Tag Archives: Louisiana

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?

 

Ride America’s Rails to Trails And Never Say “Car Back!”

When I became interested in bicycling again a few years back, I started reading up on old railroad beds that had been converted to bike trails.

No car traffic. Small towns, rural scenery, city waterfronts. Rest stops and water fountains along the away.  Sounded great.

And it is.

My first rails-to-trails ride was on the Tammany Trace on an old Illinois Central corridor in South Louisiana. I rode the entire 27.6-mile trail and back during my 55th birthday weekend. It’s a beauty. Since that ride about four years ago, I’ve been to others, including the Katy Trail in Missouri, a 238-mile trail that stretches  across most of the state. (For the record, my husband and I rode sections not the entire Katy Trail).

There are new trails to ride almost every day thanks to The Rails to Trails Conservancy,  a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating  a more bikeable and walkable America. Their website TrailLink.com contains a wealth of information on these trails–not only on rails-to-trails conversions but all traffic-free bicycle and pedestrian paths. You can find out about surface types, towns and things to do along the routes, user reviews and more. Most trails also have their own websites independent of TrailLink.com.

Rails-Trails
There are plenty of tools available to research rails-trails.

I have the TrailLink app on my phone that points me to nearby trails while I am traveling. A few like the Katy are crushed limestone, and we were glad we had hybrid bikes with wider tires when we rode. The trail was smooth but we couldn’t manage much more than 8 mph in places. I prefer the paved trails (either asphalt or concrete) with small towns to explore along the way.

There are plenty of rail-trails with all types of surfaces. According to TrailLink.com, there are now 1,997 miles of rail-trails comprising 22, 470 of miles in the United States. Another 777 trails are under construction.

Most rail-trails have speed limits of 15 mph or so, You aren’t competing with racing cyclists, but you are sharing the trail with pedestrians and, in some cases, equestrians and skateboarders.

There are some exciting rail-trails/greenways under development. The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile project that will connect Maine to Key West, Florida and many Atlantic Coast cities between them.  Closer to home, a 132-mile Northeast Texas Trail is being developed between surburban Dallas and the outskirts of Texarkana. Some sections are already open, but it’s a mix of gravel, crushed stone and asphalt. Study the map and read the comments on road conditions carefully before you head out.

One of my favorites to ride was the High Trestle Trail in Iowa, so named because it includes a 13-story converted railroad bridge over the Des Moines River. The bridge lights up at night giving the experience of  riding through a tunnel. My current favorite is the one I rode most recently: Tanglefoot Trail in Mississippi down the path of a railroad built by William Faulkner’s great grandfather.  The fun is experiencing small towns along the route. You can read about my experience here.

High Trestle Trail bridge
Sunset on the High Trestle Trail bridge near Des Moines, Iowa

Next month I’m going on vacation to Washington and Oregon, and I’ll be trying a couple more rail-trails.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy also has a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame–currently at 30 trails. They are recognized for such things as scenery, maintenance and community support. Here’s a few from that list:

Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail in Wisconsin. This is the original rail-trail, opening in the 1960s. Wisconsin has a vast network of rail-trails, and we are just going to have to go back to Wisconsin to explore them all. We did enjoy the Hank Aaron State Trail along Milwaukee’s lakefront and the rural Ahnapee State Trail in Door County, Wisconsin. The Elroy-Sparta is crushed limetone and features three tunnels. The 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta connects with three other trails to form 101 miles.

But I’m partial to the paved trails, so I’ll be exploring these Hall of Fame trails soon:

Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail: These  trails join together for 95 continuous miles. The Silver Comet, named for a popular passenger train that traversed the route during the 1940s and 1950s, is the longest at 62 miles beginning on the east at Smyrna  just outside Atlanta. At the Alabama line, it joins the 33-mile Chief Ladiga and proceeds to its western end at Anniston.

Longleaf Trace. This is one in my home state that I keep intending to try, but I have just not made it there yet. The route is mostly a rural 41 miles through fields and the trail’s namesake longleaf pine forests.

Seeing Longleaf Trace on the list makes me want to plan a trip tomorrow. Anybody want to ride with me?

 

 

 

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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

Go to Gullo’s For Produce, Lunch & To Go Meals

I’m lucky enough to live less than two miles away from Gullo’s Fresh Produce & Classic Bake Shop on Flournoy Lucas in Shreveport. Last year, I had to go the entire summer without Gullo’s as it had to rebuild from a fire.

I’m thankful a renovated Gullo’s Fresh Produce opened earlier this year. It includes an enclosed dining room so you don’t have to eat outside on the patio or under the pecan tree in the July heat.

I like to pop in from time to time when I need a few tomatoes, peppers or some other veggies. I usually leave with more than I intended — a jar of green tomato pickles or some locally made toffee.

There’s also “to go” casseroles and salads in the refrigerator and some baked goods.

But the real draw is the hot lunch menu.  They are known for their hamburgers on sourdough buns that have frequently been included in Best Hamburger in Shreveport, even Best Hamburger in Louisiana lists. We went the other day. I was good and got the salad with chicken, Thankfully, my husband shared significant bites of his Friday special–hamburger steak, squash, braised cabbage (my favorite), sweet potatoes and homemade roll.

The new Gullo’s Fresh Produce has evening hours and and is open Sundays. And according to Gullos Facebook page, they are planning a  Gullo’s #2 in downtown 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.  

 

Bossier City’s New Bicycle-Pedestrian Bridge

It’s nice to be able to bicycle along the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway path in Bossier City this summer for at least three reasons.

No. 1. Last year, the parkway was unusable in many parts for much of the summer because of Red River flooding.

No. 2: The bicycle/pedestrian bridge opened this year so you can bicycle from CenturyLink Center over the parkway to the path. I wish there was a bridge over the Red River dedicated to bicyclists and pedestrians only (there are several in downtown Little Rock spanning the Arkansas River)

No. 3: There have been some beginner bicycling classes meeting on Thursday afternoons at 5:30 at the path’s southernmost pavilion. Today we are learning how to fix flats so if you are in the Shreveport-Bossier City area come join us. It’s free.

I’m also reminded that this time four years ago, I was bicycling on the path when a model White House facade (upper left) was under construction. It was in the exact location of what is now Walker Place Park. The White House facade was for the movie Olympus Has Fallen,  starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman.  (Butler had some nice things to say about Shreveport-Bossier City on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Read more here.)

The movie, about a terrorist taking over the White House, was on TNT earlier this week. You still may be able to view it online if you are a cable subscriber. I also found it in the $5 movie bin at Wal-Mart.

Olympus has fallen
Olympus has fallen
Walker Place Park
Walker Place Park

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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