Seasonal. Local. Organic. These are the culinary buzzwords of the last few years. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s almost impossible to have missed the “farm to table” movement that is dominating the national food scene. While eating seasonally and sourcing food locally may be a hot new trend for the rest of the country, in Louisiana, it’s something we have been doing for generations. In fact, we mark our seasons not by the changing temperatures, but instead by the available local fare: celebrating crawfish season in the spring, crab (and snoball!) season in the summer, shrimp season in the fall, and oyster and wild game seasons in the winter.
For Junior League member Erin Nugent, seasonal and local cooking comes naturally. With familial roots in Louisiana, Erin learned early on how to turn seasonal cooking and entertaining into a lifestyle. She was first introduced to the River Road Recipes collection by her mother in law, Simone Nugent. Drawing inspiration from Louisiana’s unique seasons and agrarian surroundings, Erin’s passion for incorporating seasonal and local ingredients into everyday recipes eventually led her and close friend Lauren Beth Landry to co-author Five Seasons, a regional cookbook devoted to “celebrat[ing] natural beauty and explor[ing] the versatility of seasonal ingredients.”
Erin with friend and co-author Lauren Beth Landry at one of their favorite spots in Baton Rouge. Photo from Five Seasons.
“Eating seasonally is more cost efficient, the produce tastes better, and it’s fun!” says Erin. “As they say, variety is the spice of life, and varying my produce from season to season not only forces me to be creative, it balances my diet.” Shopping at Whole Foods and the Redstick Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings in downtown Baton Rouge for the freshest, local ingredients, Erin cooks nearly every night of the week. “We eat at the table — no phones or TV. Sharing a meal each day is very important to me so we’ve done this since day one, but it’s especially important now because we put the baby to bed first, so it’s catch up time for [my husband] Justin and I (although it will also be nice when Oliver can stay up late enough to join us).” On the occasions when Erin does eat out, Baton Rouge restaurant Beausoleil is one of her favorites.
Erin sharing one of her favorite meals at Beausoleil with son Oliver: the fried oyster salad (substitute grilled shrimp) and a glass of the Whispering Angel rose`. Photo by Erin Nugent.
One of Erin’s favorite recipes is Chicken Pomodoro. “The chicken cooks down until shredded in a medley of fresh tomatoes, wine, and herbs so it’s light enough for warmer months, but also savory due to the addition of Parmesan cheese rinds — the perfect combination.” Her favorite dessert, found in the Five Seasons cookbook, is a Pavlova with lavender whipped cream and berries. “Berries are delicious right now!” notes Erin.
Pavlova with Lavender Whipped Cream and Fresh Berries. Photo from Five Seasons.
While cooking local recipes and ingredients is her forte, Erin is also not afraid to try things outside her comfort zone. “My stepfather is from Boston,” says Erin, “so every year, his family sends us live Maine lobsters. Boiling them is still a little scary for me, but they are fun to eat and so delicious — you can definitely taste the freshness!”
Like Five Seasons, the River Road Recipes collection draws inspiration from the ingredients and traditions that make Louisiana unique. Long considered “the textbook of Louisiana cooking,” Country Roads Magazine recently noted in its April 2016 article “By the Book,” by Lucie Monk Carter and Anne Monk, that the River Road Recipes collection, and others like it, “act as cultural totems – keeping Louisiana cooking traditions alive and accessible to the modern cook.” “These cookbooks act as extensions of the neighborhoods, towns, and cities in which they are founded. More so than most mass-produced cookbooks, River Road Recipes . . . and the like list the author’s name with every recipe, adding a layer of familiar—almost neighborly—assurance.”
This week, we encourage you to celebrate whatever is being harvested in your region currently by trying something new in your own kitchen. If you’re in the Louisiana area, okra, summer squash, corn, bell peppers, and eggplant all make great contenders. If you need inspiration, trust the “neighborly assurance” found in the tried and true recipes from your “neighbors” at River Roads Recipes or Five Seasons!
Corn Fritters, River Road Recipes I, page 40
While corn is typically considered a spring crop, ears of corn still abound during the summer months in Louisiana. You can use fresh corn from your local farmers’ market or your community shared agriculture box to make these delicious corn fritters, which pair perfectly with an evening summer fish fry!
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 2 cups drained corn
- 2 tablespoons shortening
After frying up your fish, drop spoonfuls of the corn fritter mixture into the hot oil to cook. Photo by Lauren De Witt.
Beat eggs and stir in milk, flour, and other ingredients. Drop from spoon in deep fat until brown. Note: you can get creative and add different spices, cheese, or even jalapeños to change up this recipe!
Serves 6 to 8.
Hot, freshly cooked corn fritters. Photo by Lauren De Witt.