In her youth, Dixie Poché worked in her aunt and uncle’s grocery in Cecilia, helping to sell plate lunches, boudin and other Cajun staples at Guidry’s Grocery and Meat Market, one of about six family stores within a mile radius at the time.
“It was all family working together,” Poché said. “That’s what made me realize how strong mom-and-pop businesses were.”
Poché honors these family owned groceries, bakeries and restaurants — many of which still operate today — in her new book, “Classic Eateries of Cajun Country.”
The Lafayette travel and corporate writer focuses on 13 parishes in Acadiana plus local food products, recipes, explanations of Cajun culinary traditions and a handy glossary of Cajun dishes that also includes how to pronounce them.
“My criteria was old-time businesses or old buildings,” she explained, adding that there are about 40 businesses included in the book. “It was difficult to pick and choose because there are so many.”
Poché will be launching the book from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with an accompanying food demonstration at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.
Teet’s Food Store, of Ville Platte, will serve up samplings of boudin, hog head cheese and ponce along with bread from Lejeune’s French Bread, of Jeanerette, both included in the book. The event is free and open to the public.
“On-site, Teet’s will cook some ponce,” or pig’s stomach, Poché said of the book launch event. “He boils it like a roast and cooks it down, then serves it over rice with gravy.”
Poché’s uncle, Mantor Guidry, returned from World War II and married Ruth Huval, who had worked for her own uncle in his grocery and meat market.
The two went into business together at Guidry’s Grocery in Cecilia, participating in boucheries (a communal hog butchering) and learning how to make boudin and pork dishes the old-fashioned way, Poché explained.
“After the war, they both got married and had experience,” she said. “They built their store from the ground up. A lot of the people I had interviewed had similar tales: little experiences and no money.”
In addition to her family’s market, businesses spotlighted in the book include Theriot’s Deli & Market in New Iberia, a favorite of Dave Robicheaux, the main character in James Lee Burke’s mysteries; Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant, started by Pat Huval, who was too young to pick cotton so he learned cooking by working with his mother in the kitchen; and Breaux’s Grocery in Maurice, which was opened during World War II by Fadrey Sonnier Breaux and her husband, Otis, then in their 20s.
Lafayette Parish businesses included in the book are Keller’s Bakery, Olde Tyme Grocery, Alesi Pizza House, Café Vermilionville, Judice Inn, Creole Lunch House, Gary’s and Borden’s Ice Cream Shoppe, the last remaining shop of its kind in the Borden’s company.
Many of these mom-and-pop groceries had phones during a time when phones were scarce, so they also served as the neighborhood communication spot, sometimes relaying bad news during wartime, Poché said. Some food products came in large feed sacks that were recycled into shirts.
“There were different patterns on the feed sacks,” Poché explained. “Mothers would exchange with other mothers so that their kids wouldn’t have the same pattern.”
Two grocery stores have become museums: the Adam Ponthieu Grocery Store in Moreauville and the W.H. Tupper Merchandise Museum in Jennings.
Both display items as they were sold 60 to 75 years ago so that visitors will view how things were done in the ’40s and ’50s.
“It’s nostalgic,” Poché said of neighborhood groceries and markets. “People love the comfort of going to the old grocery stores.”
Poché will sign copies of her books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 10 at Books Along the Teche in New Iberia and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 19 during the Artists’ Galleries de Juneau in Slidell.