Category Archives: Louisiana

Cycling Along Caddo Parish’s Sunflower Trail

Highway 3049, between I-49 and the Red River north of Shreveport, is smiling with sunflowers this time of year.

The two-lane farm road is a state designated Scenic Byway. It became a favorite bicycling route of mine shortly after moving to Shreveport 35 years ago.

About 20 years ago, one farmer planted sunflowers along the route. Another followed and then another until Highway 3049 and some connecting roads became part of the Sunflower Trail. That trail shows off its sunflowers each June with a festival. This year’s event is this Saturday, June 17.

That day,  Highway 3049 and its side roads will be busy with sightseers, but most other times bicyclists only compete with a few cars, farm vehicles and perhaps a turtle crossing the road. Some of the roads have a bumpy chipseal surface and a few potholes, but those drawbacks are outweighed by a flat terrain throughout the entire country route.

The scenery of sunflowers, lush green pastures and lovely plantation homes is reason enough to ride there, but there’s plenty of history too, It’s all documented on historical markers erected by the Red River Crossroads Historical Association. In between, you’ll find fresh tomatoes and melons at Ryan Farms Produce at Dixie, (return in the car later for those), chicken fried steak and other tasty lunches at Main Street Restaurant in Gilliam and who knows what else along the way.

One of my favorite routes includes the Sentell Road loop off of 3049. Beginning at the Dixie Cotton Gin, the 7-mile horseshoe-shaped loop curves around to hug the Red River levee and passes rich farmland, sunflowers and more history. Here are a few photos from that loop. There’s a huge sunflower field with a walking trail and opportunities to take photos or clip  your own sunflower souvenirs. At another nearby field, you can pick a dozen zinnias for $2. (It’s on the honor system. You put your money in a box.)

Click on small pictures to enlarge and read captions

Cairo Plantation
Cairo Plantation along Sentell Road has been in the same family for over 100 years.

If you go this Saturday, check out the sunflowers, art and food vendors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Gilliam, a lawn and garden tour in Dixie, homemade ice cream at a restored plantation commissary.

If you’re going to bicycle, go on a quieter day. But don’t wait too long. The sunflowers will only be there a few weeks.

Click on any picture to launch gallery and read captions

More information and a great map overview is available at:

redrivercrossroadshistorical.org/sunflowertrail

 

Berries & Dairies: U Pick While U Can

 

I just went berry picking at Shuqualak (pronounced “sugar lock” Farms in Frierson.

There’s usually plenty of berry options at local farmers markets, but there’s something about donning the straw hat and watching the sun rise as you head to a rural berry patch to pick your own.

Broox and Judy Burris run the blueberry and blackberry operation started by Broox’s father in  1986. The land has been in Broox’s family since 1916. He’s the fourth generation owner.

Shqualak Farms
Judy Burris outside the Shuqualak Farms berry barn.

During berry season, the farm is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There are about four acres each of blueberry and blackberry bushes. Check out the Shuqualak Farms Facebook page for up-to-date status.

Since I did get up before dawn, I was the first customer that day. I got a chance to chat with Judy, a fun person and a great source of  information on how to get the best berries. “A gentle touch and they fall in your hands. If you have to tug, they’re not ripe enough yet.”

Shuqualak is a town in Mississippi. Broox’s father came across the town while traveling and felt it would be a good name for the farm since he called his wife “Sug” and the Choctaw Indian name meant “hog heaven.” He asked the mayor of Shuqualak if it was OK to use it.

So it’s Shuqualak Farms, but you won’t find any hogs there, no sugar cane — just blackberries and blueberries bursting with flavor as well as antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, manganese and a host of other nutrients that put them on many “super food” lists.

Shuqualak Farms is off Highway 175 and a 20-minute drive from the edge of Shreveport.  I have ridden this route several times with bicycle groups. Just before you get to the Shuqualak Farms turn, you’ll pass Bit’s Country Store, our bicycle group’s stop for breakfast.

Whether you’re on a bicycle or not, I suggest you stop in and grab a sausage egg biscuit. The biscuits are melt-in-your-mouth fluffy.

