I love Saturday mornings at the local farmers' market. I like finding cabbages that are bigger than human heads, and buying sweet potatoes and peppers from the man who grew them. I can't pass up the local wine or the goat milk soap, and I love browsing through the fresh cheeses, sausages, and pastries.
But by far my favorite part of the farmers' market is the atmosphere, the real sense of community that's a rarity these days, and it's directly attributable to the great folks who are out there selling their wares. They're friendly, chatty, and willing to share the story behind their products or themselves.
On a recent ridiculously cold morning I happened on the booth of Betty Dumas. I was drawn there by her crab cakes and gumbo, but a chance comment about cashews started Betty talking about her native land.
Betty was born in Trinidad and attended school in St. Croix, where cashew trees are common. She told me that the tree produces a fruit and that one nut grows at the bottom of each fruit. She said they ate the fruit and collected the nuts for roasting, a slow and time-consuming process - small wonder cashews are so expensive.
While I stood there freezing and longing for something hot to warm me up, Betty told me that her grandmother had cocoa trees in her yard, and that real cocoa just can't be beat. Cocoa trees bear fruit shaped like footballs, and Betty said they would suck the pulp out of the fruit and dry and roast the seeds.
Then they'd pound the seeds in a mortar, releasing the oil and creating a very fine powder. They formed this oily powder into balls, allowed them to dry, and then grated them when they needed cocoa. She said real cocoa makes the best hot chocolate in the world.
Betty told me she had a little bit of culture shock when she came to Louisiana at the age of 17.
She said all the trees back home were fruit trees, and she was somewhat surprised to see so many trees here that didn't bear fruit. She also planned to bathe in the river, the way she had always done in the crystal clear water back home, and was somewhat shocked at the size (and dirt) of the mighty Mississippi.
I've been to the West Indies only once, but I found it so beautiful that I actually cried when I left. I asked Betty how she could leave such a paradise for Louisiana, and she told me that she wanted something different. She married her sweetheart, settled in Vacherie, and raised four children, and she has no desire to return to her Caribbean homeland. As Betty put it, "this is home."
The next time you're shopping at the farmers' market, take the time to chat with the sellers, and while you're at it, stop by Betty's booth. She sells crawfish pies and bread pudding, typical Louisiana fare, but with a West Indies twist. You won't be disappointed.