In an article she prepared for the latest issue of 64 Parishes, author Zella Palmer described a recent gathering of Southwest Louisiana Creole trail riders that took place in the West Cal Arena in Sulphur. For three days, the riders cooked cracklins and barbecue and sauce piquante. Youths in cowboy boots and “bejeweled jeans danced and sang to the latest zydeco songs until the wee hours.”
A crucial part of the event was the Semien Stables Trail Ride operation. “For the past six years, Marcus Semien and his father Willie Semien, Jr., have promised to deliver old-school zydeco and traditional Creole trail riding to folks in Southwest Louisiana,” wrote Palmer.
The Semien Stables Trail Rides are often the sites of family reunions. As the 2019 Trail Ride began, one could see many extended families “in matching embroidered shirts” sitting on their horses “with pride.”
The trail riders come from a long line of cattle ranchers in the rural southwestern part of the state. They are, says Palmer, descendants of “gens de couleur libres” (free people of color) and enslaved Africans from the Senegambian region, who were “known for their cattle ranching and agricultural skills.”
Palmer writes about Conni Castille’s documentary T-Galop: A Louisiana Horse Story, which builds the case that the first cowboys were black and from Louisiana. Castille, a professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, explained in a March, 2016, article in Lafayette’s Daily Advertiser that Louisiana’s early Creole cowboys “helped manage thousands of cattle in the pre-Louisiana Purchase days of Southwest Louisiana. [They also] led cattle drives to keep New Orleans fed. It was the slave’s job to take care of the mules and the horses because of their value to all parties concerned. And the horses and the mules were better treated than [the slave who was] the caretaker.”
Such activities also gave them a way to earn money, so long as their owners approved.
Much of the Creole cuisine prepared on contemporary trail rides comes out of this tradition of working on the side to find extra food. “The trail rides [of my childhood] had some of the best food I had ever tried …” Marcus Semien told Palmer. “We were eating wild game, squirrel, rabbit and turtle.”
Palmer saw Shane Boagni from Plaisance, La., stirring a large cast-iron pot of what he called cowboy stew — or “bouye” in Creole. It was made of rooster and hen smothered in a deep brown gravy. “Louisiana, Southwest Louisiana in particular, is the Hot State,” he told her. “We are rice and gravy folks.”
Boagni “raises his own livestock and grows his own food.” As he sees it, the Creoles of Southwest Louisiana should be “crowned with laurels for their cooking.”
A very young Darnell Chevalier, from Cecilia, La., explained to Palmer, “To me, trail rides mean family time. Everybody comes out to support each other’s rides with good times and making food that our grandparents showed us how to cook.”
Palmer is the director of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture.
Sugar Is Sugar
Sugar is one of the major crops of coastal Louisiana. You’d think it would be pretty easy to get the federal government to acknowledge that sugar is nothing but sugar. But it has, in fact, been quite difficult to get the government to admit that the only ingredient in sugar is sugar. It’s a project the Sugar Association has been working on a long time.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the nutritional information box that is printed on the package of every food product. On packages of sugar, the FDA has long included a line that reads “Added Sugars.” That’s hard to figure out. Each package of sugar is filled with sugar that is poured into it from a single batch of pure sugar. It’s hard to explain, and explaining it forces the writer to use bureaucratic language. In other words, the explanation sounds silly.
Anyway, the whole problem was resolved on June 18, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally stepped up to the plate and agreed that sugar is just sugar.
Dr. Courtney Gaine, the CEO of the Sugar Association, issued a statement celebrating the event; he said, “it is a relief for the sugar industry to finally have a path forward with labeling bags and boxes of sugar. We are certainly pleased the FDA updated this guidance to reflect that there is no sugar added to real sugar and that the inclusion of an added sugars line for sugar would have misled consumers.”
The Sugar Association, which has been around since 1943, is the “scientific voice” of the U.S. sugar industry. The group is devoted to increasing consumer “confidence in the role that sugar plays in a nutritious, balanced and enjoyable diet.” The Sugar Association represents nearly 12,000 beet and cane sugar growers, as well as processors and refiners of sugar. It maintains that the U.S. sugar industry contributes $20 billion to the economy annually.
Call For Artists
Any Louisiana artist who would like to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York City now has a chance to do so. A scholarship to attend the prestigious school — the Gustave Blache III Art Scholarship — is being offered by the Louisiana Endowment For The Humanities and the school itself. All artists in Louisiana are eligible to apply.
The scholarship helps cover tuition and housing costs associated with pursuing either a bachelor’s or MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts.
Applications for the scholarship are due Nov. 1. Full scholarship and application information can be found on the Louisiana Endowment For The Humanities website.
Louisiana Book Fair
For most of this century, the Louisiana Book Fair has been drawing readers to the state’s capital. This year’s Louisiana Book Festival is set for Nov. 2, 9 am to 4 pm. The fest will be held in downtown Baton Rouge at the State Library of Louisiana, the State Capitol, the Capitol Park Museum and nearby locations.
Featured writers will read and give speeches. There will be panel discussions. A host of book publishers will have their volumes on display and available to the public.
Information centers will be located near the corner of North 4th Street and North Street; near the intersection of Spanish Town Road and North 4th Street; and in the ground floor breezeway of the State Capitol.
These centers will distribute maps, schedules and programs and will provide information concerning special needs access — arranging for sign language interpretation, onsite transportation for visitors with disabilities, and large print and braille reproductions of the LBF Program. Those with special needs who would like to make inquiries before the festival can call 225-219-9503.
Louisiana is one of only a handful of states that elects its insurance commissioner. I don’t know why Louisiana does this. Could it have something to do with the fact that a big bunch of these Louisiana insurance commissioners wind up in jail? Could there be a relation between election and jail? I don’t know. I don’t travel in political circles.
Before the primary election, Lagniappe political expert Jeremy Alford reported that one poll found that 58 percent of voters didn’t know which candidate they supported in the race. How I wish the pollster would have had the guts to ask the subjects to name one of the candidates running for the post.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the sole Democrat in Louisiana’s D.C. delegation, has been vocal in his support of the impeachment of President Trump. It turns out that Richmond is also a co-chair of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
A few days after Nancy Pelosi made impeachment hearings a real thing, David Weinman, the communications director for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ralph Abraham, asked why John Bel Edwards hadn’t told the public how he felt about the impeachment hearings. Said Weinman, “With his party nationally and in Louisiana calling for impeachment, @JohnBelforLA needs to answer where he stands on impeaching @realDonaldTrump.”
Could it be that John Bel wants to keep a low profile in Louisiana? Could be. But that’s impossible. Given that Edwards is the only Dem running for a governorship in 2019, the spotlight is on him whether he likes it or not.
On Sept. 28, the Associated Press reported that Edwards was “directly critical of his party’s move toward impeachment.” Edwards said the move would make it harder for members of Congress to work across party lines — as if they did that.
AP quoted the governor: “This is at least a distraction that’s going to keep the federal government from actually governing, and you know it’s hard enough for them to do that anyway.”
It’s touching that the governor feels so bad about Congress having such a hard time. It’s pitiful to think of him having to deal with that stress while he’s trying to get elected. One thing we know. Nobody can accuse Abraham of having a lack of party loyalty.