Do Alligators Like Tabasco?

For a long time roads weren’t an option in South Louisiana. This was some wild country back in the day, not Bourbon Street wild, but wilderness wild. The incredibly wet, squishy ground made bayous the only reasonable routes for transportation and Bayou Teche was the Superhighway. Following The Teche, we set out to discover the real… CONTINUE READING >>

For
a long time roads weren’t an option in South Louisiana. This
was some wild country back in the day, not Bourbon Street
wild, but wilderness wild. The incredibly wet, squishy ground
made bayous the only reasonable routes for transportation
and Bayou Teche was the Superhighway. Following The Teche, we set
out to discover the real Acadiana.

Our
odyssey began in Breaux Bridge, which gets its name from a
footbridge across the bayou built by Firmin Breaux back in
1799. The town, officially dubbed “The Crawfish Capital
of the World” by the Louisiana legislature, is said to
be the first
place where mudbugs were ever offered on a menu, and the birthplace
of Crawfish Étouffée. Well then, let’s eat!

We
headed for Rocky and Lisa Sonnier’s Bayou Boudin & Cracklin,
a real slice of Cajun culture on the banks of Bayou Teche.
The menu is flexible, depending on the time of day and day
of the week, but there is always boudin, pronounced
approximately boo-daah, and cracklins. Traditional boudin is made
with sausage casing and stuffed with a delicious mixture of pork,
pork liver, onion, spices

and rice.

This
particular afternoon the Sonniers were serving up some seafood
boudin alongside the standard variety. Crawfish, shrimp and
crab are used in place of the pork products, and seeing as how
we were in the capital and everything, well, what else could we
order?

Good thing
too, because there ain’t no better boudin,

anywhere, anyhow, I
guarantee. Big chunks of crawdad tail and shrimp stuffed into
“natural casing,” a little hot sauce and a cold beer
and ooooweee, it don’ git no better dan dat.

Since Rocky
is known in these parts as the Cracklin King, we had to take a
crack at a crackle too. Most people might call these pork rinds
but that would be like calling The Queen Mary a boat. These are
fresh fried and have a flavor no bagged pig skin could ever match.
Long live the king.

Rocky
and Lisa also offer cabins overlooking Bayou Teche, for a
real Cajun bed and breakfast experience. I tell you what,
nothing says good morning like a plate full of cracklins and
a gator on your
porch. As tempting as a stay in the “Fifties Cabin,” described
in the brochure as the “Most modern with Elvis and decorations
from the 50’s” sounded, we decided to move

on. Wait, what?
Did that say we actually get to stay with Elvis? So THAT’s where
he’s been hiding.

Bellies filled,
we headed south tracing The Teche through St. Martin Parish down
into Iberia Parish. In the town of New Iberia, The Shadows-on-the-Teche
is certainly worth a look. This beautiful example of an antebellum
mansion from the early 1830s is now a museum. Better yet, it’s
right on the way to the promised land for pepper sauce lovers,
Avery Island.

Every bottle
of Tabasco sauce ever made came from this little island.
A massive salt dome, said to be the size of Mount Everest,
lies just beneath the surface, and pushed this spot up above
the surrounding swamp. The deposits led to the island becoming
the site of America’s first commercial salt mine. Turns
out this also happens to be the perfect place to grow peppers
too.

Just prior
to The Civil War, Edmund McIlhenny married into the Avery family,
moved onto the island bearing their name, and started a life of
salt and peppers. After the war, he began experimenting with a
sauce made from those peppers. It seems that he got the

formula
right, because untold millions of bottles have been sold in over
160 countries around the world.

The
first thing we noticed upon our arrival to the island was
the smell. It simply reeks of Tabasco, which is not a bad
thing as far as I’m we’re concerned. After a few minutes,
we got used to it.

Either that or
our smell buds had been completely fried.

