June is the perfect time to seek out fresh Creole tomatoes and juicy Louisiana peaches
June is my favorite produce month for two reasons: fat, sunny, Creole tomatoes and juicy, sunset-hued Louisiana peaches (one of our rarer native commodities). However, no festival month is complete without a bit of carnivorous pleasure, and in June we celebrate smoked meat, a real homegrown tradition. With the heat cranked up a notch or two, you might want a respite, perhaps in the form of “snow.” So as lagniappe—that thirteenth oyster, a little something extra—I’ll give you my picks for great sno-balls stands around the area.
Three days of devotion to the tomato, held in the historic market of the French Quarter, takes place from June 13 to 15. For the Creole tomato lover, the French Market Tomato Festival (www.frenchmarket.org) is a great opportunity to wander the soon-to-be-really-snazzy French Market and surrounding streets where you can shop, buy flats of red ripe fruit, meet the growers, feast on tomato-based dishes from some of our greatest restaurants, attend cooking demonstrations complete with tastings and become immersed in tons of saucy tomato talk. Last year, Vega Tapas’ cooling cups of zippy gazpacho with fat lumps of crabmeat saved the day, and watching Mrs. Leah Chase stuff Creole tomatoes, old-school style (Progresso bread crumbs, diced Chisesi ham, shrimp and seasonings), reminded everyone of the simple, delicious beauty of our bounty. The temperature soars as we close in on the first day of summer (June 20), but take comfort and pull out your best Scarlet O’Hara performance as you wave a paper Creole tomato-shaped fan, given out gratis.
Things get mighty peachy from June 26 to 29 at the Ruston Peach Festival. If you’ve never tasted a Ruston peach (two varieties are the Ruston Red and Red Globe), it’s a must, even if you buy peaches from the many roadside stands that pop up all over Greater New Orleans. This is Lincoln Parish’s 58th festival year, and while getting to Ruston is a time commitment, it is well worth the effort. The peach blossoms, the orchards, the people, the fruit— they’re all gloriously juicy. Mitcham Farms is the largest peach farm in the area, with more than 100 acres (fewer than 500 acres of Louisiana peach farms remain). With oak root rot threatening the trees and no treatment yet found, Joe E. Mitcham Jr. believes his farm could be gone in three years. Plan a road trip to this dynamic festival, meet the newly crowned Princess Peach, hear great live music (Asleep at the Wheel is this year’s headliner), take part in the peach-eating contest, gobble up delicious peach dishes and grab baskets of our gorgeous Louisiana peaches to take home . . . if they make it that far. Just so you know, peak season for fresh Ruston peaches is mid-June through mid-July.
Ville Plate is known as the Smoked Capital of the World, which is why at June’s end, the town holds Le Festivale de la Viande Boucanee, also called the Smoked Meat Festival (www.smokedmeatfestival.com). In French, the word “boucanier” means to smoke or broil meat or fish; it is believed to be the root of “buccaneer,” the name first given to French settlers in Haiti or Hispaniola who hunted wild cattle and hogs. This festival is a delectable ode to smoked meats of all kinds and includes an amateur and professional World Championship Smoked Meat Cookoff where contestants are challenged to create their own seasonings and smoking method. Dishes incorporating a wide range of smoked meats (sausage, tasso, ponce, deer, pig or rabbit) become the foods sold at individual booths. The possibilities and flavors are endless. Can’t make the festival but want to know how to cook the food or make a dish? Order The Smoked Meat Festival Cookbook by sending $20 (cash or money order) to Smoked Meat Festival, 652 W. LaSalle St., Ville Platte, LA 70586.
As for the lagniappe, it’s all about sno-balls. Hansen’s opened in the first week of May, and as I sat scooping up spoonfuls of a snowy, cool, tart-sweet orangeade-lemonade sno-ball, I met a guy who tipped me off to a stand on Airline Drive. Naturally I headed out there the next day. No name on the stand, just the word “sno-balls,” and the owner/sno-ball guru, Anthony Loiacano, who I learned has been making his own fresh fruit juices and syrups (even extracts for the syrups) for more than 40 years. The big hit is Loiacano’s “ultra” flavors, strawberry and peach, both made with freshly pressed fruit juice and fruit pulp, poured generously over not-too-fine shaved ice. It’s truly the first sno-ball I can remember finishing to the bottom. Next, Easy Dogs in Gretna has launched Sugar Shack tucked right inside their casual hot dog eatery. A Southern Snow machine pushes out superfine ice that is topped with your choice of syrup and some creative Sugar Shack concoctions, including a chocolate sno-ball topped with housemade peanut butter sauce. Finally, North Shore residents swear by Pap Sam’s sno-balls, especially the Spearmint Patty (chocolate with condensed milk and spearmint) or the Tangerine Stuffed (syrup-doused “sno” with soft-serve ice cream in the middle).