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Mad for mudbugs
Whether in étouffée, boiled or crawling in a race, the crawfish is king in spring

Published: Mar/Apr 2002
By Margaret Dornaus

Biloxi’s Country Cajun Crawfish fest is highlighted by live music./ Mississippi Tourism photo
In Capistrano, it’s the swallows. In the Sandhills, it’s the cranes. But in Mississippi and Louisiana, it’s the mudbugs that signal the return of spring.

Cajun communities throughout these two crustacean-crazed states greet the return of the mudbug (known variously as crawfish, crawdad, crayfish, and crawdaddy) with whoops and unmistakable foot stomping. Zydeco accordions and fiddles set the stage for March, April and May festival offerings of étouffée and boiled crawfish–native delicacies that have locals literally crawling out of their shells to celebrate the annual rite of spring.

A Louisiana crawfish compendium

In Louisiana’s bayou country, the lowly, river bottom-crawling crawfish is king–an epitaph it’s enjoyed for centuries. Native Americans were the first to recognize the crawdaddy’s culinary merits. Using reeds baited with venison, these early residents captured copious crustaceans as a welcome addition to their diets. By the 1930s, Acadian settlers had substituted nets for reeds, and, in the 1950s, traps replaced nets as crawfish farming became common in and around the eight-parish area of southern Louisiana known as Acadiana.

The 1950s signified two other important mudbug developments. During that decade, the highly seasoned crawfish stew known as étouffée–a staple if not the star of Cajun cooking–made its debut. In honor of its 1959 centennial celebration, the Louisiana bayou town of Breaux Bridge (near Lafayette) received a special legislative accolade when the state named it the “Crawfish Capital of the World.” The following year Breaux Bridge launched its now world-famous Crawfish Festival. This year’s dates for the festival are May 3–5.

Arts and crafts, Cajun music and dance contests are all features of the Breaux Bridge festival. The real attraction is the festival’s namesake–crawfish boiled, fried and steeped in savory sauces; rolled into spicy hot-dogs; and baked into crusty pies and cornbreads. Show off your own mania for mudbugs by entering the crawfish-eating contest, but be forewarned. The festival record-holder (Nick Stipelcovich of Metairie, La.) slurped down close to 56 pounds.

Breaux Bridge’s African-American Crawfish Festival dishes up plenty of crawfish and zydeco during the same weekend.
In the Red River town of Shreveport, where they’ve even named a hockey team after their native crustacean, the four-day Mudbug Festival is held at Festival Plaza in downtown’s riverfront area from May 23–26.

For those looking to get a jump-start on the crawfish season, head toward Chalmette during the last weekend in March for the Louisiana Crawfish Festival, or saunter into Eunice for the World Championship Étouffée Cook-off, held the last Sunday in March.

Mississippi mudbugs

Mississippi’s capital city, Jackson, features two crawfish celebrations. The first, McB’s Crawfish Festival, takes place on April 6–7 at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum, a complex chronicling the state’s agricultural history and featuring exhibits on both the natural and ethnic heritage of Mississippi. On April 27, the International Crawfish Festival pays tribute to the mudbug at Smith Park in downtown Jackson.

In the Gulf Coast town of Biloxi, the Country Cajun Crawfish Festival is a 10-year tradition featuring both country and Cajun music stars like Tanya Tucker, Mark Chestnut, Kenny Chesney and Trace Adkins. This festival of foods, highlighting 15,000 pounds of crayfish, also features carnival rides and contests, from April 19–22 on the grounds of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

Another 10-year veteran of the mudbug festival phenomenon is Leland, just east of Greenville. Leland pays homage to the mudbug with its own spin on the Crawfish Festival, this one set for May 4. The one-day celebration–in Muppet creator Jim Henson’s childhood hometown– takes place on the banks of Deer Creek.

No doubt there are enough crawfish festivals to satisfy even the most ardent fan of the Cajun-flavored crustacean.

Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Springdale, Ark.

Also see: Cook up A Cajun feast

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