Many times bakeries become the meeting place for communities; a mecca for conversation and comfort. It was at one of these bakeries in a small town in Louisiana that I was invited to visit. The owner, a former student, asked me to stay with her family in their home and to help her ‘fine-tune’ her one-year old bakery. This was a real venture into a new culture for me—with the occasional foreign language "and all’.
I arrived during the chili-roasting season. I was greeted by large cement mixers of charred chilies slow roasting over open fires that dotted the land. The aroma was as brilliant as the visual and as powerful a memory producing experience as a great perfume. Many of the homes appear to float on-top of the landscape. They are built a foot or so off the ground in the old Cajun style; being placed near the road with large fields of rice surrounding them on three sides. I noticed that they had little-to-no outdoor plantings of trees, grass or anything decorative to anchor the buildings to the land visually. Large turtles frequently crisscrossed roads, meandering to and from rice fields at their leisure. All this painted an un-usual American scene.
Bakeries in that area are as “unique” as their King Cakes. These cakes are very brightly decorated square cakes and are the only ones sold. Biscuits and pies are the breakfast norm and the typical greeting from the counter is one of two questions: “hoosier mama” or “Howsse your Mama?”. If she knows you, “howsse” your mama, is in order. If mama is good, the world is good. If by some obscure chance she does not know you, she knows that if she finds out who your mother is, she will immediately know who YOU are and the rhythm of the life goes on.
Mama’s daughters’ routinely come by the baker after aerobics, dressed in denim and diamonds and perfectly put together. Food is small, conversations warm, considerate, proper and so up beat. “Papa”, on the other had, was rarely mentioned except to talk about him “feelen poorly”. When the husbands showed up mid afternoon sporting wide, red spenders or well “broken in” denim overalls a healthy girth and, without fail, a gimmy cap. He ate well and was the real customer. Typically taking home snacks for “later” and something for dinner—if he had been instructed to do so.
Graciously they asked about my stay and offered all kinds of true Southern hospitality. I worked for a week and ate nonstop. I have never been served such buttery rich, full flavored seafood in such abundance offered with such love in all my life. I came home lugging the heaviest carry-on bag filled with two lifetime supplies of Louisiana Hot Sauces and great memories. Southern Hospitality is a subject the people of Louisiana have well defined and their bakeries are microcosms of everything good about the South.