Bit's Country Store
Taking a Hwy 175 bicycle break at Bit’s Country Store. This was a previous trip. No good way to transport blueberries and blackberries on my road cycle.

Highway 175 intersects Harts Island Road, a popular Shreveport bicycling route. It’s about 11 miles from the LSU Pecan Station to Bit’s Country Store and less than a half mile from the store’s biscuits to Shuqualak’s blueberry and blackberry bushes.

In Louisiana I’ve always thought April was for strawberries, May was for blackberries, June for blueberries and July was the best time for peaches. But that may vary from year to year and by fruit variety.  Like autumn fall color, berry season is short so you want to pick while you can.

“Mother Nature has the final say. This year we didn’t have a winter so the blueberries that normally just begin to get ripe June 1 have been early this year,” Judy said.

Shuqualak Farms blackberries
Blackberries are just now getting ripe.

After you’ve filled your bucket, return to the Blueberry Barn, an old farmhouse built before the turn of the century, and sample a blueberry popsicle. You can buy some to take home or buy the syrup to make your own.

Blueberries and blackberries are $14 for five quarts if  you pick your own. Blueberries also are usually available pre-picked for $20.

There’s also smaller kid’s buckets, picnic tables, harness buckets so you can pick with two hands, even canes to borrow for balance.

I came home with two generous gallons and information from the Ark-La-Tex Blueberry Growers Association, including recipes for pie, muffins and such. But the first thing I made was my go-to blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes from the She Wears Many Hats blog. I doubled the amount of blueberries!

Blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

Shuqualak Farms

 

 

 

 

On Top of Mt. Driskill-Louisiana’s Highest Point

Locating Mt. Driskill, Louisiana’s highest point, is no easy task. For starters, it’s only 535 feet so finding a summit that juts up from the “hills” of eastern Bienville Parish is difficult from the road.

And since it is the third lowest state summit (behind Florida and Delaware), Mt. Driskill is hardly a tourist attraction. Directions aren’t prominent until you get to the trailhead in the parking lot of a church.

On our first attempt, we set out with Google maps. I had directions, but hubby wanted to drive through Ringgold rather than the planned Arcadia, which messed up my navigation. Even my Verizon had pockets of no service as we wandered around Bienville Parish.

We were close, but missed a sneaky turn on Highway 507 as we ran out of daylight. We wound up at Liberty Hill church and cemetery, which I thought might have been the entrance from my last visit to Mt. Driskill in 1986.

But,  it wasn’t the right church. Rural churches look a lot alike, particularly in a 30-year-old memory. Since you don’t want to find yourself in those parts with less than a quarter tank of gas, we drove six miles to Bryceland Mall (that’s the real name) to fill up and headed back to Shreveport.

Next week we made a return trip with precise directions I had printed out. That took us to Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church and the Mt. Driskill trailhead.

Mt. Driskill
Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church on Hwy. 507 is the Mt. Driskill entrance

It’s a pleasant hike the mile or so up with only two real inclines that caused much resistance. It would be prettier in the fall with the hardwoods sporting color, but the forestland on this cold January day suited us just fine.

Although finding Mt. Driskill wasn’t easy, once you get there it’s marked well enough so you don’t get lost in the woods. It’s on private property but landowners have granted permission for public use, even giving an alternative route for those who want a longer hike path.

Mt. Driskill
Summit marker–notice the cardboard Louisiana sign with black marker

Once at the summit, we found confirmation that this was, indeed, the highest natural summit in Louisiana. There’s a whole organization called Highpointers.org, whose members make it to every high point in every state. Highpointers had placed two benches at the mountaintop to catch the view of the Louisiana forest land and neighboring Mt. Jordan. Learn more here. In fact, the ashes of Jack Longacre, founder of the Highpointers, were spread on top of Mt. Driskill in 2003.

Selfie on the summit

 

Directions from I-20 in Shreveport

— Take Exit 69 at Arcadia and head south through town
— Turn left on SR 147/Jonesboro Road and continue for 9.3 miles
— Turn right onto SR 507 and continue for 2.7 miles to the Mt Zion Presbyterian Church parking lot

Bienville Parish has a lot of interesting and quirky places. Read here 

 

 

 

Bienville Parish–Bonnie & Clyde, Daffodils and Pies

In Bienville Parish,  the individual parts are greater than the sum.

