Is Avery Island a real island

Southern short trip tip: In the cradle of the "Scharf zu"

In the middle of deep Louisiana lies Avery Island. This is where the Tabasco sauce was invented, the chillies are grown and the 150th birthday of the famous hot brand is celebrated this year.

Nowhere begins pretty much right behind New Orleans. And it goes on - until you reach Avery Island just under three hours and countless bridges over the Mississippi later. In addition to a handful of people, there are lots of snakes, alligators, birds and deer living here, time seems to have stood still and the friendly elderly gentleman at the wooden gatekeeper hands the map of the island on a long, weathered wooden stick through the car window before he hits you with a wide " You have a nice day, ma'am ”to the enchanted island.

At first glance, it doesn't look much different from some of the hot, humid, overgrown islands in the bayou region of Louisiana, but it is home to a product that has made it world famous over the past 150 years. The McIlhennys live and live here on Avery, and in 1868 Edmund McIlhenny brewed something that was to become the mother of all “hot things”: Tabasco sauce. The small, red chili peppers that once started their triumphal march around the world in disused perfume bottles from New Orleans thrive here to this day. However, today only the mother plants are grown on the approximately nine square kilometer island - which is actually a salt dome - the seeds of which are then brought to the large cultivation areas in Central and South America, where the masses of pods are now grown, processed and in 185 countries in the world are exported.

But it all started as a family business two years after the end of the American Civil War. The war had left the defeated south destroyed in many ways and, in search of a little spice in the family's not overly lavish food, the founder Edmund had the idea to use the natural resources of his island. In addition to the red pods, this included a lot of salt, because the island's mine is still one of the largest in the USA. In connection with a little wine from France - which was later replaced by wine vinegar - the famous sauce was created. With the unmistakable diamond label, it has conquered pub tables all over the world - and for many years was the only “Maggi of the brave”, before more and more hot sauces conquered the shelves of supermarkets.

Devotional items and plagiarism

The sauce laughs in infinite variations at the 100,000 visitors who come to Avery Island each year. In the shop in the old southern farmhouse style, Tabasco devotional items of all kinds can be found: from the inevitable fridge magnets to barbecue aprons to compositions such as raspberry-chipotle-tabasco, which were previously hardly available in Austria. On the steps of the wooden veranda, under a huge, spreading oak tree, in the shade of which tourists - mostly American - tourists relax in the typical wooden swings from the exertions of eating and sightseeing, the house's chief historian, Shane K. Bernard, is waiting for us. to guide you through the exhibition.

For 25 years Bernard has been dealing with nothing but the family history of the McIlhennys and the company, sifting through endless archives of letters from the past 150 years and can tell in such detail about the life of every single McIlhenny - including soldiers, conservationists, polar explorers and bon vivants. as if he was there. For the exhibition, he and his assistant Mollie Demoor brought together everything that brings the history of the famous brand to life. Here you can find all the plagiarisms that show how innumerable the attempts are to copy the famous red bottle. But also real bottles in the designs of the decades and centuries, "which we are often asked for by prop masters in order to equip the films with the authentic bottles of the epochs," explains Demoor.

Slavery in another form

Other exhibits make it clear that the exhibition was put together almost exclusively from the perspective of the white entrepreneurial family. In one of the showcases, for example, there are carefully polished so-called tokens, self-minted coins with which black workers were paid instead of real money after the end of the civil war. These could only be redeemed on the employer's premises, which again led to a dependency that, in fact, hardly differed from the situation before the civil war. A system that has been known and despised in the USA since the publication of the book “Slavery by Another Name” by Douglas A. Blackmon in 2008, but is not an issue in the birthday exhibition. “We didn't have to deal with slavery, since Tabasco was only founded after the civil war,” the historian refers to the grace of late birth and leaves it at that.

Culinary instruction

Rather, the focus here is on the taste experience and the great nature that the McIlhennys have always invested in preserving. The chef Lionel Robin, who is known in Louisiana, is responsible for the taste experiences on the island, who attaches great importance to the fact that his name is pronounced in French - "Robän". He rules the restaurant 1868, where typical Cajun dishes, including the Crawfish-Étouffée named after him, are served, organized Tabasco cooking classes and restaurant tours.

“Tabasco is the epitome of Cajun cuisine,” raves the white-haired maître, as expected, about the product - which, when used correctly, inspires less with its sharpness than its taste. Which is why one of the dishes his students learn on Avery include the famous Tabasco raspberry ice cream, "the recipe for which most participants are eagerly awaiting," as he proudly reports. He also teaches you how to use the different dosage forms correctly, from sauce to powder to jelly. And discusses patiently - even if perhaps not happily - with knowing course participants who want to explain to him that the “Crawfish Robin” could perhaps also be prepared with ready-made broth (the short version: No, you can't).

Effect of serenity

When the plate with the really delicious crawfish étouffée is polished, you have rested for a while under the oak and stocked up with devotional objects in the shop, the journey to the other side of the island begins. It takes less than three minutes to drive over small paths and a mini dike, which was built up for good reasons after Hurricane Rita, into the "Jungle Garden". What sounds like an old-fashioned amusement park couldn't be further from it: if you drive through the gate in the white picket fence, you will be immersed in a completely different world.

It is so brimming with kitschy southern beauty that even a traveler who has seen a lot of Spanish moss and plantation gardens takes a deep breath. This is where the live oaks so typical of the south stand, the huge American oaks, whose low-hanging branches, hung with the famous lichen, are not only used as a backdrop in vampire films; Thousands of azaleas and camellias grow and, in addition to the snakes and alligators mentioned above, there are also lots of white silver herons - thanks to the founder Edmund's son Edward.

In 1895 he built an aviary for eight of the birds that were so sought after and hunted because of their beautiful feathers that they were almost extinct. According to legend, he released the animals and their offspring soon afterwards, but since then they have come back to Avery every spring to breed. Where today you can raise your offspring in peace on wooden platforms in the middle of one of the lakes - and marvel at tourists and photographers on the other wooden platforms at the edge of the lake.

Which are completely moved and become quieter and quieter, in view of the unreal scenery. And at some point walk back to her car, through hollow passages, under thick canopy of leaves, along the small river that makes Avery an island; past excited women in wedding dresses who want to use the idyllic backdrop for photos. Finally, after a few hours in the "Jungle Garden", you can start your journey over the Mississippi bridges with a mild, relaxed smile and a beautiful serenity. Because the trip would have been worth it without a single bottle of Tabasco.

SOUTHERN STATES ROUND TRIP

Avery Island is about 220 kilometers from New Orleans and 130 kilometers from Baton Rouge and can be explored wonderfully as a day trip. Especially since it is practically on the way when you make your way from New Orleans to the famous plantations - Laura, Oak Alley and Whitney (which represents life from the perspective of the slaves).

A lot revolves around Avery Island Tabasco: Manufacture, museum, shop, restaurant, park with fantastic trees. www.tabasco.com

To stay overnight New Orleans or Baton Rouge are more suitable, as Avery is really rural and restaurants and hotels are not so much geared towards holidaymakers.

Get there: The nearest airport is New Orleans. direct flights from Frankfurt, London and Paris, but one of the more expensive destinations. It's often cheaper via Dallas, where many of the classic tours to the south start anyway. Tip: There are also inexpensive domestic flights to New Orleans with Southwest. www.southwest.com

About Louisiana and Avery Island: www.louisianatravel.com

("Die Presse", print edition, June 9th, 2018)