Side Dish: Crawfish get their very own history

“Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean” by Sam Irwin.

The History Press. $19.99.

160 page paperback.

Freelance writer Sam Irwin’s new book, “Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean,” includes a few recipes, but this isn’t a cookbook. It’s a story about how red crawfish came to be so important in south Louisiana.

For many people in south Louisiana, Easter dinner isn’t complete without crawfish. But, believe it or not, as Marcelle Bienvenu writes in the book’s foreword, about 60 years ago or so when most crawfish came from the Atchafalaya Basin, some people considered it a “poor man’s food.” That’s also when crawfish was not a commercial product, rather were caught locally.

Then in 1959, the town of Breaux Bridge decided to celebrate its centennial by hosting a crawfish festival and soon crawfish were in demand by everyone. For more consistent supplies, crawfish farming began. Today, crawfish is a multimillion dollar business and demand is worldwide.

Irwin, former editor of the Louisiana Market Bulletin who served as press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, writes that his grandfather Joe Amy (pronounced Ah-me) was a pioneer in the crawfish business. Amy, a fish buyer, was from Henderson in St. Martin Parish where the business of providing fresh, peeled crawfish to restaurants took off.

The author discusses crawfishing as a social activity, Breaux Bridge as the “Crawfish Capital of the World” and the crawfish/crayfish debate. He also writes about the colorful personalities who promoted crawfish, why the crawfish crossed the road, crawfish ranching, double-cropping crawfish with rice, and supply-and-demand issues.

The book is illustrated with numerous black-and-white and color photographs, including some by photographer Ron J. Berard.

Irwin will give a talk and sign copies of his book at Crawfish Town USA in Breaux Bridge from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

The other team

It seems there were two Baton Rouge teams among the 90 competitors at the 2014 Hogs for a Cause in New Orleans on March 29.

Last week I wrote about tasting a couple of the Bacon Rouge team’s entries in the charity event, but I missed trying The Mansura Candidate team’s creative goodies — glazed cracklin’s and grilled pizza topped with cochon du lait, prosciutto and smoked roasted garlic.

The Mansura Candidate team has participated in the Ben Serrat Jr. “High on the Hog” Cook-off for the past three years and has been among the medal winners (the top three in a category) two out of the last three years. This year The Mansura Candidate took third in the highly contested Ribs. It also placed 12th in the Whole Hog category and was 16th overall in the Grand Champion competition.

Team members Beau Layfield, Parker Kilgore and Charlie Colvin are assisted by their spouses, other family members and friends. They say the “Hogs” charity, which is the premier fundraiser for pediatric brain cancer outreach services in the United States, has special meaning for them. Rene Louapre, the nonprofit’s co-founder, was an LSU Law classmate and cooking buddy of Kilgore and Layfield.

It was Louapre who named the team after Layfields’ hometown of Mansura, the location of the Cochon du Lait Festival, held annually on the second weekend in May. Layfield’s wife, Alexandra Clark Layfield, has served as co-chair of the Hogs for a Cause Friday Night Gala Dinner since its start in 2013.

“The growth of the event has been amazing and is a testament to the hard work of Louapre and his co-founder, Becker Hall,” they said.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.