Today’s Natchitoches, Louisiana post is an updated version in tribute to Natchitoches being chosen Best Southern Small Town by USA Today readers. Visit Natchitoches once and you will come to know why this comes as no surprise to me.
It’s the time of year for travel. Vacations, staycations and day trips refresh our recreating souls, renew connections and give us ideas to implement into our home decor.
Natchitoches, Louisiana is a small town rich in history and bragging rights. Natchitoches (NACK-uh-tush) is located about one hour south of Shreveport and five hours north of New Orleans. Natchitoches was established by the French in 1714 and is the oldest permanent settlement in the 13 state territory Louisiana Purchase.
French and Spanish forts, historical homes, national historic landmarks, bed and breakfasts, antique shops, and fantastic restaurants line the original brick Front Street. The thirty-three block National Historic District and plantation district along the banks of Cane River Lake is made up of 100 historic homes and buildings.
One of my favorite shops to visit on historic Front Street is Kaffie-Frederick, Inc., General Mercantile. Kaffie-Frederick is the oldest general store in Louisiana. The front door swings open to a blast from the past decor full of charm, hardware, tools, classic toys and utensils all in I remember these splendor.
Natchitoches is the hometown of writer, producer and film director Robert Harling. Robert Harling is best known as the writer of the play, Steel Magnolias. Rooted in location and hometown authenticity, Natchitoches was the star of the South for a brief period of time in 1988 when Hollywood came calling. The excitement surrounding the filming was a statewide topic of conversation, and the memories of the stars and their time spent weaving in and out of the local landscape a souvenir program in Louisiana film history.
The Taylor-Cook home, better known as The Steel Magnolia House, remains one of the most recognizable and popular historic homes in downtown Natchitoches. As a surprise birthday gift to me, Dave the Builder purchased tickets to the Natchitoches Fall Pilgrimage Candlelight Tour of Homes.
The evening tour of Taylor-Cook aka The Steel Magnolia House was a candlelight and cocktails themed party not to be forgotten. Several hundred guests strolled the grounds and toured the home filled with period antiques tastefully paired with stylish accents while sipping cocktails by moonlight, music and magnolias. Natchitoches throws a good party.
Clockwise from top left: Taylor-Cook House, Front Street, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Melrose Plantation
One of my favorite artist, African-American folk artist Clementine Hunter (late December 1886 or early January 1887 – January 1, 1988), is closely associated with Natchitoches. Miss Hunter was born near Cloutierville, Louisiana, moving to Melrose Plantation when she was fifteen years old. Clementine Hunter (pronounced Clementeen) was a self-taught artist who painted from memory.
Clementine was encouraged to paint and locally promoted by Melrose plantation curator, François Mignon.
The Wash ~ Clementine Hunter
The subjects of her paintings portray plantation life as it were in the early 20th century. Although most of her works are untitled, the subject would be verbally described by the artist herself when asked.
Picking Cotton ~ Clementine Hunter
In the early days of her painting dating to the 1940s, Clementine Hunter sold her works for a quarter. Her paintings can now sell for thousands of dollars. It is estimated Clementine Hunter painted between four and five thousand paintings in her lifetime. Miss Hunter continued to live in Northwest Louisiana until her death in 1988.
I was extremely fortunate enough to have the opportunity to purchase my Clementine Hunter painting in 1986 before forgeries of her work hit the market. The local couple I purchased “Outdoor Cooking” from were actual friends of Clementine Hunter. To authenticate the painting the couple took a photo of Clementine Hunter actually holding the finished painting. They gave me photo to keep when I purchased the painting, and I cherish her photo as much as I do the painting.
Cane River runs through downtown Natchitoches. There is not an empty spot to be had on the banks of Cane River on the first Saturday in December. On the first weekend of December, Natchitoches illuminates the Southern night sky in a festive Christmas festival firework spectacular. Approximately 150,000 visitors descend on the small town to experience this annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights, a tradition of lights and holiday merriment.
Oprah Winfrey made an unannounced and very surprising visit to Natchitoches in 2002. The visit was prompted by an on-air invitation from Peggy Plunkett who was in the audience at a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah came, saw and declared Natchitoches the “Best Little Town in the Whole USA!” Now that’s an endorsement!
Another wonderful festival (and there are plenty of those in Natchitoches) is the famous Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival. The origin of the meat pie dates back to the late 1700s. Natchitoches Meat Pies are deep-fried pastries filled with ground beef and ground pork seasoned with onions, peppers, and garlic. The Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival is a two day festival celebrating the regional delicacy and the festival also has its very own official recipe courtesy of Mrs. L.J. Melder.
1 teaspoon shortening
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork meat
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flour
Meat pie crust:
1 quart plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 cup shortening plus 1 tablespoon
1 cup milk
Melt shortening in heavy pot. Add meat. Cook until the pink is gone.
Add vegetables and season to taste. (Season well, as meat will lose seasoning during frying.) When the meat is completely done and the vegetables glazed, remove from heat and drain excess liquid. Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour.
For the crust:
Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Beat egg and add to milk. Work gradually into dry ingredients until proper consistency to roll. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Break into small pieces and roll very thin. Cut into rounds using a saucer as a guide.
Place a large tablespoon of prepared meat along edge and halfway in the center of round dough. Fold the other half over, making edges meet and seal with water. Form edges with fork. Refrigerate again for 30 minutes. Drop in deep fat and cook until golden brown. Drain and serve hot.
Serves: 18 pies
Southern hospitality flows through the town like the Cane River and the welcome mat is always out. Natchitoches, Louisiana is a sportsman’s paradise and home to Northwestern State University, festivals, historic homes and plantations, bed and breakfasts galore, quaint shops and excellent restaurants.
Natchitoches, Louisiana is a great destination for day tripping, a weekend getaway or a stay for a week or two visit. USA Today readers know what they are talking about.