Louisiana is culturally divided into the north and south. Shreveport was the jumping off place for the Texas Trail, pioneers coming up the Red River and then driving wagons into Texas. So the culture is much like the rest of the South. On the other hand, French colonists were resettled from Acadia in Canada (Remember Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline?) Acadians became known as Cajuns and much of their culture has persisted, modified by the difficult living conditions and rich food bounty of the swamps.
Over the years, Cajun traditions have spread norh, but it is sometimes hard to find authentic Cajun food nearby. My friend, Reggie Graves, who grew up in East Texas but has lived in Louisiana for many years, told me about a fairly new place near where we are staying. Bergeron’s of Shreveport (Bergeron is one of the common Cajun surnames, so it must be the real thing.) One reason Reggie suggested the place is that they make delicious meat pies.
I drove down the road to find Bergeron’s and pulled in to a shady parking spot under a huge live oak. The store is reminiscent of the country stores you see in Cajun Country, and the inside was also similar. No place to sit and eat, but cases of food are lined up along the walls and in front of a counter and cash register. There was a big tub of cracklins against the back wall. They sell fresh, cooked, and frozen meats, boudin, soups, and prepared items.
Earlier in the week I had bought frozen tamales at the farmers market from a man who had driven up from Zwolle (zwa-lee), famous for its tamales and its tamale festival. The town is in the Piney Woods, just at the edge of Cajun Country, and it is filled with lumberjacks working in the timber industry
Bergeron’s had more than enough to add to the menu for our dinner menu I had planned that evening.
I bought boudin balls – balls of rice-based boudin sausage coated with spicy bread crumbs and deep fried.
Next was crawfish pistolles. For these you take brown-and-serve French rolls, hollow them out, stuff them with a spicy crawfish mixture, and then deep fry them. I am not making this up.
Then there were chicken patties made of spiced, chopped chicken stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos, and, of course deep fried.
Finally, I got some meat pies. The originals are from a quaint town south of Shreveport, Natchitoches (nack-a-tish) and they are called Natchitoches meat pies – really like a highly seasoned empanada containing a rich beef and pork farce.
No one is exactly sure of the origins of Zwolle tamales and Natchitoches meat pies. My thought is that both are very old towns and right on the border between the old French and Spanish empires of the region. Borders shifted constantly, and I am certain that settlers did as well.
The food all turned out to be delicious, but my one piece of advice is to be sure to take your Lipitor, and have a big bottle of Tums at your bedside.