St. Joseph is still an intact sugar plantation in Louisiana, one of the few remaining in the River Parishes. You can learn a lot about the sugar industry in Louisiana during a visit to St. Joseph while listening to your tour guide, while watching a short video called “Raising Cane in Louisiana,” and by going to www.lacane.org. A few facts that I noted were these: 1) Sugar cane accounts for 17,000 jobs in Louisiana, 2) Sugar cane is grown in 22 Louisiana parishes, and 3) This industry pumps $215 million into the state’s economy EACH MONTH!! I also learned that sugar cane grows from nodes on the stalks and not from seeds. Hmmmm.
Sylvia Zeringue was our wonderful tour guide on the day we visited. She told us so many interesting stories about the history of the house and the people who lived there. I learned about movies that had been filmed on the property and about the emphasis here on keeping the slaves healthy. Dr. Cazamine Mericq actually owned the large house at one time and provided medical care to the slaves. Sylvia also pointed out all of the indications that residing family members were strict observing Catholics — crucifixes, kneeling benches and such. She pointed to a bonnet tub clearly revealing how tiny the people, particularly the ladies, were during this time, and she showed us a small baby bathtub.
I was particularly interested in the mourning traditions of the day and the requirement that women had to wear solid black for an entire year following the death of a family member. Sylvia pointed out that by the end of the year invariably another family member would have died, so the women ended up wearing black for a very long time. This particular plantation hosts Creole Mourning Tours during the month of October each year. Read more about this on their website.
Through the wonder of the internet, Facebook, and blogs, Sylvia and I actually connected before Steve and I arrived in Louisiana, and I will never forget that she invited us to visit her church! Regretfully, we were not going to be in the area in time, but we certainly hope to do that very thing in the future. Another memory Sylvia created for me was when she invited me to play the pump organ in the mansion for our small tour group. She took a big chance. I had never played a pump organ before! But, somehow, I managed a verse of “Amazing Grace,” and it was a special time for me. Thank you, Sylvia. We almost missed this tour because our GPS led us to a cow pasture rather than to 3535 Highway 18 in Vacherie, LA, but fortunately, we found it and rushed in only a few minutes late. Sylvia was gracious to allow us to join the last tour of the day.
While in this part of Plantation Country, we had lunch at Spuddy’s. This is one of those places known by the locals that you need to experience for yourself. Nicknamed by his parents after the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, the year of his birth — Spuddy makes his own smoked sausage and andouille on the premises. I noticed such items as Grilled Andouille Salads and Malcolm Burgers on the menu. When I asked, Spuddy proudly explained that the Malcolm Burger is named for his grandson. He says he cooks Jambalaya every Monday and that Gumbo is his #1 seller. He makes 10-20 gallons per week depending on the weather. I am 99% sure his last name is Faucheux, but I could have easily misunderstood. Spuddy told us he didn’t know he had another first name until he started to school, and his parents sat him down to teach him how to spell “Maitland.”
The thing I will most remember about Spuddy is his unwavering loyalty and commitment to his wife. They were married March 21, 1981, and by March 22 of 1982, she was having brain surgery for hydrocephaly. As a result, “Mrs Spuddy” (I hate that I didn’t get her name) has no short-term memory. They have 3 daughters, and Spuddy has helped her cope with her memory and brain issues for all of these years. His is a remarkable story of unconditional love and devotion. You’ll find some good local food if you visit, but you’ll also be inspired. Check out the website. The address is 2644 Highway 20, Vacherie, LA.
Read a little more about St. Joseph Plantation in this article I wrote for Trip101.com.