It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.

Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history,  geography and character.  Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.

My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business.  Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.

Arcadia Pit Stops

Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.

On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house.  For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.

South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.

Hubby got the cherry fried pie at Country Cottage
Map at Country Cottage shows satisfied customers from all over the country

Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.

There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.

Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).

Bonnie & Clyde

Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.

That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.

The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.

(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).

Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Site

The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.

Jonquil Jubilee

Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers,  but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.

While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.

While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women.  After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby

You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.

Hubby’s double cheeseburger and fries at Mom & Pop’s. The steaks are also good. When dieting, I get the grilled shrimp.

Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east  of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.

I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.

[Google_Maps_WD id=3 map=2]

 

10 Reasons to Cycle on Harts Island Road This Fall

Harts Island Road, a 6.5-mile straight ribbon of road in South Caddo Parish just south of Shreveport, is a favorite of local cyclists during any season, but it’s particularly scenic during fall when the cotton fields are full and the leaves start falling along the path. Here are 10 reasons why we like it.

1. Cotton

South Caddo Parish cotton
Louisiana cotton acreage is declining, but there’s much to see in late September along this road. But hurry.  I was there yesterday afternoon and a lot had already been harvested, although there was still plenty along Highway 1, which parallels Harts Island.

2. Pretty Sunsets

Valley Gin at sunset
Sunset over Valley Gin. This gin, one of the few remaining in Caddo Parish, is about to get busy.

3. Sunrise Isn’t So Bad Either

Sunrise at Pecan Station
Sunrise at LSU Pecan Research and Extension Station, the only research center of its kind in the country dedicated exclusively to helping pecan growers. There’s 60 or so acres of trees planted for research.

4. Flat and Shady

Hubby embarking on a shady stretch
Hubby embarking on a shady stretch

5. Speed Limit 25 mph

25 mph
The posted speed limit is 25 mph, and there are only a dozen or so houses so there are only a few cars and farm trucks along the route. Yellow crop dusters, like the one overhead, are commonly seen.

6. Fall Color

Goldenrod along Harts Island Road frames an old farm house located across Highway 1. Goldenrod is just starting to bloom and they’ll be more color from the hardwoods along the road soon.

7. Today’s Industry

Bentler Steel Plant
The ride gives you a glimpse of the new Benteler Steel plant, among other industries, at The Port. The German-owned company spent $1 billion and is expected to employ 750 or more.

8. Pretty Pasture Scenes

Pastures, natural gas fields, cotton fields and dense stands of hardwoods make up the landscape
Pastures, natural gas fields and cotton fields make up the landscape.

9. History

C.M. Hutchinson & Sons
The abandoned C.M. Hutchinson & Sons store stands as a reminder of the area’s rich past. The route includes settlements of Robson, Gayles, Caspiana, Frierson plantation, key spots in development of Caddo Parish’s cotton and oil and gas industries. I would love to go back in time and hear some of the stories told in this store.

10. Lovely Live Oaks

Lovely Live Oaks
The live oaks shade some lovely homes too.

A round trip on Harts Island Road makes a nice leisurely ride of 60 to 90 minutes. It’s not the car-free traffic of dedicated paths like the ones on both sides of the Red River, but it’s close. The only motorized transportation is the occasional farm truck or car going to one of the dozen or so houses along the strip. You can lengthen the ride by heading west on one of three roads intersecting with Harts Island–Robson Road, Hwy 175 or Ellerbe Road but expect more traffic and higher speed limits.

Going south on Highway 1, turn right on Hart’s Island just across from The Port of Shreveport-Bossier water tower. Drive less than a half mile to the Louisiana Pecan Research Station. If you’re interested in growing pecans, stop in and get some information.  Otherwise, park along the side of the road, get on your bicycle and enjoy a beautiful fall ride.

What are your favorite spots along Harts Island Road or scenic bicycling routes you love around Shreveport-Bossier City?

