By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
What a treat it was this morning to wake up and pop a fresh raspberry tart into the oven, where I warmed the pastry up just enough to get that sweet berry filling all bubbly and juicy. It was the perfect accompaniment with my morning coffee. And it made me glad, all over again, that I made my way up to Delcambre (all the way from New Orleans) on Saturday to visit the Delcambre Seafood & Farmers Market.
And I’m guessing I’m not the only one who felt that way today! Because more than 3500 area residents turned out for the event, buying up all kinds of local goods from over 80 vendors! The turnout was an amazing success story for our friends with the West End Health & Wellness Project (a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant supported program, focused on bringing healthy food options to the West End of New Iberia). Delcambre Direct Seafood is our partner in this $4.7 million venture (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation provided $1 million). Afterall, their first event, held back in March, drew a more modest audience (with just 27 vendors and a fraction of the crowd seen this past weekend). The growth just shows how excited neighbors are to have a thriving open market, offering fresh and local foods, in their back yard.
And as we all mingled about — swirling between the stands offering everything from freshly caught seafood, fresh baked breads, home made sweets, event arts and crafts — it was hard not to be impressed by the local enthusiasm. Area shrimper Cheryl Granger (a primary distributor of Vermilion Bay Sweet White Shrimp) was nearly sold out of her seafood fare before 10 a.m. Her husband, Albert Granger, is the shrimp boat captain, who caught everything right out of nearby waters, atop their shrimp boat, Ms. Brittany G. And Mitch Polito, whose plant specializes in packaging the Granger’s shrimp using only organic, preservative-free methods, couldn’t help but brag about their product.
“Everything we do promotes health,” Polito told customers. “No one else is doing it this way!”
And at a nearby booth, Chef Patrick Mould, whom we were told is “quite famous in these parts,” held court in front of a growing crowd. They eagerly inched near his giant silver pans of pasta, shrimp and corn. Throughout the day, he handed out samples of his healthy fare, including creole shrimp gazpacho and, my personal favorite, the shrimp corn penne salad! In every dish, he used the Vermilion Bay seafood, which he declared among the best on the market, for taste and health. “It’s all caught in the gulf one day, and flash frozen and sold the next,” Mould said. “You can’t get any fresher than that!” (To check out more of Mould’s signature recipes, check out his websitewww.cookingupagoodlife.com)
“Go ahead, take a sample,” Mould told the hungry on-lookers. “It’s all nice and healthy for ya!”
Indeed, to ensure the goodness of each recipe, Iberia Medical Center officials tested each one for calorie count and fat content, Mould said.
And across the lawn, Penn Tompkins, a cook for Iberia Medical Center (also a market sponsor), watched a colleague stir-up a large pot of gator meat.
“There’s no fat in the tail,” said Tompkins, as he prepared to cook up a nicely spiced alligator picante. And I have to admit, having never indulged in alligator meat before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was delicious — a white, slightly fishy tasting meat with the consistency of chicken. A spicy tomato gravy pulled all the flavors together just right. Kudos, Mr. Tompkins!
“Obviously, we are here to promote health,” Tompkins said. “We all have a little work to do, living here in Louisiana. We do love to live a certain life style. But there’s no reason we can’t still eat the foods we love, just prepared in a smarter way.”
And practically bursting with pride over the successful event was Mike Tarantino, president and CEO of the Iberia Development Foundation. He quickly credited the BCBSLAF for “making today possible.”
“This community was hit by a series of very damaging hurricanes and we saw our shrimping industry in serious decline,” Tarantino said. “But we were able to get together and say, ‘Let’s do something to reinvigorate our fisheries. Let’s do something good for our community!’ And today is a part of that solution. So, we’re honored to be a part of this.”
And we were so thrilled to hear Tarantino talk about plans to expand the market, offering a similar event in the West End of New Iberia, some 10 miles away, where low-income residents often have difficulty finding full-service grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable seafood and produce.
“We’ve developed quite a vendor network here and we’d love to bring that to the West End,” he said. “The goal is to help people on the West End be within walking distance to the same products we have here today.”
And perhaps one of my favorite characters of the day… Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, who walked around gleefully posing with the giant pair of scissors he used for the morning’s official “rope cutting ceremony,” kicking off the day’s events. BCBSLAF’s Lydia Martin stood nearby, lending a hand for the ceremony.
The day’s band was pretty rocking, too, and played a steady stream of country and Cajun sounds while some residents lined up nearby for samples of locally owned Shawn’s Cajun Meat. Their sausages were no joke! Such yummy goodness, I had to walk away with a pound of their syrup sausage, already dreaming of how that will taste cooked up next to some egg whites and wheat toast! Oh, and the piggy that had been roasting nearby all day long turned into some of the juiciest pulled pork I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.
All in all, it was such a fun day. And if you missed out, don’t mistake twice! In the name of eating local, eating fresh, eating healthy, do come on by! Upcoming market dates are: Sept 21, Oct 5, Nov 9, Dec 14. Each market takes place at Delcambre’s Shrimp Festival Grounds. For more information, check in atwww.delcambremarket.org or www.facebook.com/delcambremarket. See y’all there!