In Louisiana we gather on our front lawns, between neighbors’ houses, and in back pastures from February to June with large pots over open fires. Pouring out freshly boiled little creatures onto newspaper covered tables, we stand around the steaming red mounds sharing stories and laughing until we bend over in tears. The water streaming from our eyes could be from the tall tales or from accidentally smearing our spicy fingers across our faces. A seasoned Louisianan knows not to do the latter, but you are in Louisiana and everyone is welcome at a crawfish boil! This social gathering will have a newbie making that mistake only once.
From an early age in the sole of the Louisiana boot, youngsters are taught how to pinch, twist, and peel, quickly removing the small savory meat hidden in the hard shells. Where I grew up at the top of the state near the Arkansas border, our tables were brimming with golden fried fish and chicken alongside hot homemade biscuits and fresh honey or mayhaw jelly. Crawfish was not a staple in North Louisiana, but when I entered my freshman year at LSU, one of the first things I learned was how to eat the small shellfish.
In the late 1800’s commercial sales of crawfish began mostly for bait. The crawfish was not the bayou delicacy it is today, and usually these boiled creatures were found on the tables of poor, rural communities in the Louisiana marshes. Native Americans were eating crawfish long before Europeans arrived on the wet and squishy soil that is South Louisiana, but it was the Acadians who took crawfish cuisine to another level.
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana hosted their very first Crawfish Festival in 1960 helping to create the crustacean craze we enjoy now. The crawfish became Louisiana’s state crustacean in 1983, and to meet the demand today, crawfish farming is necessary. The rising popularity of Cajun cuisine has made this crusty little guy very valuable generating $300 million for the Louisiana economy each year.
For those of us who enjoy the piping hot pile of potatoes, corn, and sausage with our crawfish, we also know that rubbing shoulders with our friends and family gathered around the table is an important part of the messy appeal. With music playing in the background and stories growing over the years, there is nothing like a crawfish boil on a beautiful spring day. Ça c’est bon!