Cajun Delicacies Were Meant To Be SharedAshley Redden / Actions & Adventure
Cajun Delicacies were meant to be Shared
By Ashley Redden
Copyright 2013 Ashley Redden
Image courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cajun Delicacies were meant to be Shared
Stanley carefully eased around the bend into the slow dead-end canal and throttled back the motor allowing the skiff to coast through the still waters. He didn’t kill the motor, but only now and again bumped the throttle, not adding to the speed so much as adjusting the heading. He carefully watched the tops of the Tupelo Gum trees that lined the back of this particular canal.
As Stanley eased closer to the bank, he could see little snippets of movement in the tops of the gum trees, unblinking yellow eyes peering down. He smiled and whispered, “Grobec.”
He eased his skiff up to one of the trees and gave the tiller handle of the motor a twist for more throttle deftly putting the gentle U shape bend of his bow directly onto the tree. In one almost seamless motion; Stanley killed the throttle and hopped to the front of the boat arriving just as the skiff bumped into the gum tree.
Two plump brown objects fell into the bayou one onto either side of the boat with a squawk and a plop as they each hit the water. Stanley reached down, one side then the next, to snatch each from the water and immediately gave a quick hard snap of his wrists. He lifted his arms to see the now dead birds, one in each hand.
He smiled bigger and whispered again, “Grobec.” He quickly moved to the back of the boat to clean both of his prizes.
Carefully, Stanley eased the skiff back and repeated the process knocking out and capturing thirteen more birds, all of which ended up in the back of the skiff. He had been coming to this spot for most of his life, and the Grobec came and nested here each and every year without fail. Other nesting sites were high in the trees, swamp oak and Cypress mostly, but here the Grobec nested low in the Tupelo Gum trees that hung over the water, like taking candy from a baby.
Stanley knew which time of the year the Grobec would fledge as well; you could almost set your watch by it. He arrived each year as the birds moved out of the nests and onto the limbs where a gentle bump from his skiff knocked them out of the tree like so many squawking pecans. Biggest difference though was pecans didn’t peck and a Grobec, baby or no, would go after a finger in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
In the bottom of the boat, Stanley had four large tins that he used when harvesting Grobec. He cleaned the birds which consisted of more skinning than plucking, then cut them up and put each into a tin. Once the tin was full, he started to fill the next until all four tins were filled. Each tin was lined with rocks at the bottom in case he met the law on his way back to camp. Unlike the old days, when Stanley’s ancestors had harvested Grobec each year on the bayou, these days, the birds were protected. If Stanley met any lawmen, he would unload his harvest and though it would break his heart to see such fine meat go down to feed the gators, he would rather feed the gators than spend time behind bars.
Stanley eased the boat around and looked up in the gum trees one last time before heading out. He could spy six, maybe ten brown birds with dirty canary yellow beaks and eyes staring down at him.
He said soothingly, “Don’t you fret now t-buddies, you just grow on up and watch out for dem gators and come on back here next year and make some more babies for ole Mr. Stanley, hear?”
He patted the tins and smiled turning the skiff back the way he had come and gently twisted the throttle. He noticed another wake heading his way with a snout long as his arm in the center of it which disappeared with a swirl just before Stanley’s skiff passed over it.
Stanley said to the water as he passed where the gator had been, “I’ll be back before it gets cold for you too.”
When Stanley Cavalier thought of Grobec, his immediate thoughts were of sauce piquant. Nothing, but nothing could be finer than Grobec sauce piquant. The only thing that could even come close would be alligator sauce piquant. Stanley patted the now full tins again and smiled. He would wait until the fall and pat that gator’s head too. He gave the engine throttle and headed in the direction of his camp.
Stanley stashed his prize in an old timey refrigerator that he had filled with ice just this morning. That thing would stay cold for a couple of days if not opened, so Stanley closed it up and headed for home.
As he neared the launch at the bridge, he spied a couple of strangers standing on the dock. Now Stanley Cavalier had never read one copy of The Enquirer in his whole life, wouldn’t even have known that such a thing existed, but he had a very inquiring mind nonetheless. He casually eased his skiff over towards the dock. Both men turned to look at Stanley as he approached.
He greeted them with a slight wave of his hand, “How yall are?”
One of the men answered, “We are just fine, thank you for asking.”
Stanley said, “Yall aren’t from round here huh?”
The same gentleman answered, “No sir, not at all. I’m from Illinois and my friend here is from Washington State. Where are you from if we might inquire?”
The other man took a tiny step forward, looked from one end of Stanley’s boat to the other and asked, “Really?”
Stanley snickered, “No man, course not. You two are standing less than a mile from where I was born.” He shook his head and smiled.
The man leaned down offering his hand which Stanley took and gave a firm shake. He said, “Nice to meet you sir. My name is Terry Stokey and my friend here is Dr. Brent Roby.”
Terry’s friend leaned down and also shook Stanley’s hand.
Stanley said, “So, Terry and the Doc, nice to meet yall. My first name’s Stanley. The last depends on where you’re at.”
Stanley smiled as each man frowned and explained, “If you are askin on the other side of the river, I would say Stanley Cavalier.” He pronounced his last name Cav-a-leer. “But if you find yourself on this side of the river, it would be Stanley Cavalier.” He pronounced his last name this time as Kah-val-yeah.
“So what you fellas doin round here?” Stanley looked them up and down and finished, “You don’t look like no bass fisherman to me.”
Terry said, “Fisherman, no not that. We are bird watchers.” He sighed and continued, “It just so turns out that we are bird watchers without a guide. We arrived and they tell us our guide has taken ill and has cancelled the trip. We may have traveled all the way down here for nothing.”
“Who this guide is?”
Terry said, “Dack Pugh.”
“Well, Old man Pugh is more than sick. He up and died bout two weeks ago.”
