Weatherford Democrat

Features

September 15, 2009

Cajuns sweep the swamp for summer treat

DES ALLEMANDS, La. (AP) — Through the hot summer, Cajuns take to the bayous in their air boats, pirogues and flat-bottomed mud craft in search of patches of lotus flowers floating in the shallow swamps and marshes of coastal Louisiana.

But what they’re after isn’t the large, pretty white flower with a bright yellow center — they’re out to harvest the green pods left behind after the flowers lose their petals. Each pod holds as many as two dozen seeds, a tasty treat known in these parts as “graine a voler.”

Loosely translated, the Cajun French term (pronounced Grah-NUH VOH-Lay) means “seeds that fly” or “seeds in the air,” stemming from the fact that when the seed pods are left to wither and dry, the pod husk retracts and applies pressure to the seed. As the pod dries, the seeds eventually pop out.

Graine a voler is a seasonal treat that through the summer and early fall months is harvested to be eaten raw, fried, roasted, boiled or cooked down in soups and stews. It’s a starchy, rather bland seed with a nutty taste and hint of sweetness in the younger, plumper pods.

“I call it a Cajun peanut,” says Casey LeBlanc, a Cajun from Des Allemands who runs Cajun Crab Connection, a company that ships Louisiana blue crabs across the country. “I grew up eating them, like bread and milk.”

But graine a volers won’t be found in the produce section of any local grocer. They’re hard to find — unless you go to specialty markets — because they can’t be harvested from land. They only grow in the shallows of fresh water bayous and waterways.

“You definitely have to have a boat,” LeBlanc says.

While the lotus can grow in ponds, the plant thrives in freshwater bayous, where the flowers in full bloom can reach the size of a dinner plate. When the flowers lose their petals, the green pod that contains the seeds is left behind.

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