This will be my final posting of the 2016 Lenten season. I wrote a bit about Lent at the start of it, Ash Wednesday, a few weeks ago. And bam, almost before I had time to blink, it’s over, and Easter is upon us. I’ve made some progress on my Lenten resolution of clearing out the clutter, but I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be. The work in progress will just have to continue on past Lent.
Here’s something to know about Lent in New Orleans. And really, not just New Orleans, but throughout the Gulf South: with Lent comes crawfish boils. It’s funny, because one of the edicts of Lenten observance is abstaining from meat on Fridays. It’s really not much of a sacrifice down here. On any given Friday, you can have your choice of boiled crawfish, or a fish fry, or any number of freshly caught fruits de mer.
While crawfish boils might be ingrained into the fabric of Lent, the crawfish season extends past Easter, fortunately for crawfish fans. For Southern Louisiana, crawfish season is roughly early March through early June—approximately ninety days. The same length and period as the season of spring. Lent is about half that length, and ends when Easter arrives—the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. (Sounds rather earthy for a Christian holiday, doesn’t it? It’s the truth, I swear; Wikipedia backs me up).
Husband Tim and brother Jerry held the annual family crawfish boil just this past Saturday. I think this was the fifth or sixth year—the tradition sort of began as a way to commingle all the family birthdays we have in March. It still works out that way—this year, nephew Jerry, his wife Lisa and baby Madison were in town from California. Madison will turn one next month, so we took the opportunity to celebrate her birthday early with her New Orleans family.
Across Southern Louisiana, crawfish boils are more than just an excuse for gathering, throwing some hapless crustaceans into a pot with a bunch of spices, and washing it all down with beer. They can be a creative outlet, too. What goes into the pot with the crawfish is really up to the taste and imagination of the boiler. Mushrooms, new potatoes and corn are common. Garlic is also common, but not in my family’s boils. Garlic is not kind to Jerry or me, so I’m not too sad to see it excluded.
Tim and Jerry have experimented with throwing butter, cheese hot dogs (I love these), and artichokes into the pot. I’ve also heard of pineapple, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, baby carrots and ravioli.
In a very personal sense, this family crawfish boil has become a rite of spring for me. Living in a temperate climate where snow and ice are very, very, rare; you kind of have to pay close attention to see the markers of the season change. Down here, you typically see green, even throughout the winter. But in spring, the green gains a preternatural vibrancy. We do have deciduous trees, but you have to pick them out against the ever-present backdrop of evergreens. I love seeing the crape myrtles sprout their new foliage, a harbinger of the colorful blossoms that will come in the summer.
A few things I don’t enjoy as much: watching the oaks shed their pollen, leaving a yellow film over everything. (This is terrible for allergies, too). Or evading the swarms of termites that arrive during nightfall for a moveable time period each May.
But these feel like a small price to pay for the beauty of this season here. I’ll suffer them, if it means I get witness the bursts of azalea blooms all around the city. Or feel the breeze of 75-degree temperatures against my skin (before the 90+ of summer).
Or enjoy the singular pleasure of boiled crawfish (and assorted foodstuffs) during a mild afternoon with people I love.