Stanley scratched his chin as he eyed the men. He said, “Tell you what. How bout I give yall that tour Old man Pugh promised? He was too old to be venturin out anyway.”
Both men straightened up. Doc asked, “How much would you charge?”
“You two just pay me what you were gonna pay Old man Pugh and we got a deal.”
Terry said, “We were to pay him three hundred apiece, but we have two more companions over in the store.”
Stanley smiled from ear to ear fully displaying his pearly yellows gaps and all. He said, “Deal. You fellas meet me here in the mornin at five o’clock and we’ll get goin. I know all the rookeries round the lake.”
Both men appeared to be about to cheer. Doc said, “Really?”
“Sure, Doc, I been watchin those birds all my life. I’ll even feed you fellas a Cajun delicacy afterwards.”
Terry and the Doc beamed. They shook on it and Stanley watched the two men hurry over to their friends as he backed his skiff off of the dock. The other two waved enthusiastically to Stanley as he straightened up his skiff and pointed it back down the bayou. Stanley casually waved back. The group of bird watchers were still talking and waving as Stanley crossed under the bridge. He shook his head and laughed so hard he nearly coughed.
He told Marie about his encounter when he got home. She frowned and harrumphed but didn’t say much at first. Then he told her the part about sharing a meal and what he intended that meal to be. Marie sat speechless for at least a full second, but like all good things in Stanley’s life, that didn’t last forever.
She stood up and smacked her flat hand on the table and bellowed, “What? Did you say you want me to get a Grobec Sauce Piquant goin? You crazy or what?”
Of course it didn’t end there; Marie was only just getting started. Stanley calmly placed his hands in his lap as he watched Marie rant. He noticed, not for the first time, that her neck got beet red when she got going on a fit. This made him smile, which in turn just set her off more. He patiently waited out the storm. Finally, she seemed spent or at least in a lull so he stood up. As he did she moved in front of him with her arms perched on her ample hips breathing noisily.
She raised a finger and shook it. Marie announced, “Stanley Cavalier, you got the devil in you. You gonna go feed those Yankee bird watchers Grobec when you know full well they would probably die first before eatin any of those birds. I tell ya, you got the pure devil up in you. It’s just like yo Mamaw use to say, that boy; he got the devil in him. He keep playin all these practical jokes on people he gonna wake up dead one day. She would say, that boy he full of the devil, him.”
“Marie,” Stanley said quietly, “They gonna pay me twelve hundred dollars to take them around the lake and look at birds. I just want to give em somethin good to eat is all? What’s better than a Cajun delicacy? After all, aren’t delicacies meant to be shared?”
Marie had stopped talking when she heard twelve hundred dollars. Stanley stood and watched her think; he swore he could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. He couldn’t help it, he grinned.
She leaned in close and said quietly, “Well, Grobec is the best we got. But you’ll have to get some more in a couple days for the family. Good thing I haven’t said anything to them yet.”
She smoothed down her apron and said matter-of-factly, “I’ll get a ride out to the camp about lunch to start the sauce piquant. You be nice to those men.” She patted Stanley on the shoulder as she went by.
He just kept smiling as he thought of Marie accusing him of being full of the devil. She was right of course, but apparently, Marie had a little streak of the devil in her too. Stanley headed to the bedroom his head dancing with mischievous thoughts.
The next morning Stanley picked up the four birdwatchers as promised and after introductions were made they set off. Stanley stopped just before sunrise at the mouth of the lake, where the main canals fed and split from each other. They sat and watched as waterfowl sped by some high, some just below or above the trees heading to and from different parts of the lake.
After an hour or so, the waterfowl quit flying and they headed out. Stanley took them from one rookery to another, hitting all the spots where he knew birds nested and stopping at other spots he had seen different wading birds feeding. The herons and storks and such were all over the lake, but he remembered always seeing birds at certain places. He made a point to stop at these particular places in-between the rookeries.
In all his years, he had never seen grown men get so excited about anything, let alone a bird of all things. Six hours after picking the four men up at the dock, Stanley eased his skiff around a bend into a familiar dead end canal lined with Tupelo Gum trees. As he pulled up to the gum trees, he pointed at the brown birds perched in the trees.
Stanley said, “We call these Grobec. When they are grown they are kind of blue with a white spot on their head. They get a long yellow streak on their head when they breed too.”
Doc looked around and said, “Ah, those are yellow crowned night herons.”
The other men in the boat nodded and all began writing in their little books followed by peering at the birds with binoculars and snapping pictures. As the men watched the birds, Stanley eyed the gator that had quietly emerged from the muddy water on the other side of the bayou.
An hour or so later, Stanley fired up the skiff and headed for his camp. Once docked, he got the men out and introduced them to Marie who fretted over each of them like a mother hen over newly-hatched chicks. She served them each a bowl of the sauce piquant from the large cast iron pot slow stewing on the porch of the floating camp.
Terry exclaimed after tasting the contents of his bowl, “Stanley, what is this? It’s heavenly.”
The other men nodded vigorously, one even mopping his bowl with French bread.
“Oh, that’s a Cajun delicacy Terry. It’s called sauce piquant. Only the best for you,” Stanley said with a twinkle in his eye.
Doc stood up and produced an envelope, but before Stanley could reach out to take his payment, Marie appeared and in one swift motion took the envelope and disappeared back into the camp. Stanley sighed and watched as Marie emerged with four new bowls, each full to the brim. He smiled as he watched the bird watchers dig in. He really hadn’t lied. After all, they were eating sauce piquant and it was a definite Cajun delicacy.
Stanley arose and headed into the camp to get a bowl for himself. After all, Cajun delicacies were meant for sharing with family and friends and if his new friends didn’t know exactly what was in it, well, what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them one bit.