 

Saturday Morning Drive to Mahaffey Farms

On a clear Saturday in the hiatus between the summer and fall Shreveport Farmers Market, I drove to Mahaffey Farms east of Haughton to buy some meat. When you visit, farmer Evan McCommon will let you wander around his pastures as he wants you to get a close view of how his cattle, pigs and chickens are raised.

“If all agriculture was transparent, it would change the way people eat,” says McCommon, who is doing his part in “being the change” in Shreveport-Bossier City. Mahaffey Farms, is at the forefront of  the farm-to-table culture in North Louisiana.

Mahaffey Farms family heirloom tractor
Mahaffey Farms family heirloom tractor

Mahaffey Farms uses no chemicals, no pesticides, no hormones. The farm’s practices go beyond sustainable.   As McCommon says, sustainable implies keeping things as they are. Regenerative agriculture makes things better — the soil, the environment and the way a community eats.

Those principles will be explored during a Food for Thought program on Oct. 5 at the Robinson Film Center in downtown Shreveport. The event will include a viewing of Polyfaces, a documentary on an Shenandoah Valley Virginia farm that has inspired Mahaffey Farms. Food from Mahaffey will be served at dinner, followed by the film and then a post screening discussion led by McCommon.

The family farm dates back to the 1920s. McCommon’s great uncle developed a large farming  and timber operation that flourished there until the 1950s. McCommon began taking steps to revitalize farming there about five years ago.  Visit Mahaffey Farms website to read, watch and listen as McCommon tells about the evolution of the farm.

The farm store is a modest converted garage but the freezers are well-stocked with grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork and chicken products. Fresh produce is slim this time of year, but at other seasons you may find heirloom tomatoes, pinto beans, collard greens, etc. And there’s lard — cooking lard and soap. Lard is, after all, fat rendered from pork, and Mahaffey Farms doesn’t waste much of the pigs it raises.

I came away with some pork chops, pork tenderloin, andouille, bratwurst and eggs. I also came away with a greater resolve to eat more local food. (Pork tenderloin has already been prepared in a farmer’s market pepper jelly glaze and declared a hit at our house).

Getting There: From Louisiana Downs, drive five miles east on Highway 80 and turn left at East 80 Paint & Body. You’ll actually be on Mahaffey Road. Drive about a half mile down, and the road will bend left toward the farm. You’ll know you’re there when you see a rusty heirloom tractor with the simple stenciled Mahaffey Farms sign.

Saturday hours are 8 am to 1 pm until the Shreveport Farmers Market opens again on Oct. 22. Weekdays, it’s open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday. (You may want to call 318-949-6249 to make sure someone is available to give a free tour). McCommon’s mother, Sandra Evans, has a bed and breakfast at the farmhouse, which can be booked on airbnb.com. Reviews are great for the farm fresh breakfast!

Late summer pond scene
Late summer pond scene

Tour a College Campus on a Bicycle

If you have a child going off to college this month, chances are you’ll be hauling a bicycle as well as dorm décor to campus. You may want to rethink the bicycle.

That comes from someone who has been around for six to eight move-out days in May and seen the racks full of abandoned bikes. Big schools like LSU have regular bike auctions to at least try to make some money on impounding so many of them.

I have a freshman Schwinn in my garage now that’s never been ridden. What I will suggest is pack up your own bicycle and explore a college campus on two wheels – one your child or younger sibling is attending, your alma mater or one near you.

If you can go early in the morning to beat the heat, August is a great month to bicycle a campus in the quiet before fall semester begins. School breaks – spring, fall and Christmas, also are good times.

Or you can do as my husband and I did a few years ago and choose a busier time. In our case, it was Game Day at Texas A&M, one of the largest campuses in the country.

“Are you kidding?” I asked when he suggested it. We were the only ones on bicycles that day, but It turned out to be a great ride. We got to watch the Corps of Cadets march to the stadium, ride around the academic buildings in peace and sample some of the Game Day atmosphere.

Bicycling at Texas A&M
Daughter Mary Grace riding on beautiful (and quiet) day after Thanksgiving ride on A&M campus

Take some time and explore a campus on two wheels. It doesn’t matter if the college is large or small, I promise you’ll discover something new.

