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When Louisiana’s Highway 1 was the pathway to paradise

By the last day of school, we were well on our way with plans for our summer vacation. Freedom rang while swinging from willow branches into the cool waters of the Mississippi. We fished from the sandbar, captured crawfish behind Mamere’s, and caught river shrimp during the June Rise, the second annual flood of the spring.

By mid-July, however, we were restless. That’s when Daddy packed all eight of us into his 1949 Chevrolet Coupe for a vacation at Grand Isle – a sportsman’s paradise! We were joined by most of our extended family and a few of Daddy’s coworkers. 

We followed Highway 1 — mostly gravel then — from Bayou Lafourche, LA to the Gulf of Mexico. After hours of traveling, we pulled into the Shady Rest Apartments, where the boys and men stayed in one house while the women, girls, and babies stayed in another. To us, the Shady Rest was like Buckingham Palace. There were several wood-paneled rooms with mismatched furniture and one wall-mounted window fan that blew air for 25 cents an hour. We were in the lap of luxury!

No sooner had we arrived than the boys darted to the beach for a swim. After an hour or so, the men arrived with dogwood crabbing poles, scoop nets, and bait. We brought beef tripe (the bait) with us that had been purchased from either Chiquet’s Meat Market in St. James or ordered from “Chewing Gum” Poirrier’s mobile butcher shop. We tied the bait to the crab line, carefully spacing the meat 3 feet apart. Then we took turns walking the line with the scoop net and collecting those blue jewels of the gulf in wooden hampers.

The great thing about the apartments was the outdoor screened houses, where fresh-caught seafood was cleaned and prepared. The crabs were rinsed of sand, then tossed into the boiling water that had been seasoned with the pungent aromas of Zatarain’s Crab Boil, freshcut lemons, and onions. After what seemed an eternity, the boiled crabs, corn, and potatoes were poured onto the outdoor tables that were spread with past issues of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune.

Grand Isle vacations were a family ritual that always included Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church. They were wonderfully predictable until the year my sister, Ruth, brought a few girlfriends along, creating a whole new level of excitement. My brothers and I fought to teach the girls to crab. We offered them the best bait in the bucket. Our chivalry knew no end. We even offered “our guests” the fullest crabs at the evening boil. Of all our years at Grand Isle, that particular summer truly was paradise!

CHEF JOHN D. FOLSE is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. A cradle Catholic, he supports many Catholic organizations including the Sister Dulce Ministry at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, LA.

MICHAELA D. YORK is vice president of communications for John Folse & Company.


OVEN-BAKED GARLIC CRABS

Prep Time: 1 Hour • Yield: 4-6 Servings

Comment:

This crab recipe calls for many cloves of garlic. Once the garlic has been sautéed in the butter sauce and baked with the crabs, it becomes quite sweet. The garlic can then be spread on French bread and dipped in the butter sauce from the baking pan. Delicious!

Ingredients:

1 dozen crabs, cleaned
40 cloves garlic, sliced

1 pound melted butter
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
¼ cup sliced green onions
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Louisiana hot sauce to taste
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Pour in olive oil to prevent butter from burning. Add sliced garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, green onions, parsley, and bay leaves. Stir constantly to prevent garlic from scorching (over-browned garlic will taste bitter). Season to taste with Worcestershire, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.

Place crabs in a large casserole dish with a one-to two-inch lip and cover with garlic butter mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes, remove from oven, and serve warm with hot French bread.