BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Nothing brings a family together like food. In Louisiana, the smells of boudin, cayenne, bay leaves are the scents of great memories around the table.
Lafayette author Dixie Poche has been on a journey to document the histories of our favorite dishes, and the stories for the families who gave them to us. She writes about our favorites in a new book, The Cajun Pig.
Poche said of our favorites started as family dishes sold in tiny grocery stores across Acadiana. “They all had their specialties. For many it was boudin.”
No story about Cajun meat would be complete without a trip to a small Cajun market on the banks of Bayou Teche. Just outside of Breaux Bridge is where you will find Poche’s Market and Restaurant. The Poche family has been serving a taste of Cajun for generations.
“Our great grandparent, Antoine Poche was at Poche Bridgein the 1850′s.” Floyd Poche said in a thick Cajun accent. “He started a boucherie on the bayou.” In family accounts, Antoine would boil water straight from Bayou Teche to scald the pig before skinning it.
He would butcher the pig on the bayouside. Because there was no ice box, what Antoine and his family could not use in one week, he would sell to neighbors, and a business was born. More than 150 years later, it is a USDA-approved meat packing plant and restaurant pushing out 2000 pounds of boudin an hour.
“I wanted to look at other stories of mom-and-pop shops that survived,” said Dixie. “That were old time -- a couple generations working in these businesses to keep the Cajun tradition alive.”
At Poche’s some of the recipes go back to Antoine. Others, “You’d be surprised what you can learn from YouTube.” Floyd confessed.
But as Dixie found out, the story of boudin goes back farther than you think -- all the way to a French trapper traveling with Lewis and Clark. “He knew about blood sausage from France,” Dixie said, “so he prepared boudin from buffalo meat.”
According to Dixie’s research, boudin was more of a family tradition. Things changed with the Arnistar Johnson in Eunice in the mid-1940′s. “From what I understand, they were the first to commercially sell boudin over the counter.” said Johnson’s granddaughter, Lori Johnson Walls. “Everyone pitched in and helped out. And that’s pretty much how we all grew up. Everyone -- cousins, aunts, uncles -- everyone helped out.”
Walls’ grandmother cooked the rice in her kitchen a few doors down from the store. Brothers would haul the rice to the store where more Johnsons would grind and mix the pork and stuff it into casings. Walls’ father, Wallace Johnson started working in the store when he was only ten years old.
His job was to gather oak from a nearby lumber yard for the smokehouse. “They would make planks to build houses, and the outside part, they would throw aside.” Johnson said. “So we’d go pck that up, and split that for stove wood.”
Johnson’s boudin was almost lost to the public when the store closed in 2003, but Walls still made the recipe for her family. “Customers from Eunice would hear that I was making the sausage at home,” she said, “and they would call and say, ‘Hey, next time you make a batch, I want five or ten pounds.”
That led her to open Johnson’s Boucaniere in Lafayette in 2008.
“A lot of these are small businesses, but they will go out on a limb to make their customers happy.” Dixie said. but to hear Walls tell it, they do it for the connection to their past. “As you’re making sausage, boudin, and just cooking plate lunches, so many of the memories come back. Tehre’s a connection with your past, and that connection to the family. You re-live and remember as you do it.”
You can read about the Johnson and Poche families and many more in Dixie’s book The Cajun Pig.
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