I frequently bicycle around LSU Shreveport, a place where I worked for more than 15 years, and see things that I never noticed driving to work.

A campus doesn’t have to be on this “bike friendly” list to enjoy, but if you are looking for one that fits that description, check this list out.

Sunday bicycle ride LSU Shreveport
Seen on a Sunday springtime bicycle ride through LSU Shreveport

No Louisiana July Is Complete Without Mitcham’s Peaches in Ruston

Since living in Louisiana, a  jaunt to Mitcham’s Peach Farm in Ruston is as sure a summer thing as white sandals, long days and 100 plus heat indexes.

I’ve been known to make three trips to Ruston in one week for peaches, and that was before the Mitchams added the ice cream and peach store several years ago.

With so many farmers markets to shop and my busy schedule, I now limit myself to one good trip to Mitcham’s a year. Since it’s only one time a year, I feel entitled to a big soft serve peach ice cream cone. When I was growing up my family had a small peach orchard, a side business to our dairy. Our dairy made ice cream when I was very little, but we never sold peach ice cream.

peach ice cream
My niece and nephew enjoying the peach ice cream

As far as peaches go. I’d recommend buying the biggest peaches they have, which are usually in those gift boxes and may cost more than $2 a peach. On the day I went earlier this month, they didn’t have those so I got a large bucket for $25 with about 25 peaches. They also sell overripes good for cooking.

You’ll also want to call to see if they have peaches available that day. I just checked their Facebook page today, and it said they won’t have any until later this week.

The Peach Store
The Peach Store

When I was at Mitcham’s earlier this month, I was more observant about other things for sale. In the peach shed, tomatoes, blueberries and shelled peas were available. There were also some lush ferns reasonably priced at $10 each.

In their farm store, which is open year round, there are many peach products — not only jams, jellies and salsas but bath products, peach cookware, gift baskets and other things. They have yummy salsa and pepper jelly from the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, peach tea and peach lemonade.

Inside Peach Store
Inside the peach store

And, then I found a really unexpected item — ammunition. I haven’t fully investigated, but I doubt that many places outside North Louisiana  sell fresh peaches and ammo.

 

Mitcham’s is about 70 miles east of Shreveport. On I-20, take the Grambling exit #81. Go north on Highway 149. Take a right on Garr Road and keep right on Highway 544. Shortly you’ll see a sign and Mitcham Orchard Road on the left. Follow that to the peach shed and store.  

 

Tomatoes Day 14: Coushatta Road Trip for Tomatoes, Peaches & Such

I’m usually a regular at the Shreveport Farmers Market, but sometimes you can’t beat driving to a produce stand in the country, where you can actually see the peach trees that bore the fruit you are buying.

The other day, I drove to Coushatta, about 45 miles south of Shreveport, where I couldn’t stop at one. I went to four farmstands. Well, they all weren’t actually in the town of Coushatta but in the nearby places of Armistead and Ajax.

It had been awhile since I had been to Ed Lester Farms, and I had forgotten how beautiful the setting is – on the west bank of the Red River, shaded by a 300-year-old oak tree flanked by lush caladiums. Classical music played on speakers as people of all types – driving everything from Ford Focuses to Range Rovers — bagged tomatoes and squash. Ed Lester Farms  has been written up in Southern Living as one of the best produce stands in the South.

A sign on a trailer bed said “Very New Potatoes.” How new? We were there at 11 am, and much of the produce had been hauled in from the field at 8 am that day. (We didn’t do our part in cooking them that same night, but they still tasted fresh even a week later). You have to go when the produce is fresh as this market’s season only lasts from late May through July.

Ed Lester’s family has been working the rich soil since 1850. The produce stand has been around since 1960.

Anderson Farms is also a big operation and a pretty place as well. They also sell at the Shreveport Farmers Market. You can buy bedding plants and ferns there too. I loved watching young butterflies flutter around in the zinnia patch in front of Anderson’s.

