Culture Files: Avery Island, Louisiana

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Hope everyone is surviving enjoying the holidays.  Personally, I am really looking forward to bringing in 2014 surrounded by some of my closest friends.  But, let’s take a break from the festivities and travel back before Thanksgiving and the ensuing chaos of the holiday season.

Last month, Keegan and I took a visiting friend on a tour of Avery Island.  One of my favorite parts about moving to a new place is taking my friends to all the unique shops, restaurants, or other sights that I have discovered along the way.  Avery Island, located about 40 minutes outside of Lafayette, Louisiana, is perfect for out-of-town guests.  Not only is it cheap (only $1 to park your car and get the Tabasco tour and $8 per person to visit the nature preserve), but it is a veritable oasis of Louisianan culture and wildlife.

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Avery Island is home of the McIlhenny Company, producers of Tabasco sauce (I wrote about this briefly in a previous post here). The McIlhenny family has occupied the island since the 1860s.   For $1 per car, you can park and get the tour of the factory (which includes sample size bottles of all their hot sauces).

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The origin myth surrounding the famous pepper sauce says that Edmund McIlhenny created Tabasco sauce to add some much-needed spice to the relatively monotonous and bland diet of the Reconstruction South.

IMG_0921  IMG_0925The following is an excerpt from the Avery Island website (http://www.tabasco.com/mcilhenny-company/) describing McIlhenny’s famous recipe:

Selecting and crushing the reddest peppers from his plants, [McIlhenny] mixed them with Avery Island salt and aged this “mash” for 30 days in crockery jars and barrels. McIlhenny then blended the mash with French white wine vinegar and aged the mixture for at least another 30 days. After straining it, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles with sprinkler fitments, which he then corked and sealed in green wax. (The sprinkler fitment was important because his pepper sauce was concentrated and best used when sprinkled, not poured.)

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After the factory tour, we took a visit around the nature preserve (which costs $8 per person).  It felt a bit like a wild safari “ride” at Six Flags.  You drive around the 170 acres that make up the Jungle Gardens looking at the sights (we even saw an alligator lounging around the marshes), but there are also walking trails that allow you to slow down and take a closer look at the wildlife.

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In addition to the alligators, deer, and raccoons that inhabit the island, there are  thousands of snowy egrets that nest in the marshes each spring on specially built, pier-like structures in a pond nicknamed “Bird City.” We were here in November, so we didn’t get to see many Egrets, but I can imagine that it is a beautiful sight to see come Spring.

IMG_0946 Gnarled oak trees draped in Spanish moss border the winding paths of the gardens.  These gardens include a shrine that houses a centuries-old Buddha — a gift to E. A. McIlhenny in 1936.

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IMG_0960 IMG_0961 IMG_0982There are some more pictures from our adventures around the island in the gallery below.  Be sure to click on them if you want to see a slide show of larger images.  Enjoy and Happy New Year!

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