Hard times at the 2015 Cochon de Lait Festival in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.
When we began plotting a trip to Mansura for the big pig party that started way back in 1960, we were rightly excited. Avoyelles Parish marks the northernmost boundary of Acadiana but we reckoned that the eating would still be as good as though we were deep in the heart of Cajun Country.
We were wrong.
The promoters for the event trumpeted that the “Grand Feast” would begin Sunday morning.
When Cajun folks use the word grand and feast in the same sentence you can rest assured you will be dining in the stratosphere of rural folk cuisine.
Stepping onto the grounds of the Cochon de Lait Festival on Sunday morning something seems amiss. There are no people bustling about and the event has the forlorn air of a party that has let out early with everybody leaving in handcuffs or in the backs of ambulances.
A team of inmates in matching red jail garb is halfheartedly sweeping the blacktop parking lot, complaining bitterly all the while. None of them looks capable of making a break for it so we amble inside after paying the $8 cover for a “Grand Feast”
The Feasting Hall is desolate.
A few old timers are sitting at a folding table with a stack of styrofoam boxes careered across it. “How many?” one of them barks. I hold up a single ticket, am handed a good, hefty box and begin looking for a place to sit.
Clearly a big crowd is not expected as the tables are all mashed together in the middle of the room to create a continent of plastic and wooden-laminate. The floors are sticky with dried up Pepsi, the tables have gnarled debris of pork stuck to them and more prisoners are languishing about, casting worried glances toward the old white men who are in charge of their weal.
Grief is in the air.
Cracking into the box, a good smell of wood smoke wafts upward. A charred hunk of pig hide is straddling a few tendrils of dried out pork; a naked bone of unknown provenance has been stabbed into a pile of dirty rice; a foil wrapped sweet potato rides shotgun, and a small cup of coleslaw sits off to the side.
The effect doesn’t so much say Grand Feast as “we’re all on our last legs here and we’ll probably be dead before the final tourist leaves town”
The meat (it’s not cochon de lait, this hog has been off the teat since Eisenhower was in office) is tough, dry, smokey, and largely inedible. The room temperature coleslaw is syrupy sweet with nary a hint of acid to cut through the treacle. On the bright side, the sweet potato is quite good. Yes, $8 for a sweet potato is a mite pricey but we’re optimists at heart.
The backstory of the Cochon de Lait Festival is a good one. The partying had gotten so hard a dozen years into the run that local law enforcement shut it down. One internet scribe (this one) described the old days thusly: “At one point the Cajuns attending the party had gone native and gotten so wild and wooly what with all the drugs, dancing, rampant pork consumption and public sex that the city put a halt to the celebration for almost two decades.”
It’s time for the reigning body to do just that once again. Shut it down. And if they can’t afford to lose the revenue then please run down around Broussard somewhere and find a wiry pack of cochon de lait experts, offer ’em a few cases of beer and all the barbecue they can eat and hire them to take over the hard part; the cooking of the barbecue, cause whoever’s in charge right now is plumb tuckered.
1832 Leglise Street