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|Crawfish season in full swing|
Steam billows from the stainless steel cooking tank at the Crawdad Hole in Winnsboro when Jeff Parker removes the lid from the square "pot." He uses a fishing net on a 3-foot handle to scoop the bright red crawfish from the boiling water and drop them into a huge white cooler.
"We'll sell this much and a few more today," says Parker, who has been working at the Crawdad Hole on Hwy. 15 since 2005.
Carter Robertson, who says his job title is "jack of all trades," supervises the cooking, saying Easter is his busiest time of year.
"Crawfish season really starts the first week in January. It lasts until about the first week in June. Most of our business is around Easter," he said.
The raw, or live crawfish, come from Ville Platte, La., where Robertson buys from a man with 980 acres of crawfish ponds.
"We go get them. They come straight from the pond," Robertson says as he pulls a 35- to 40-pound mesh sack of live crawfish from a refrigerated trailer.
Robertson said this year's prices are going down for the actual crawfish, but it's the cost of transportation fuel and the butane to cook them that has the retail price at $2.99 a pound.
"The crawfish are going down, but it's the cost of fuel that keeps the prices up," Robertson says.
Robertson says even though he doesn't make as much at $2.99 a pound, it is better for his customers.
He pointed out that even prices for the seasonings he uses are up, doubled from about $30 a box to $60.
But the prices don't stop crawfish lovers from stopping by for a plate lunch at noon or picking up a warm sack to take home for supper.
Robertson said he's catered some events where 500 pounds or more were cooked.
How many pounds are needed for 10 people? Well, Robertson said that depends on where you live.
"In north Louisiana you need about 5 pounds per person," he says. "In south Louisiana, it depends on how much beer you've got."
More crawfish cooking
Over on hwy. 17, Harold Hill of Hill Produce, dumps a 39-lb. sack of live crawfish into a slanted wooden trough. With one hand he washes the crawfish with a water hose and with the other he uses a long slotted spoon to guide the critters into a plastic laundry basket.
"I wash them here and the dirt drains out and I pick out the dead ones," Hill says.
The crawfish wriggle and twist, pinchers grabbing the air, as they pile on top of one another in the basket. These crawfish came from Mamou, La., but Hill says soon he'll be buying crawfish from an area farmer.
"It may cost me a little more to buy them locally, but that's best for Franklin Parish," he says.
After the washing, Hill purges the crustaceans in a vat of salt water and then it's onto a tremendous pot of boiling, specially seasoned water.
"I don't give out my seasoning recipe," Hill says with a smile. "It's not a secret, I just don't tell what it is."
Hill has been cooking crawfish for about two years, but he's been in the produce business a long time.
"I sold from out there under that shed for 10 years," he says. "I've been here since 1987 selling tomatoes and watermelons in 100 degree heat."
Hill cooks and sells his crawfish (for $2.99 a pound) with potatoes and corn in a screened back porch behind his shiny white block building. Inside are tables of fruits and vegetables and jars of locally made jellies, sauces and honey.
"Pretty soon about half of my produce will be what me and my brother grow," Hill says.
He and his brother, Robert, have 48 acres in vegetables. Hill says whatever they grow in the season, but it's his crawfish that is his speciality now.
And when does crawfish season end for Hill? – whenever they run out.
"As long as I can get crawfish, I'll have crawfish," Hill says.
Up north they call them "crayfish" and the phrase "crawfish boil" is probably as puzzling a statement as "running a trot line." But for Louisianians, even those in the northeast part of the state, crawfish in the late winter and spring is as much as tradition as fall's high school football and hunting seasons – a rite of the changing seasons not to be missed.