En route between Ed Lester Farms and Andersons, we found M & R Produce at the crossroads of US Hwy 84, US Hwy 371 and Louisiana 1. And we checked it out too. We continued down some country roads (directions and map below) to Anderson’s. After stopping there, we kept going a little farther across I-49 and into Natchitoches Parish, where we discovered Mim’s Snack Shop and Produce.

Mim was out front and pointed to a plum tree a few yards to the west that produced some of the fruit he was selling. There were homegrown tomatoes and other things, even a bargain table. The watermelons were from Florida then, but it was early in the season, and he assured me they would be local in a few weeks. There’s a hot lunch six days a week and barbecue Wednesday-Saturday.

We really enjoyed spending the better part of the day in Coushatta, and I recommend it to you. If you are expecting quaint small town, you need to lower your expectations. Coushatta is like a Mississippi Delta town with poverty and empty storefronts downtown. Sunbeam used to have a plant there that made household irons, but that closed 20 years ago. Haynesville shale natural gas drilling has helped, but, that too, is currently in a slump.

But Coushatta still has agriculture, and It’s worth going there for the farmstands alone. But, there are a few more lures. Here are a couple:

Hamburgers. We stopped at Bailey’s Sandwich Shop downtown. (I guess they have other sandwiches. I did not look at the menu as I did not want to spend all of my Weight Watchers points.) My husband raved about the hamburger and wondered why he had waited 30 years to return there. Yes, it has been around at least that long. Bailey’s dining area is modest – one picnic table under the rusting roof and another one in the sun. We were lucky to secure the shady one as most patrons are locals who get theirs to go. There’s another place not far from Baileys called Shellie’s Sandwich Shop. I ate there a year ago when I wasn’t dieting, and the hamburger was great.

Nichols: Coushatta is one of five locations of Nichols Department Store, a family-owned retailer that has been operating since 1914 and, for that, I think they deserve a round of applause. The other places are in towns that few outside of Louisiana have heard of:  Many (corporate headquarters), Leesville, DeQuincy, DeRidder and Winnfield. The merchandise mix is a lot of Bass Pro shop with a little of Hobby Lobby home décor, small town hardware store and a tad Five & Dime. Firearms and a bridal registry. Yeti coolers and off-brand lemon cookies. There is no Wal-Mart in Coushatta, so it is great to see such a well-stocked locally-owned store. My husband bought some ammunition, and I bought a Louisiana-shaped cutting board.

Driving around, there’s a few more stores that grabbed my attention – a locally-owned supermarket, another store called Maxway, and a place downtown called Jolie’s Vintage, which I really wanted to explore but they are not open on Mondays when we were there.

From Shreveport, take I-49. Exit 162 and head northeast toward Coushatta on Hwy 371. You’ll find (1) Ed Lester Farms on the right before reaching town. Turn left from Ed Lester parking lot and head west until you reach the crossroads of Hwy 371, Hwy 84 and LA 1. You’ll find (2) M&R Produce there. Head south on LA 1 for 4.6 miles, then turn right on Catfish Bend Road. Take that for 3.6 miles to Highway 174. Head west on 174 for about two miles and you’ll see (3) Anderson’s Produce on the right. Continue on Hwy 174 past I-49 and (4) Mim’s is on the right.

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New Orleans Holiday

We took a post-Christmas trip to New Orleans. It was nice to go there just to relax and eat good food as most of my recent visits have been there for conferences.

It’s a festive holiday atmosphere with decorations at the Roosevelt Hotel, streetcars gliding between the lights of St. Charles mansions and pre-Sugar Bowl hoopla. Go Ole Miss Rebels!

We enjoyed mostly casual fare – “poor boys” at Midtown’s Parkway Bakery & Tavern and French fries with crawfish etouffee at Dat Dogs on Magazine Street but did make time for a leisurely luxurious breakfast at Brennan’s, where we saw Woody Allen! Daughter Claire was the first to notice him. She’s spotted celebrities four times this year – Shane West at Starbucks in Shreveport on Valentine’s Day, one of the Jonas Brothers at Border Grill in Las Vegas and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander in Fort Worth.

Wishing You a Happy New Year!

The family at Brennan's