Bayou Boudin & Cracklin’
100 W. Mills Ave.
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
“That’s how we met Hank Williams Jr.—and Merle Haggard, with some gumbo and some boudin.” – Rocky Sonnier
Rocky Sonnier might not have had cultural preservation in mind when he and his wife, Lisa, began building their Bayou Boudin & Cracklin’/Bayou Cabins bed and breakfast 20 years ago, but today the compound, which edges along Bayou Teche, is a virtual living history museum. Many of the cabins-for-rent have had multiple lives—as washhouses or residences—and at least one is insulated naturally with bousillage, a mixture of mud and Spanish moss formerly used in traditional Cajun homes. As guests wake up and take their places in the store for scrambled eggs or beignets fried in hog lard, they are greeted by a constant stream of local customers dropping by Bayou Boudin & Cracklin’ for a bag of cracklings and a link or two of boudin en route to work. Some of these locals address Rocky in a cheery Cajun-French dialect; others chat with him about the region’s Cajun music, one of Rocky’s passions, as evidenced by the paraphernalia crowding the store’s walls. The Sonniers differ some in their gumbo preferences: Lisa likes okra; Rocky does not. But they find common ground in the “gumbo juice” they make by the army pot and sell by the gallon as a gumbo starter kit.
Listen to this one–minute audio clip of Rocky Sonnier talking about making “gumbo juice.” [Windows Media Player required. Go here to download the player for free.]
NOTE: What follows is a portion of the original
interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire
transcript in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Rocky Sonnier
Date: September 9, 2007
Location: Bayou Boudin & Cracklin’—Breaux Bridge, LA
Interviewer & Photographer: Sara Roahen
Sara Roahen: This is Sara Roahen for the Southern Foodways Alliance. It’s Sunday, September 9, 2007. I’m in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana with Mr. Rocky Sonnier. —And I would just like to ask you, to start out, to tell me your full name and your birth date.
Rocky Sonnier: My name is Rocky Sonnier, and my birthday is September 29, 1958. I’m 49 years-old. I’m almost—I’m going to be 49 this month, yeah—not pushing too much.
Let me just start off by asking you, can you tell me the name of the place where we are right now, and kind of explain the business to me a little bit?
Okay, the name—the actual name of it is Bayou Boudin & Cracklin’, and then we call it Bayou Cabins also. It’s called Bayou Boudin & Cracklin’ and Bayou Cabins. We started out with just Bayou Boudin in 1987, and after about three years or something one of my buddies had a little cabin. He was going to make a houseboat with it, and he never did do anything with it, and I asked him if we could just take it over here and if he wasn’t going to use it, we were going to use it. And that’s how we—we started with the cabins, and that was in ’93, so—.
Tell me a little bit about your background, where you grew up.
We grew up right down the road here about six-miles. It’s called Anse La Butte, and we had seven kids. My daddy worked in the oil field and my mama was raising us—six boys and one girl, and we all still live over here. I had one brother that died. He was 62; he died about three years ago. And all of us still live in Breaux Bridge or Lafayette six miles away, so—and we see each other pretty good.
Do you know what your heritage is, where your ancestors are from?
Yeah. I’m—I’m thinking—I was told I’m a Creole, but you ask now—probably you ask 10 people what a Creole is, and they going to say it’s a black ‘cause there’s the music Creole, is from the blacks. And the cooking is, Creole cooking—it’s cooked with a lot of tomatoes, and that’s—that’s usually black people that cook with the tomatoes. And the blacks learned that—well the Creole cooking comes from the—from Haiti when they was exiled in 1776. The Cajuns did stop over there in Haiti, and that’s where they got a lot of recipes like gumbo and some cooking with tomatoes and stuff like that. But my buddy told me—he’s a local historian; his name is Kenny Delcambre—the definition of a Creole is a Spanish and a French marriage. And my daddy was a Sonnier; he came—his grandfather came on the boat. It was—it’s a father and a son on the boat from France. And my mama was a Domingue, and her—Spanish. So my mama is Spanish and my daddy is French, so I call it Cajun, but I think I’m going to have to ask him another time. But I think I’m a Creole, but I’m not black. And they say Creole is black over here. But the true definition I was told, that’s what I am. So I’m a Cajun and—from France, daddy was, and my mama from Spanish, and I do talk French.
My mama and daddy, when they went to school they had to learn English. That’s like Lisa’s mama and daddy too. That generation there, they didn’t know how to talk English. They had to learn that in school, and if you went to school and they would talk French, they would punish them. So when they was getting punished at school for talking French. They would make them kneel down, and they had a sign on them, I will not speak French on the school grounds. So they were humiliated. They was probably—when they talk about people being discriminated against, I would think the Cajuns was one of the first people to be discriminated against because of that. And they were called low-class ‘cause they didn’t know no English, and now shit, the damn—now you go somewhere and they got signs in Spanish and in American, you know. They need—they should learn how to talk English; they shouldn’t have no other—. Why they didn’t have signs for the French people in French, and then for the English people in English, you know?
