Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jungle Gardens of Avery Island - 4/28/15

Jungle Gardens is an 170-acre flora and fauna sanctuary that was initially founded in 1895 by Edward McIlhenny (the founder of Tabasco Pepper Sauce) when he captured and raised eight wild egrets. When they were ready to migrate, McIlhenny freed them and they returned the following year and every year thereafter. The Gardens are committed to the preservation and study of flora and fauna from around the world.

After the Tabasco Factory Tour, we drove the short distance the Jungle Gardens Visitor Center. Here we paid our admission ($8/adult) and obtained a map of the three-mile driving tour.

There are 15 stops along the tour (and an audio program that can be accessed via your cell phone) for each. The first stop has Southern Live Oak trees that are prominent throughout the park. They are just gorgeous!

Bayou Petit Anse and Marsh Trail is where we saw our first alligator of the day.

And egrets.

And turtles.

The Boat House was built by McIlhenny for his friend, Charles Willis Ward, who had a 70' motorboat.
Venetian Gardens.

This oak tree is named for President Grover Cleveland when he visited the McIlhenny family in 1891. It is 300+ years old. Down the road from this huge oak is the Holly Arch.

From the Cleveland Oak we followed the path to the Buddha's Temple and lagoon in front of it.

The Buddha was built for the Shonfa Temple, northeast of Peking, by the order of Emperor Hui Tsung (1101-1125). It was looted by a rebel militant in the 20th century and sent to New York to be sold. It was purchased by friends and given to E. A. McIlhenny as a gift in 1936.

This area is known as Bird City. The first aviary was built over 100 years ago and today this area is home to thousands of egrets, herons, other water fowl and wildlife.

I loved seeing the oaks, palms, and alligator in this area as well.

Bamboo was imported from China and can be seen in many locations throughout the gardens.

We felt these gardens were definitely worth the $8/per admission price. The waterfowl alone are spectacular. And the Buddha temple in this location was a totally unexpected surprise (and delight!) It  is in a beautifully serene setting. Be sure to explore the pathways that can be found at multiple spots (illustrated on the map that is provided when you pay your admission fee at the visitors center). The one-way scenic drive makes it very easy to enjoy the many sites that can be seen here. Kudos to the McIlhenny family for creating this piece of paradise at Avery Island.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory - 4/28/15

Today we made our way to Avery Island for a tour of the factory where all of the Tabasco sauce in the world is made by the McIlhenny Company. The sauce was invented by Edmund McIlhenny in 1868 at this same location. And the company continues to be privately-held, owned, and operated by direct descendants.

The tour starts at the Visitors Center where there are two small rooms with exhibits that describe the history of the creation of the pepper sauce in the 1860s and the process to create it. Tabasco sauce is currently distributed to 160 countries.

Tours begin approximately every 20 minutes. A spokesperson for the company provided an overview of the company and we viewed a 10-minute video in the small theatre.

The pepper plant seeds (capsicum frutescena)) that originated in Central America were given to Edmund McIlhenny as a gift in 1865. Ripened peppers are picked by hand and placed in wooden boxes. At the factory the peppers will be pressed to remove the seeds from the best plants that will be used for future crops. Today, there are large farms that grow the peppers year-round in Central and South America that are used to make the pepper sauce.

Following the video the tour continues to the Factory Viewing Area where we observed the bottling and and packaging operations of the factory.

About 700,000 bottles are produced per day. There is a digital counter in the Factory area that tracks the number of bottles produced each day.

Another exhibit are is located beyond the Factory Viewing Area that provides additional information about how the pepper sauce is made. When the peppers are picked, they are mixed with pure Avery Island salt and ground into a mash that is stirred in 50-gallon white oak barrels for three years. The barrels are purchased from Jack Daniels, thoroughly cleaned, and they used until they fall apart. After three years, the mash is mixed with vinegar for weeks, strained, and then bottled/labelled. The recipe remains the same over the years and different flavors of sauce have been created. There is a "reserve" mix that contains mash that has been aged for eight years and is, apparently, extra hot.

After the tour we visited the Country Store where a wide variety of Tabasco-themed merchandise can be found. Samples of all of the varieties of pepper sauce are available for tasting.

We loved learning more about this hugely successful company. An expanded "visitor experience" is under construction now that will provide additional displays, access to more of the operations, and a Creole-style restaurant.

Admission is $1/vehicle collected at a tollbooth at the entrance to the property. For additional information or to order products on-line, visit their website.


Mudbugs! - 4/27/15

There is always something going on at Betty's RV Park! This afternoon, Betty took our dinner requests and placed our orders for crawfish or shrimp boil dinners. Because neither John nor I have eaten crawfish (and I didn't know they were called mudbugs!) we ordered a combo dinner (crawfish and shrimp) that came with potatoes and corn on the cob.

One of our fellow RVers picked up our orders and we gathered together for our feast!

Instructions on the proper method of eating crawfish was provided by Danny (below) and Betty.

John only ate the shrimp but had fun playing with the crawfish. They were huge! I loved the crawfish and will definitely be eating it again soon. It was delicious! And the sauce provided made it especially scrumptious.

We definitely came to Louisiana the right time of year, the height of the crawfish season. Yum!

Cajun Woodstock - 4/26/15

We arrived in Cajun Country yesterday and made our way to the Cajun Woodstock festival held at the Church Point City Park in Church Point, LA, Sunday.

Held annually since 2003, the festival is a fund-raising event for St. Jude Children's Hospital. Today it is a 2-day festival with 8 bands, food vendors, and auctions. As of 2014, the festival has sent over $350,000 to St. Jude's with the help of the local community. There was a very diverse crowd here from young to old and some bikers too. 

In addition to the $5 admission fee, other funding programs include a Rice & Gravy Cook Off, the "Cruzin for a Cure" Poker Run, and a silent auction. You can see some of the items donated for the silent auction in the front of the stage. 

Food vendors are set up along with several other vendors of merchandise. Tickets can be purchased 
buy drinks (beer, soft drinks, and water). We had some red beans and rice with sausage and some jambalaya... both delicious.

We were expecting to hear Cajun music, but the band we heard was pure rock and roll. Regardless, we enjoyed visiting this small town and an event for a worthy cause. It was very apparent that this is a very giving community. 

The event is held the last week of April. For information about the 2016 event, visit their website.