Another Voice: Bisque, Baskets and Blogs

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My sister asked if she could blog about our family tradition of making crawfish bisque at Easter. Frankly, I thought this was tradition was from her husband’s Cajun family. I didn’t remember until this morning that this was our Fair family tradition. I remember every Easter going over to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house along with the Fuglers and the Bentons and hiding and hunting Easter eggs in the lilies that lined the circular drive in front of their house. I can see the old Live Oak trees clear as day with the Spanish Moss clinging loosely on their branches as we climbed over the roots to look for eggs. Those beautiful lilies would have been in full bloom as the bisque gravy bubbled in large black pots outside. I’m glad she was paying attention to what we ate for lunch those many Easter Sundays or I wouldn’t be eating bisque today. Enjoy my sister’s blog. Happy Easter, y’all!

By: Susan King Gremillion

Pics by: Laura King (2012 bisque-making) Click on the pics or hover over them to see the captions.

When I was a child, every year my entire extended family on my mama’s side would get together for Easter, and Grandma and Grandpa Fair would make crawfish bisque for everyone. Everyone in the family looked forward to that: deep brown gravy served over rice with crawfish heads stuffed with ground up crawfish tails. It was delicious. The kids had a great time; we would run and play and have fun while all of the adults slaved over the gravy. When it was declared ready, we would all rush over and fill our bowls with the bisque. Life simply did not get any better than that. My grandmother passed away when I was just twenty-four, but the bisque did not stop there. My grandfather, mother, and aunts kept the bisque tradition alive. However, a few years later, when Grandpa passed away, I knew the bisque tradition was in danger.

My husband, Gary, loved the tradition that my family had, and, being the cook of the family, he felt the tradition must go on. Just a few months after Grandpa’s passing, he called my mama and asked her if she would be offended if he began making bisque for the family. My mama quickly agreed, and a new tradition was born: Gary and I began making crawfish bisque for Easter. Over the years we have had to change the tradition a little. We no longer live in the Baton Rouge area, so the family has to travel to our house for Easter weekend. Of course, my family members like to go to their own churches on Easter Sunday, so we moved the bisque extravaganza to the day before Easter. Each year, my brother Terry, and his wife, Laura, and their family comes to spend a few days. Mama and Daddy also come early. Sammy and his family come on Saturday and spend the day. Sharon has always lived to far away to attend, but now that she’s back in Louisiana, we’re going to make sure she gets involved as well.

Everybody gets involved in stuffing the heads.

Everybody gets involved in stuffing the heads.

On Good Friday, Mama, Laura, and I get busy stuffing heads for the Saturday feast. Gary is in charge of the gravy part of the bisque, so he makes the gravy while we work at the dining room table stuffing heads. Although the conversation is not in French, as tradition would have it, we still laugh and have a good time preparing the heads. In the old days, a crawfish bisque took three days to prepare: On Good Friday, families got together for a crawfish boil. Saturday was spent chopping the crawfish tails, the onions, celery, bell peppers, and all the good stuff that goes into the gravy with the leftover crawfish tails, as well as cleaning the crawfish heads. Easter Sunday, it all came together, and the bisque was enjoyed by the family. We have a much easier job now. We buy bags of Louisiana crawfish tails (Please note: LOUISIANA tails are a must; the Chinese version is much less desirable.), run them through the food processor along with all the seasonings, and stuff the heads. The heads, which used to be cleaned by my grandparents by hand, are now processed by inmates at the prison where my husband works. You can also buy cleaned heads at some south Louisiana seafood stores. At any rate, the job is minuscule compared to what it used to be. What used to take three days can now be done in three hours, and it is just as delicious.

Saturday morning everyone arrives, and we do all of the things that all families do on Easter: we sit around and laugh and talk and catch up, the children hide and look for eggs, and then lunch is served. At this time of year, I think of my grandparents daily, and Easter is my favorite holiday because of them. People outside of south Louisiana may not understand our peculiar eating habits, but anyone who has ever tasted the dark rich goodness of a bowl of crawfish bisque knows that we have what others can only dream about. I think my Grandma and Grandpa look down from Heaven every Easter weekend and smile. I know they would be proud that we carried on their tradition. And I hope that when I’m gone, someone in the family will say, “Let’s keep the tradition going. We can do that.”