The tour through
the factory was short and sweet. After a brief film, we all headed
down a hallway with windows overlooking the shop floor. As we
walked along, we observed every phase of Tabasco production.

We got to see the big barrels of mashed peppers being aged for
the required three years. Next we saw the liquid from that properly
aged mixture being drained off and stirred into giant vats with
vinegar and salt from the island’s own mines. At the end of the
hall, we watched while the final product was squirted into bottles,
labeled and boxed up for shipping to the far corners of the globe.

A member
of the McIlhenny family still personally oversees every
aspect of the operation. The peppers are grown with seeds,
chosen by a real live McIlhenny, from each season’s best
plants. Meticulously tended in their patches around the
island until harvest time, the peppers are
hand picked at the perfect point of redness. Each pepper picker
carries a “petite baton rouge” (small red stick) to match
the exact McIlhenny-decried shade of crimson. This attention to
detail continues throughout entire production process.

There
is of course the obligatory crap shop at the end of the tour.
Anything and everything Tabasco is available here. The usual
souvenir items, plus countless varieties of Tabasco sauces,
condiments, canned goods and prepared foods. Now we both like
hot stuff as much as the next guy, but the gift shop had a
few items that tested our limits. Let’s just say that ice
cream and soda pop aren’t improved by the addition of Tabasco.

Sharing Avery
Island with the Tabasco plant is a botanical garden and bird sanctuary,
Jungle Gardens and Bird City. In the 1890s, just before taking
over as

President of Tabasco from his father, E.A. “Mr. Ned”
McIlhenny started this refuge in an effort to save the snowy egrets.
These beautiful birds had been hunted to near extinction for their
decorative plumes. From Mr. Ned’s initial eight the birds, the
colony has thrived and now thousands migrate here every spring.



Surrounding
his Bird City, Mr. Ned planted 170 acres of native and exotic
plants. These Jungle Gardens are lovingly landscaped with
azaleas, Japanese camellias, Egyptian papyrus,
bamboo and of course live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A shrine
to an ancient Buddha, a gift to McIlhenny back in 1936, stands as
the centerpiece of the “Jungle.”

It
really is a beautiful place and we had a fantastic afternoon.
Ah Southern springtime! Blue skies, colorful wild flowers,
the kudzu coming in and the algae pond scum greening up so
nicely. Beautiful, and made even
better by the fact that we didn’t get attacked by a single carnivorous
swamp dweller. For most visitors this should never be an issue,
since they drive through the gardens in the

safety of their cars,
but we had the bright idea to ride our trusty bikes through the
jungle.

The
folks at the front gate gave us the green light, and it seemed
like a great way to experience the landscape until we rounded
a corner and found ourselves about ten feet away from a six
foot alligator.

Yup, this is
a nature preserve so there are no fences or cages. No motes or walls
or any other barriers. The gators roam free to feed on any stray
cyclists

that might wander too close to the water. No mention of
this when purchasing a ticket. I guess they figured it doesn’t take
too big a brain to understand that staying clear of large, sharp
toothed swamp reptiles is a good idea. Plus they did put up a few
little signs around the watery spots that say:

“Alligators
Are Dangerous.”

Seems like plenty of precaution, if not for the fact that we had
just come from the Tabasco tour and smelled like delicious sauce.
Do we know if anyone has ever been eaten?

In no
mood to find out we gave the gators plenty of room, and
enjoyed the rest of our ride without incident. We even hung
out with Buddha for a while. Very peaceful, Zen even. Once
the sun started getting low we headed back out to follow
the bayou.

Later
we learned that alligators don’t

really think
of humans as a delicious dish. No mention though, rather the smell
of vinegar, peppers and salt might

change their minds.

Do gators
like Tabasco?

David & Veronica,
GypsyNester.com


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5 thoughts on “Do Alligators Like Tabasco?”

  1. In Louisiana, they just might. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and reminding me why I miss living in Louisiana… people and the food. 🙂

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