butchering in Crowville.  And a recipe to go with it.  I promise the recipe is not for pig’s feet or brain or chitlins or hogshead cheese or even pickled pig’s lips – though adventurous cooks might demand those.  In the meantime, we’ll be “busy as a bob-tailed cow in fly time” getting the blog ready.

Footnote:  Special thanks to Katie and Joe for providing the inspiration and information for this blog.  Joe’s input comes from a paper he wrote when he was a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi; it’s entitled “Making Do on the Macon Ridge: the Eating Patterns of Southern Farm Families During World War II.”  We’ve posted it under Food for Thought.  It’s all fascinating.  And thanks, Becky and Brook, for all your help with recipes and photos and remembrances from your days visiting your North Louisiana grandparents.  May all of your journeys be long and “full of adventure, full of knowledge.”

Click “continue reading” for these old Southern, delicious recipes.

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