But to get back to the French talking and speaking like that, so when they got punished at—at school, sure enough they didn’t want their kids—you know you don’t love nobody more than you love your kids, so you didn’t want them to get humiliated and think they was worth nothing, so they wouldn’t teach the kids French, and they would just talk French among the grown-ups. And so that generation really—really got close to being dissolved, or whatever the word is, or—. Cajun French is one of the very few languages what’s been kept over 100 years and never written down, you know. You got some dialects in Breaux Bridge, and they got Cecilia, Saint Martinsville—all these little towns in the same parish, they got some different words for the same thing, you know. They’re close, but just—but nobody had no phone; you started talking French, and whatever you was talking you was talking, but you start pronouncing it different. And then you know it take you two days to go six miles through the woods to Cecilia, so that’s why all the little Frenches are a little—completely different. And there are 64 Parishes in Louisiana, and now they got probably—maybe eight of the parishes speak French, you know.
And one thing what helped is the language for—helped to preserve the language is the French music. People love the music over here. And then all the music—good cultural music, and like we have—on the back porch over here we have probably about 60—we used to have a kids’ jam session. If you could sing, play the Cajun accordion, the fiddle, or sing in French, they would let them play. Miss Helen Boudreaux is the one who kind of, like she started the little jam session that I could have here. And, but it was real nice and—but it got—we used to do it the first Sunday of the month, and you know it’s hard. It would either rain on that Sunday or—and we don’t have a covered pavilion. But it lasted about two years, and man, we had some great times. We got some good videos of it, and half of these people are still playing and they—they touring all over the world, and they started off over here.
What did you do right after school?
Oh well I quit school and I got a minor’s release and I went to work in the oil fields for Frank’s Casing Crew. And worked there, and then after that I made marble—manmade marble, and I started painting and sheet rock. I had—we had our own little business, me and my brother, and we did that for 10 years. Then I wanted to make some boudin and crackling after that, and that’s—we been here after that.
So when you made the switch to the boudin and crackling, did the preservation of your culture come into play at all?
Well I don’t know. Well I used to enjoy going see people cook crackling and stuff like that, and watching them old people cook and help them, ‘cause yeah. I guess it had a lot to do with that come to think about it, yeah.
And does it now? Do you—are you aware of sort of your cultural worth?
Yeah, because with our cabins, half of the people come from another country. And then the other half—about 30, 35-percent that’s from another state, so—. And they all—people come over here in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana exactly for the food and the—and the music. So we’re a big part of the attraction of Louisiana: food, the culture, and the music. Us, when we go somewhere we going to get us a big ice chest and put our food in there and vacuum pack it with the seasoning and everything, put the seafood, fill it up with ice, and when we go somewhere we going to cook—we just have to cook. If somebody comes over here they ain’t coming to cook because they—the Cajuns got to—they know how to cook.
Do you make gumbo here at all?
Oh yeah, we make gumbo here. We make a gumbo; we cook it. We make a “gumbo juice,” we call it. We get our roux and we get—we make it nine gallons at a time in the big army pot. I think three pounds of roux—I forget what it is, ‘cause I’m getting ready to make some anyway. Three pounds of roux, nine gallons of water, three—just three pounds of onions, and a pound of bell pepper; garlic. And we just boil it and let it cook real slow, get it to good boiling, and we do that for six hours. And after it cools you—you let it cool, and then you put it in the cooler overnight, and then the next day and we take it and we put it in some gallons, and we put it in the—and we vacuum pack it frozen. And we sell it like that, ‘cause when you get home you can cut it open and you defrost it, and you can put your shrimp, your craw—your shrimp, crab—we use a lot of shrimp and crabmeat and oysters. You put [your seafood] in there and you heat it up and 20 minutes, you got a six-hour gumbo in 20 minutes ‘cause of the juice. The trick to anything is cooking it a long time, you know. Or we have the chicken and sausage gumbo, fresh sausage and hen gumbo. That’s my best.
Fresh sausage and hen?
Uh-hm, that too, but I’m just telling you how we make our little juice. That’s how we met Hank Williams Jr.—and Merle Haggard, with some gumbo and some boudin.
And so that’s like a concentrate—a very concentrated stock, huh?
Very concentrated stock. That’s a good way to put it.
Do you use pre-made roux, or do you make that roux?
We use pre-made roux. We can make a roux, but it takes so long and we got so much other stuff…To make a roux, you just use a cup oil to a cup of flour. That’s—that’s probably your best recipe right there. And then you just stir it, stir it ‘til it gets to the right color, and just don’t leave the stove. But they have these companies, that’s all they make. We get about five gallon jugs. And some companies—Savoie’s, Richard’s, Kary’s Roux, and Kary’s to me is by far the best roux. And it’s, you know—and they never miss, or you can't miss if you move it from the stove. And they got—it’s all machines and it’s all by temperature and stuff like that. So when you can get something at a good consistency like that, you just as soon stick with it. You know what I mean?
