Pork jambalaya. Cracklings. Rotisserie pig. Hoghead cheese. Pork ribs. Sausage. Ham. And, of course, boudin.
Neighbors, friends and family share in the preparation. Some of the duties include killing and cleaning of the hog and preparation of the pork and cracklings. Each family who participates helps to process the different cuts of meat. Welcome to a Cajun boucherie!
When Cajuns first settled in the swamps of South Louisiana, they had no refrigeration, which meant fresh meat had to be eaten quickly before it spoiled. One hog was more than one family could eat, so at the end of the boucherie, those who participated took home shares of boudin, a spicy sausage made from pork and rice, and various cuts of the slaughtered hog. The process was usually done in late fall to provide meat throughout the cold winter months. It is a tradition that some of the French-speaking Cajuns want to keep alive.
Shannon Doucet and his wife Linda have been holding a boucherie in their hometown of Larose, Louisiana, for 20 years. Linda says that it started in 1991 with a small group of family and friends at their home but each year it started getting bigger by word of mouth. The street that they lived down would be full of vehicles and over the years there were so many that no one could pass down the street. The Doucets decided that their annual party should be moved to the Larose Youth Center to hold all the people that were starting to attend. “This is our fifteenth year under the pavilion,” says Linda.
After moving to the youth center, the attendance of the boucherie grew to 600 people. Family members invited their friends, then those friends would invite some of their friends and 20 years later, the turn out became not just the Doucet family but many families gathering together, sitting around eating, having a good time. Linda says that she still remembers the first few years of the boucherie held at her home. Everything was prepared and held in her garage. She says it is sad because they have lost a few family and friends that passed away over the 20-year tradition. “It is a good tradition that is leaving us. We grew up with it but it’s dying out for our children. We are trying to keep it alive. It’s a day of gathering with family and friends because you just want to. It’s a lot of fun,” she says.
It was loud under the pavilion with lots of laughing, joking and talking between everyone. The seating was rows of long tables where family and friends gathered to eat. It was raining but it didn’t seem to put a damper on the mood. A line of about 20 people gathered by the food tables where they picked up their plastic plates and silverware, they’d grab a spoonful of food and fill up their plates with the different dishes lined in front of them.
There were cooking stations with large cooking pots over burners. Around each station stood a group of men stirring the pots with large wooden paddles, each pot being a different dish.
One of the cooks was Larry Toups. He says that he has been helping the Doucets with the boucherie since it first started. He says that everyone has their own specialty item that they cook for the event. One of the older men who made the white beans died so Toups took over cooking the beans to keep the dish going. “Everyone just sits around and eats for about 8-9 hours. Everyone has their own dish, it’s just gotten so big over the years,” says Toups.
One of the food stations where many gathered was where cooks were preparing cracklings, pieces of pork fat trimmings that have been fried until brown and crispy. Toups says that it takes a while for the cracklings to be made. “We put the cracklings in a pot of hot grease to cook for about four hours, take them out the pot and let them cool off for a while. After they are cooled off, we put them in another pot of grease at 400 degrees and when they pop up, they are ready,” says Toups.
To make hog head cheese, Toups says meat from the hog must be boiled, seasoned and then cooked down. After the meat is cooked down, seasoned with spices, onions and celery, they put the meat into cardboard box trays and let it sit overnight to gel. The next day the hog head cheese is ready to eat.
Linda says that every part of the pig is used, even the blood for blood stew. “My husband and I would raise the pigs from babies but then it got to be too much for me with feeding them every day. We buy the pigs at the Thibodaux auction now, 30 days before the boucherie and then feed them corn,” she says.
The boucherie starts on Wednesday with preparing and cooking of the dishes that will be served. Shannon says that it is a lot of work but everyone does their part to help out. He says he will do everything he can to keep the tradition going. “You just can’t stop something that brings so many people together.”