Cheramie spent 54 years hewing boats from hunks of wood on Bayou Lafourche.These weren’t pirogues. The biggest one was 68 feet long.
Men like Mr Rodney are a dying breed in Acadiana and it’s a pleasure to listen to him tell his stories. On trapping back when Moses was young: “We skinned them muskrats and threw the meat in the water. You didn’t have to watch out for gators but the water was thick with cottonmouth snakes.”
Festival of Old Times is a linear progression of the old Sauce Piquante Festival that had a multi-year run before sputtering to a halt three decades ago. We travel from New Orleans each year to visit and spend some time with the Cajuns down on Bayou Lafourche.The hospitality and food are nonpareil.
Mr Cheramie commands the festival’s boucherie.Early on the Saturday morning of the event a 350lb hog from a local farm is trucked into the festival where it’s dispatched with a rifle, bled out, and butchered.
Mr Rodney’s crew then slowly cooks all the bits of the creature and the crowd eventually feasts just like they have in Acadiana for centuries. Cheramie’s son Rodney Jr will take control of the venture at some point as his daddy is 78 years old, and will lay down his butcher knife when he “gets old”At one point Rodney had a pig farm with over 200 hogs on it. He divided his time between trapping muskrats on the bayous, building boats, and raising swine. Just another life in rural Cajun country I reckon.
Where does he go when he’s in the mood for some commercial boudin?His favorite comes from a Vietnamese quick mart south of Luling on River Road. He says the owner drives out to a forgotten parish in western Louisiana and buys it from a black man that’s been making it forever. Whooeeee it’s good, he exclaims as I’m furiously notating, and imagining how it’s going to taste when I run by there. Cheramie had a heart attack nine years ago. His doctor advised him to start eating half of what he normally would. So he would order a 28 ounce steak, eat half, take the other half home then eat that too. Cajun ingenuity.
Was it all the boudin that made your heart go out? He laughs, I guess it was all that pig I ate.We’ve all got to go sometime and I’d just as soon die early than go without regular boudin eating.
Cheramie gets up to tend to the blood stew. The butchers have cubed the fresh pork meat and are simmering it over an open fire. He prods the meat to see if it’s time to add the hog’s blood he has on reserve in a ice chest. It’s not ready.He then walks over to another cauldron filled with cracklins, and stirs them with a thick boat oar. Couple more hours, he announces to no one in particular.
I mentally imagine how many thousands of pounds of cracklins he’s cooked over the years.
When I was a kid visiting Louisiana in the 70s, boucheries were common affairs but nowadays when you get wind of one they feel like something special. That’s part of the Festival of Old Times mission: to educate the youth and make sure that they know about hog butchery and making cane syrup and all the other old-timey traditions.Rodney’s kid, Rodney Jr is not a child anymore. He’s a full-grown ajax of a man, and he’s been well-trained in the art of the boucherie. I have no doubt that when it’s time for his daddy to sit back in the Lazy Boy that Rodney’s progeny can take over without missing a beat.
Near the boucherie tent a sauce piquante competition is taking place so I amble over and make my way down the row of booths chatting with the cooks. Alligator, pork, rabbit and turtle are on offer.Some of the creations are woefully out of balance, either too heavy on salt or so acidic they’ll strip the varnish off your teeth. An alligator sauce is most toothsome while a turtle sauce ends up being my favorite.
Lafourche Parish lost something special when the Sauce Piquante Festival folded up but La Fete Des Vieux Temps has slid into the role nicely. We run down to the bayou a few times a year to visit with Sergis Adams at his little country market, hit the Gheens Bon Mange Fest or French Food Festival. It’s only 45 minutes from New Orleans but you may as well be on another planet as the pace and way of life are worlds apart.
I prepare to leave as a small child walks by Cheramie gestures towards him “he’s gonna be running these boucheries soon. This is our future.”