Your mom, was she a good cook?
Oh yeah, my mama was a good cook. I was difficile. What you call that? Difficile in English is--?
Picky, difficult. I have another word I was looking for though. Yeah, whatever, I will think about it but it—picky, difficult. Anyway, she—me and my little sister was like that, and my other brothers just—she sometimes—a lot of times she cooked three different things in one night ‘cause we didn’t want to eat the onions and take the onions out. And I’m straining my gumbo with a little strainer.
Strained what out of it? [Laughs]
The onions—the onions, and now everybody says that, Somebody who used to strain the onions and now they buying the onions by the sacks over here, but—. Yeah, she was a real good cook, and most times she’d make a good pork roast, you know. One of her specialties was salmon balls, which is not Cajun, but you talk about good. It’s—get the pink salmon in a can, and you take it out and you got to take the little bones out, and you get you an egg and you crack the egg; salt it with salt and black pepper and the red pepper, and you boil some potatoes—probably about, for that can you probably boil about four potatoes—medium potatoes like a little apple or a little tomato. Boil the potatoes, and you make—after they boil real good, you mix that salmon with the potatoes and you roll them up and make a little ball and you just roll them in some flour—just some flour, and you deep fry them. Now that’s good stuff.
I wonder where—how she got that recipe.
I don’t know, ‘cause salmon—salmon was cheap. They—they do it with fish, with salmon. I really don’t like salmon. I tried to eat that twice, and it’s so strong like a tuna, but with them potatoes it cuts it. It just—I’m kind of hungry for some right now, tell you that.
Back to your hen and sausage gumbo—what’s the difference between a hen and a chicken?
A hen is a yard chicken I guess, huh, and you can cook it a long time, and the longer you cook anything—very few people—. Shew, hardly nobody cooks just the juice and freezes it when they need it, so when you cooking it, that hen is cooked and they put the flavor—when they start cooking that gumbo juice, you can put the hen and you can boil that son of a gun for about two hours in there without it breaking up. You put a chicken in there and you boil it a half-hour there, and then it don’t—it all breaks up. It’s—it’s not pretty. It’s just stringy in there. And that hen, the more you boil it the flavor comes out them bones and stuff like that; it’s a much better flavor with a hen. That’s why we do that.
And then we use a fresh sausage or a chicken sausage. I use that—my whole family does. Now you go to Ville Platte at another parish—Saint Landry Parish I guess it is—they all put smoked sausage in their gumbo. Now that’s a different—completely different taste. New Orleans, they all put tomatoes in their gumbo. You can't have no tomatoes in no gumbo. That’s not a gumbo. And they got—old people put okra in a gumbo, but that’s called an okra-—a gum-bo [French pronunciation]. That’s the way you say okra in French, is gum-bo, so and then that comes from Haiti. They were—that was their gumbo, and you use that—you eat that with shrimp, with seafood. Seafood gumbo is with okra.
But you generally don’t put okra in yours?
No, we never do, but my wife does. That’s her okra gumbo—her mama. They like that. I don’t like the okra, me. I don’t like it. I never tasted it. I told you I was difficile.
And what about filé? You put filé in your gumbo?
Filé, every once in a while, and then they got some crazy people too. They make the gumbo with just filé. And that’s—that’s another thing: it got to be green. Filé is actually—your gumbo there, you want a little different taste, and then you just sprinkle a little bit on it and it kind of thickens it up. But the traditional gumbo, you put your—you make your roux with your cup of flour to a cup of oil. You stir it, stir it, and when you get the pretty color you want you put your onions in and your bell pepper and your garlic, and you just mix it up in your roux. And then you put your water in there and you just let it boil. And you add your hen and your sausage, and then your—let it boil again. Cook it a long time. You cook that roux and water for three hours if you can. That’s the minimum.
How long do you cook the hen?
Well the hen—that—well the hen you could—you probably put him [in] after about two hours of the boiling, and then there’s a four-hour gumbo for real good gumbo.
I just remembered that when I was here, when I stayed here, I think we had beignets for breakfast that were fried in the—fried in lard, huh?
[Laughs] Fried in hog lard, yeah. That’s—I guess I can give you our recipe. It’s an easy one. You go to a Winn Dixie and get some Pillsbury Biscuits—four for a dollar. And you roll them up with your little rolling pin, and you put a little slit in it, and you put them in the hot grease at 350. It takes about two minutes to fry them, and then you sprinkle them with some powdered sugar and they’re ready to go. Or, you can put even a little—I like to put the cinnamon and the—a little bit of cinnamon in there and some powdered sugar. That’s good stuff.
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in PDF form, please click here.
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