A Louisiana Kitchen
Erin Tucker has been working at Ralston Family Farms for three years. She was raised and Louisiana and knows a few things about rice. She shares with us her story about cooking, family, and what it's all really about:
I was raised in a southern kitchen. From the time I was six years old, my grandmother (affectionately referred to by our family as Mimmy) began to teach me the skills, nuances, and subtleties of the cooking art which had been handed down from her mother and her mother before her. Memories of my childhood are filled with tasks revolving around hunting and fishing, plans and preparation for planting the garden, and how to mesh everything we gathered to prepare the finest table fare possible. Every person in my family took pride in preparing the best meal they could for friends and family. We took turns in the kitchen, visiting while we were cooking, sharing our day, telling stories, and solving the world’s problems in general. And much like the pinch of seasoning to give a dish just the right fullness of flavor, there were always a little Louisiana politics splashed in the conversation for good measure to give that little added zing; something we refer to as lagniappe. Indeed, each member of my family has contributed to my love of cooking in some special way or another.
When I was old enough to go to the woods with my dad, around the time I was 11 or 12, he showed me how to shoot, clean, and cook the game we harvested. He demonstrated the importance of moving deftly and softly through the leaves and the trees, all the while with a pigtailed little girl on his heels whose parading was more resemblant of a loose heeled pack of wildebeests than the cunning and skillful marksman treading light on his heels before me. They say that patience is the finest of virtues, and that trait Daddy exhibited well time and again. To this day we still talk about what we have in the freezer and what we can put in a gumbo--Daddy makes the best duck gumbo. We also spent a lot of time in the garden planting, tending, and picking a wide assortment of vegetables. Those summers were hot and humid, but the time and laughs we shared together will last a lifetime.
Momma definitely inherited my grandmother’s skills in the kitchen. She can make all of the good old recipes, but she always puts a healthier twist on her food. She views food as medicine, understanding that everything we put into our body plays a role in our health and well-being. Growing up she had me in the kitchen learning all sorts of practical life lessons like practicing math, I just didn’t know it at the time. She also let me be the sous chef. Remember everything that we grew in that garden? Well, guess who got to peel it? To this day I refuse to buy carrots that need to be peeled. Potatoes? Nope, they get left on, they have a lot of fiber in them anyway.
My brother is an excellent sportsman and has come into his own in the kitchen. The grill ranks high in his repertoire of preparing fresh fish, meats, and wild game. He really enjoys experimenting with recipes that include superfoods such as kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, and blueberries to name a few. They’re fortunate to live in an area where fresh seafood is abundant and readily available, and Oysters Rockefeller is his signature dish. His wife is also an excellent cook and she is passing her skills on to their daughter, who is becoming quite a good cook in her own right. Recently she made a delicious ginger cake for the whole family. It was quite delectable. Mimmy would be proud.
My mother-in-law could hold her own in the kitchen. It was well-known that if you were a member of First Baptist Church in Winnsboro you possessed certain highly sought-after culinary skills. I’m reasonably certain it was, and perhaps still is, a requirement for church membership. Circles of friends would often meet in the afternoons, where coffee and cakes were politely enjoyed, the goings-on of the church and community were discussed, and the occasional recipe shared. More often these recipes were distributed amongst ladies of the community with a key ingredient or two conveniently omitted unless of course, you were blood-related or married into the family. But those old church cookbooks are still my go-to for good home cooking. She had a lot of special little touches she would tell me to add to a recipe to make it my own. We spent many days in the kitchen drinking coffee and enjoying a fresh apple cake. I really miss her and those apple cakes. My husband learned quite a bit from her and he has really started spending more and more time in the kitchen these days. He shares his skills and his love for the outdoors with our son, who is a quick study and has really developed a passion for fishing and hunting. Even at a young age, he has already caught several impressive fish, both fresh and saltwater. Of the many fish that we have caught together, my husband has found that blackening is one of his favorite methods of preparation, which is convenient because it is one of my favorite ways to consume them! Together they are the breakfast kings in our house, which is their favorite meal to prepare. I am happy to leave that responsibility with them and get a few extra minutes of needed sleep.
My grandfather was a good cook himself and learned at an early age. Papaw would always joke that he had to teach my grandmother how to cook because they married so young. He took great pride in raising a garden, feeding his family and the surrounding community. When it was time for the garden to come off we would all gather together and have pea picking and corn shucking “parties”. Talk about great memories! In addition to his garden, my grandfather had some farmland outside town that he planted in rice. There wasn’t much rice grown in the area in those days, but he loved crawfish and grew rice to make sure that we always had enough crawfish to boil.
Mimmy took great pride in being a homemaker. She taught me at an early age that feeding your family well is a revered task that should be pursued with passion. She was well known locally as a great cook and had repeated requests for her recipes. Like many Southern ladies of her generation, she prepared many meals for church functions, community gatherings, and funerals. I will never forget the time she succeeded in having one of her recipes published in Southern Living. The Monroe, LA newspaper wrote a full-page article about her. I still have that article today. My uncle once won a bet with the owner of a large sporting goods store with one of Mimmy’s chocolate pies. The bet stood that if my grandmother’s chocolate pie was better than the award-winning local restaurant pie, he would get everything he had purchased from the store free of charge. We were amazed at how much hunting gear he got from one pie.
Mimmy wanted to pass on to me everything she learned over the years. I treasure the cookbooks she made with pictures of us in the kitchen and handwritten recipes and notes detailing that “only the best ingredients should be used.” While I love to make my great grandmother’s recipes that my grandmother gave to me, she and my mother always encouraged me to try new recipes. Throughout college and my married life, my grandmother would send me little handwritten notes in her beautiful script with a recipe attached; just something she came across that she thought I would enjoy. Mimmy and Momma encouraged me to follow John Folse, a world-renowned chef, a true Cajun, and great Louisiana ambassador. His tried and true recipes have been a staple in our household. While we still try new recipes, Chef Folse’s are hard to beat. He has documented the history of hunting, farming, and fishing in Louisiana, showcased the diverse regions and people of the state, and preserved the cultural recipes that outline the many preparation methods used throughout history. My uncle was even showcased in one of his cookbooks. I guess my family can relate to him.
My husband, son, and I now live in Arkansas and both his parents and my grandparents have passed away. But I still treasure the blessing of food and family. When I use an old recipe or stumble upon a handwritten note, I have a connection deeply rooted in love for family, passing along a legacy that reveres and honors their memory, and extends a culture to the next generation. My husband and I are sharing all of these things with our son and hopefully, he will feel the same connection to family, cooking, and the outdoors as we have. Even though it is hard to bring everyone together, because we are so spread out, we still make the effort by hosting hunts and family gatherings. It is our hope this will carry on with the younger generations and we will be able to have many generations of wonderful memories.
Ralston Family Farms understands the importance of food and family. They have been farming for ten generations and produce sustainably grown rice that is raised, milled, and packaged right here on the farm in Atkins, Arkansas. In honor of this food and family tradition, I am sharing a great etouffee recipe by one of my favorite chefs, John Folse. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.