Sweet in the South: Sugar Cane Festival, New Ibera, Louisiana

New Iberia and Sugar Cane Festival - image by Megan Boyanton
New Iberia and Sugar Cane Festival - image by Megan Boyanton

NEW IBERIA, La., October 3, 2013 — The rural city of New Iberia has spent 72 years celebrating the Southern staple of sugar cane. From September 25 to the 29, its Main Street, with sugar cane stalks decorating the lamp posts and utility poles, is set aside for the Sugar Cane Festival and its attractions.

Admission was a fairly cheap $5 to $10. Just beyond the entrance, a row of vendors offered food typical of Iberia Parish and its surrounding area, but unusual to outsiders. Mexican hotdogs, praline pecans, chocolate dipped fruit, and everything fried — from pickles and fish to chicken and even, pies — were some of the delicious choices on the menu.

However, the star of the show at the festival is always the sugar cane. Two booths sold variations of sugar-cane juice. The first, run by a father and son, used a juice extractor on site to press and squeeze the liquid out of the stalks of sugar cane.

After enough had been collected, it was strained and served in shots, both at room temperature and refrigerated.

New Iberia and Sugar Cane Festival - image by Megan Boyanton
New Iberia and Sugar Cane Festival – image by Megan Boyanton

The natural flavor of the juice is an organic, softer sort of sweetness. Not only does it taste delectable, but its proponents claim it provides health benefits, such as remedying the common cold and aiding in the curing of jaundice and kidney disorders. They also say sugar cane juice is diabetic friendly and an immunity booster.

The second juice stall marketed Swamp Pop, a pioneer brand in the world of soda drinks. One of the executives at Swamp Pop, John Peterson, explained the origins of the idea.

“Because Louisiana is such a large producer of sugar cane, and because we have such a rich flavor heritage here, we thought an old-fashioned cane sugar soda based on flavors from our upbringing would work well,” he said.

The business has only been actively manufacturing the beverage since early September, but local stores from the Lafayette area to Baton Rouge are already carrying it.

Its flavors range from a classic cola and cucumber-based ginger ale to “Satsuma Fizz” and “Praline Cream Soda.” Peterson said the intentions behind the different flavors were simply to remind consumers of their Southern roots.

“My partner, who is my cousin, and I wanted to create flavors that were reminiscent of our memories growing up here: picking figs and satsumas, collecting pecans, growing cucumbers in the backyard, all the smells and tastes of life in Louisiana. Hopefully we’ve done that in a way people here and beyond our region can relate to and enjoy.”

While the product is not yet available past the Mississippi gulf coast, curious customers can learn more information about specific store locations and more at www.drinkswamppop.com.

While grabbing a bite to eat and sipping some sugar cane juice, you could watch live performances from music artists Side Show, Beer 30, Cajun Throwdown, Jamie Bergeron and the Kickin’ Cajuns, and Stevie B on a stage at the center of the festival site.

A rock wall and a mechanical bull were set up for entertainment, and a variety of businesses sold local goods, including crafts, candles, handmade toddler outfits, wind chimes, bows, and wood crafts.

A limousine company parked one of their vehicles in the impromptu marketplace and a few tents advertised face painting and customizable airbrushed t-shirts.

What’s a festival without its royalty? The 2013 Queen Sugar LXXi is Mary Claire Simoneaux; Daniel E. Gonsoulin was crowned King Sucrose LXXi. Additionally, the title of “Grand Marshals” went to Fran and David Thibodeaux, and Mr. Iberia was Bo Duhe. The Volunteer of the Year honor was presented to Petty Pollet, an accomplished board member of the event.

This year’s sugar cane royalty rode atop floats in their own parade on Sunday. Additionally, a parade specifically geared towards children took place on Saturday morning, and the famous Boat Parade kicked off the real celebration for the 31st year in a row on Friday. Between parades, event goers could attend the arts and crafts shows, cooking contests, flower shows, and the fias-do-do — a Southern style dance party. A priest from the local Catholic church blessed the crops on Friday morning and, every evening, a fireworks display lit up the country night.

New Iberia is located about a half hour from the city of Lafayette, home to the University of Louisiana and their Ragin’ Cajuns, and only an hour and a half from the state capitol of Baton Rouge.

Information for next year’s festival will be available at www.hisugar.org

The Sugar Cane Festival surely satisfied sweet teeth this past weekend. Organizers invite you to join them for a ton of Cajun fun next year, and come enjoy local goodies all year round.

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