Milton is named for a newcomer 19th-century local doctor and his son, but the unincorporated Acadiana community’s roots are forever Cajun. They date back to the sons of Beausoleil, the historical figure who helped guide the Acadians to Louisiana. So don’t fault Louis Broussard for treasuring the region’s past. It’s a mission, he says.
Broussard, 77, made a living selling wrapping paper and ribbon in schools across the state, a business he sold seven years ago. But he’s made a life by pursuing the “old ways” of Cajun culture, and he shares them proudly.
That’s what he was doing on a recent sun-soaked Saturday on his stretch of 14 acres, located near the end of a gravel road in Milton. Perhaps a hundred people made their way to that remote site, where Louis and his wife Julia welcomed them.
There, using 19th-century equipment, Broussard showed his visitors the processes of grinding blue-ribbon sugar cane — yes, he grew it nearby in five rows of 100 feet each — and boiling some 40 gallons of cane juice down to 4 gallons of syrup. That will sweeten coffee and couche couche for the Broussards for a long time to come.
The most recent equipment used in the process may have been Thelma, his old friend’s red mule, who without much prodding walked in circles to provide power for the grinder. Thelma, too, knows the old ways, how syrup was produced during au vieux temps.
Sugar cane remains a treasured crop in Louisiana, perhaps a $3 billion value in our state, which produces more than a million tons of raw sugar annually. Small wonder, then, that cane fields consume much of the available farmland in two dozen south Louisiana parishes as far north as Rapides and southeast to near New Orleans. If you travel Interstate 10 across Acadiana or U.S. 90 to St. John Parish, you know.
But profit’s not been Broussard’s motive, not since he took it upon himself some 15 years back to find ancient equipment and learn the old ways. His cane knife, he believes, may date back to 1800 or so, just a few years after Etienne DeBore first grew sugar cane, a tropical crop, in what is now New Orleans’ Audubon Park — a generation after Beausoleil arrived.
Out of date? Maybe. But cherishing Acadiana’s past is never out of style. Visitors Joseph and Ovena Savoie, of Rayne, called the effort “amazing,” a “step back in time.”
But two centuries back can be right on time, especially on the right gravel road in Milton.