In the land of the cochon de lait

A sign on the edge of the fairgrounds announces that Mansura is La Capitale de Cochon de Lait. That claim has remained unchallenged by other capitals including London, Moscow, Rome or Paris. Nor is it questioned by El Mansura, Egypt – the town to which Napoleonic solders who had received land grants to settle in Central Louisiana compared the area. Both Mansuras stood on fertile agricultural land; both were centers of cotton trade.

Pork, however, would come to best identify New Mansura, especially the young suckling pig from which cochon de lait gets its name. Roast pig, at any age, is the sustenance of many fund-raisers in Avoyelles parish. At church fairs pig carcasses are strapped on frames to which flames ascend, making the meat flavorful and the skin crispy. At Mansura the event is such an institution that there is even a Cochon de Lait Center building and a permanent roasting area. If the traffic and the balloons along the highway are not enough of a sign that the festival is near, then there’s the towering blow-up pig balloon, looking like Porky in overalls, waving with the wind to the crowd.

Beginning that Thursday evening there had been various fair-like events at the site – including contests such as those that sought future Olympians in Hog Calling, Beer Drinking and Boudin Eating. But the high holy moment of the festival came at noon Saturday, when the serving began for cochon de lait and pork jambalaya. Three women, each wearing “St. Joseph Eagles” t-shirts, worked with vigor filling Styrofoam trays with pork dinners. Sunday is an even bigger day. By tradition, people of Avoyelles, whenever there’s a fair and pork is on the menu, purchase Sunday dinner tickets days in advance in anticipation of getting meals to go. Folks in that part of the state are early risers and know not to be late when cochon is served. Latecomers and city folk might need to settle for the hot dog stand.

By Sunday afternoon the roasting fires were dying out. Throughout the region, kitchen garbage cans were now filled with empty Styrofoam cartons. Back at the fairgrounds there were amusement rides to be experienced as well as a “Reptile Thrill Show.” Once again, La Capitale de Cochon de Lait had serviced its constituents. Appetites were satisfied and a newly crowned Boudin Eating Champ walked the earth. Few kingdoms could provide so much.