Published Mar/Apr 2007

Influenced by Native Americans, Europeans and Africans, Louisiana
celebrates its spicy heritage and invites you to its table.
By Sally M. Snell

A steaming pot of gumbo is more than a meal; it is a lesson in the history of Louisiana’s early settlers.

“The people of Louisiana are the gumbo,” said Chef John Folse. “There’s no doubt about it. We’ve created a melting pot that has not been duplicated anywhere else in the world.”

A Louisiana native, Folse is passionate about the region’s cultural and culinary heritage. He cites that, in the space of 100 years, seven distinct nations–France, Spain, Germany, England, Italy, Africa and Native America–settled in this region. Each contributed to the flavors of Louisiana gumbo, including Native American filé powder, French roux, German sausage, African okra, Spanish spices and others.

Seeking to gain a foothold in the new continent, French explorers joined the six Native American nations of La Louisiane in the late 17th century. Other nations followed, drawing power from their increases in population and from their diverse expertise.

Germans, for example, were known as architects and dairymen, “and they brought with them a fabulous food culture,” said Folse, speaking of cheese, beer production and the preservation of meats through smoking and salt-cured brine. Native Americans brought wild game and crawfish to the German and French settlements, and the cultures adapted their culinary traditions to the local food.

While the rest of the world attempted to segregate its cultures, the people of Louisiana joined forces through intermarriage, incorporating their culinary techniques and traditions.

“Many of the cultures that settled here spoke romance languages,” said Folse. “They were very social, so there was a need in New Orleans to reproduce the joy of living amongst one another.”

New Orleans

Named for the famous privateer who helped U.S. forces during the Battle of New Orleans, the French Quarter Visitors Center of The John Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (419 Decatur St.) provides an overview of the complex cultural history of the Mississippi River Delta. The center brings Louisiana history to life through cooking demonstrations and scheduled performances by musicians and storytellers.

Major fires in 1788 and 1794 virtually destroyed all the original French architecture in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In fact, with the exception of the old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street that dates to 1753, the architecture of the French Quarter is distinctly Spanish. Visitors can view an excellent exhibit of Vatican mosaics at the historic convent now through June 1.

The Cabildo (701 Chartres St.) was the seat of Spanish rule in New Orleans from 1795-99 and in 1803 became the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer ceremony. Now a property of the Louisiana State Museum, the Cabildo contains the history of Louisiana from Paleo-Indian settlements of 10,000 B.C. to Reconstruction in the late 19th century.

The Hermann-Grima House (820 Saint Louis St.) offers a glimpse into the life of a wealthy Creole family between 1830-60. At the house, discover a courtyard garden typical of Spanish influence.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and the city where this style of music was born is home to the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (916 N. Peters St.). The park is near Congo Square, one of only two places in the United States where African drumming and singing were allowed in the 18th century. Live performances are held at the park on Saturdays.

The River Road African American Museum, located at 406 Charles St. in downtown Donaldsville, explores the 300-year history of blacks in the Mississippi River Valley. Exhibits include the African influence on Cajun and Creole cuisine, as well as information on local jazz musicians, doctors, inventors and free people of color. Slavery, and the struggle to escape to freedom, also is explored.

Northern Louisiana

From 1650 to 700 B.C., Poverty Point State Historic Site off state Highway 577 in Pioneer was the commercial center for the indigenous populations of the lower Mississippi Valley and part of an extensive trade network that reached to the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys. The site, consisting of ceremonial mounds and six concentric ridges, is spread over 400 acres. Because all the earth would have been moved by hand, 50 pounds at a time in baskets, it’s estimated the project involved 5 million hours of labor. Tram tours are available daily from March through October.

In 1714, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, a French Canadian, constructed a trading post among the Natchitoches Indians in northwest Louisiana. Two years later, a fort was established at this site to protect French Louisiana from Spanish forces advancing out of the province of Texas. This became a vital trade link in the Lower Mississippi Valley, and was eventually ceded to Spanish forces following the French and Indian War.

The Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site is a faithful reconstruction of the original using 18th-century techniques and locally produced building materials. Tours are offered daily.

Also in northwest Louisiana, Germantown Colony in Webster Parish was founded in 1835 as part of the utopian movement. No individual owned property, and all were assigned work that benefited the settlement.

The colony disbanded in 1871, but the Germantown Colony Museum, located seven miles north of Minden at 120 Museum Road off Germantown Road, has three of the original structures.

All combined, these museums, parks and historic sites make up the ingredients for a history lesson on Louisiana’s multicultural history that you’ll relish.

Sally M. Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.

Above: African-American culture is among the many celebrated during the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. ©Ann Purcell-New Orleans CVB photo

Below: New Orleans’ French Quarter features Spanish architecture. ©Richard Nowitz-New Orleans CVB photo

Before You Go
For more details, call the Colorado Tourism Office at 1-800-COLORADO (800-265-6723) or visit online at the Web site www.colorado.com.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

Louisiana hosts colorful festivals

By Sally M. Snell

Louisiana hosts a varied calendar of events through the year to celebrate its diverse heritage. Here is a sample.

The Festival International de Louisiane, held April 25–29, transforms downtown Lafayette into a world stage with international cooking demonstrations, live musical performances and art. Centered in the heart of Acadiana, the festival celebrates the cultural connections to the Francophone world.

For information, call (337) 232-8086 or click on www.festivalinternational.com.

Other events include:

• Black Heritage Festival in Lake Charles, March 2 and 3, featuring Zydeco, blues and gospel performances. For information, call (337) 488-0567 or click www.bhflc.org.

• New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 27–May 6, is a celebration of all indigenous music and cultures of Louisiana. For tickets, call Ticketmaster, (800) 488-5252, or click www.nojazzfest.com.

• The Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, La., hosts its powwow in Zwolle, May 5 and 6, featuring Native American artisans, food and dancing. For information, call (318) 645-2588 or click www.choctaw-apache.org.

Lafayette celebrates its French-influenced culture in April. Louisiana Tourism photo

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