I watched a documentary about the fine old houses of the south this morning. It was the first quiet moment I’ve enjoyed this week. I settled in with my cup of coffee, my newspaper, Mouse the cat tucked under one arm, and managed to watch the entire program without interruption. What a treat.
From the first time I saw Vivien Leigh glide down the stairs of Tara, I’ve been fascinated by the romantic and turbulent past of the romantic old plantation homes. All the stories they could tell, and their rich history.
I found myself living in Ashdown, Arkansas in the early 1990’s. I did some research on the historical homes in the area finding one in New Iberia, Louisiana called Shadows in the Teche that I was particularly intent on visiting.
New Iberia is located in Iberia Parish in the arch of the boot of Louisiana about thirty odd miles southeast of Lafayette on the shores of the Bayou Teche. Rain is a year round phenomenon in New Iberia, with the heaviest numbers typically recorded in July. Humidity, as with most locations in southern Louisiana, is a constant companion. The very thought of strenuous exercise during the heat of the day will form a wet spot under your arm. As with most semi-tropical climates, the insect population flourishes there, with new meat always appreciated. On our first trip to the southern part of the state I wore running shoes, which I never did on trips following. Not only did my feet sweat so much that I believe I dropped a shoe size, but several fire ants took refuge inside one of my shoes. Apparently finding the accommodations sub-standard, they stung me multiple times before I performed a wildly successful lambda for passing tourists managing to evict them.
According to the map, the trip from Ashdown was a straight shot down Highway 40. Indicating it was approximately 327 miles, with occasional stops, it could be easily traveled in a day. Construction gypsies at that point in our lives, we moved from job to job across the U.S.. For us, a five-hour trip with no push to arrive at our destination was, to stay on subject, no sweat, no sweat at all. For reasons now forgotten, we had a long weekend and no plans. Deciding it might be our one chance to see Shadows on the Teche, we made a plan. It was sweltering hot, but then it was summer, and two weeks later it would still be just as hot, and two weeks after that. We got an early start. The air conditioner hummed in the background in the car and Hank Williams, Jr. was singing about all his rowdy friends on the radio.
Not having been in Louisiana before, I wanted to linger here and there to add a memory or two to my mental scrapbook. Taking a break from the main highway in search of lunch, we followed an old handwritten wooden sign reading “Crawdads” that twisted us several miles on a dirt road paralleling a bayou. To me bayous have a stark and eerie kind of beauty, as though more goes on beneath the surface of the water than on top. A black snake, head sniffing the air, slithered across the dark water and disappeared beneath the heavy overgrowth. Though not evident, I’m sure the snakes reptilian neighbors were eying us with veiled interest as well as we made our way along leaving a cloud of dust in our wake.
Another sign several miles in led us to a small building sitting precariously on the end of a rickety pier. Building would be a generous description, shack a more accurate one. Several small boats were tied up to the pilings and all but one of the six or so picnic tables were occupied by animated diners in tank tops, shorts and flip-flops. Each table had a rag-tag straw umbrella stabbed through the center to provide much-needed shade.
Huge pots were steaming atop a bank of outside burners. There appeared to be two employees, or two evident. One man, older than the second, manned the burners adding enormous ears of fresh corn to the plates and bricks of cornbread served with small pots of honey butter. Seating ourselves at the only vacant table, we ordered from the grease stained menu, and gladly accepted an icy glass of sweet tea while we waited. Our waiter, if you will, was a well-bronzed man most likely not familiar with his thirtieth birthday yet, with a ready grin, a slow easy drawl, and an enviable mass of brown hair barely contained in a ponytail. He moved in the heat as though born to it with the quick efficiency of a rabbit getting first wind of a fox.
Our tabletop was covered with fresh newspaper. When the crawdads arrived they were served crab feed style right on top with the plates to one side. Delicious.
Full and lazy we made our way back to the highway and continued south. In Natchitoches we visited the alligator farm. I’d never seen one other than on a handbag, and we needed to stretch our legs. After watching the handlers feed the generously dentured predators, I knew I’d think twice before diving into the local swimming holes back in Ashdown. After that, it was a straight leisurely shot to New Iberia, our hotel, and a welcoming dip in the pool.
Shadows on the Teche, according to what I’d read, was an excellent example of an antebellum (literally translated “before the war”) sugar plantation dependent on slavery. Of the plantations of its kind, Shadows on the Teche is perhaps more noted because of the extensive library of documents, and original furnishings passed on by the last of the family members to live there.
It was as beautiful as the photograph in the brochure, more so. Like a fine southern lady. The gardens were vast and well-tended. Insects moved in and out, and hovered over bushes of brilliant pink and vibrant purple blooms. Large oak trees, most likely called into service years before the house was erected guarded the property and provided an umbrella of shade.
White pillars marked the front of the large brick structure. There were two floors. No stairways on the inside of the house, the only access between floors was by the ones outside. A feeling of the history of the place was almost palpable on the inside. If you strained you could almost hear the hushed voices of those long gone and feel their thumbprint there as you moved from room to room.
All in all it was a great trip. On my bucket list, I’ll visit again and perhaps continue down the list to see others like it. We had these as an appetizer in a small restaurant while there. Yummy.
1 pkg. of your favorite cheese ravioli (if frozen, thaw) 20-24
1 1/2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Garlic salt (as desired)
Olive oil for frying
1 jar of marinara sauce, warmed
1 7 oz. container prepared pesto
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Blend all ingredients in food processor and process until creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Mix together egg and buttermilk in shallow dish. Place breadcrumbs in another shallow dish.
Heat about 2″ oil in large skillet over med. heat until it reaches a temperature of about 325 degrees. Dip raviolis in egg mixture first, running off excess, then roll in crumbs. Cook in batches for about 3-4 mins. until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Serve warm with marinara sauce and pesto dip.