Monday, October 27, 2014

Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes, Do You Know The Difference?

Blogger's Note:  With the holidays right around the corner, let's investigate one of the South's favorite tubers, the sweet potato and what sets it apart from the traditional yam.

(Above): A true yam (left) compared to an orange-fleshed sweet potato (right).

"What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?  Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms, flowering plants, they are not related botanically. Yams are a monocot, a plant having one embryonic seed leaf, and from the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. Sweet Potatoes, often called ‘yams’, are a dicot, a plant having two embryonic seed leaves, and are from the Convolvulacea or morning glory family.

(Above): An example of African yams.

Yams are closely related to lilies and grasses. Native to Africa and Asia, yams vary in size from that of a small potato to a record 130 pounds (as of 1999). There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95% of these crops are grown in Africa. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier. 

(Above): These are Louisiana Sweet Potatoes.

Sweet Potatoes
The many varieties of sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, are members of the morning glory family, Convolvulacea. The skin color can range from white to yellow, red, purple or brown. The flesh also ranges in color from white to yellow, orange, or orange-red. Sweet potato varieties are classified as either ‘firm’ or ‘soft’. When cooked, those in the ‘firm’ category remain firm, while ‘soft’ varieties become soft and moist. It is the ‘soft’ varieties that are often labeled as yams in the United States.

Why the confusion?
In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties.

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!"

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Are Shrimp Boots White and Other Louisiana Traditions

Blogger's Note: So some years at Jazz Fest it rains a lot and gets muddy, mucky and nasty. The footwear that will take you through the gross mess the best is often a good pair of rubber boots. Shrimp boots are a local tradition folks have been wearing for years and there are plenty of local places that carry them.  Here is the true story behind white rubber boots as Southern footwear, from the swamp to the fair grounds.

White shrimp boots are a Louisiana staple. Often referred to as “Cocodrie Converse” or “Swamp Nikes”, these popular boots are more of a symbol of Louisiana than merely the boot shape.  Shrimp, in Louisiana, can be viewed as a representation of culture because the image of shrimp or the eating of shrimp can evoke attachments to heritage, history, tradition, and authenticity.  For example, many seafood vendors wear the white rubber boots known as “shrimp boots” for function; to keep one's feet dry, and because the boots are tied to an image of the authentic shrimper.

Shrimp, also takes on its own set of symbolic meanings and connotations that are linked more to what it means to buy them and the tradition more so than just the food itself.

But why are shrimp boots white?  One common answer is that the white rubber will not leave marks on a boat's deck.  Another is because of the hot sun most shrimpers do wear them offshore on their boats. The sun can be very intense on the gulf waters, and white reflects the sun much better than any other color.  A good choice for shrimpers who also gator hunt at night with others, the toes of white boots are noticeable in the dark,  not to be confused with a gators mouth like black boots.  Black boots can easily resemble a gators mouth in the dark.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bousillage Construction in Louisiana, 1700s

The Gaudet House c. 1830, Lutcher, Louisiana

From the Earth Architecture website:

"Bousillage, or bouzillage, a hybrid mud brick/cob/wattle and daub technique is a mixture of clay and Spanish moss or clay and grass that is used as a plaster to fill the spaces between structural framing and particularly found in French Vernacular architecture of Louisiana of the early 1700s. 
A series of wood bars, set between the posts, helped to hold the plaster in place. Bousillage, molded into bricks, was also used as infilling between posts; then called briquette-entre-poteaux. The bousillage formed a solid mud wall that was plastered and then painted. The bousillage also formed a very effective insulation.

French Acadienne house in Lyon, France

The tradition was brought to New Orleans from France by the Acadienne. The technique also has Naive American influences. This paper describes how "When the French built in Louisiana, their earliest houses were of this frame structure, but with the post in the ground.  Sometimes the post were placed close together palisade fashion.  
This was a technique used by local Native Americans. The Native Americans infilled the cracks between the posts with a mixture of mud and retted Spanish moss. The French did likewise and called this mixture 'bousillage'. The first framed structures were covered with horizontal cypress boards. The roof frame was finished with cypress bark, shakes, boards, or palmetto thatch. All of these earliest structures had dirt floors and were usually only one room deep and two rooms wide separated by a fireplace."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cypress Knees: An Enduring Enigma

From the September 26, 1965 Ocala Star-Banner article Cypress Knees' Purpose Unclear:

"For many years cypress knees have been popular for lamp making, furniture, door-stops, gun racks and countless other useful and decorative items.  Cypress knees develop from the shallow roots that spread out from the base of the bald cypress tree.  Usually they are most plentiful around trees growing in wet locations.  The knees range in height from a few inches to several feet and grow in all imaginable shapes.

The actual purpose of cypress knees is not fully understood, some people say that they help anchor the tree to the ground on the unstable soil where it usually grows.  Others say the knees furnish air to the tree when its base is submerged in water."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

10,000 Views And Counting! Albany Woodworks Celebrates The History of Louisiana, September 2014

Blogger's Note:  It is this blogger's pleasure to work for a company that is innovative yet traditional.  Albany Woodworks is a destination for all that is wonderful about Southern architecture and reclaimed woods.  As we near 10,000 page views, let's look at the stalwart little start-up that pioneered the reclaimed lumber industry in 1977, and grew to be the first company of its kind in the nation.

As we look back, there are many stories we have covered that are close to the heart of what makes this state, and the Gulf Coast region so viable for quality antique wood products.  There is a strong history of solid wood craftsmanship that we identify with, and it seems our customers all share this passion.  Without further ado, here are our top stories of the year:

Feb 19, 2014

 Feb 22, 2014

One of our personal favorites is the write-up about the oak tree that Albany Woodworks helped Loyola University craft into natural-edged solid oak benches for the Uptown New Orleans campus.  You can read the story here: Historic Oak on Loyola Campus Given

Now, a little bit more about our company, and why our reclaimed antique wood products are so beautiful and enduring.

From the Albany Woodworks website:

Family-owned and Operated since 1977
"Albany Woodworks is a family owned and operated business located in the heart of southeast Louisiana's bayou country. For years, we have been bringing new life to reclaimed antique lumber for homes, businesses, and historic restorations.

Whether it be plank flooring, doors, plantation shutters, stair parts, moldings or unique custom millwork, we can answer all your needs with the natural beauty of quality woodwork. Our company has been honored several times, including media spotlights and an opportunity to work with renowned architect, A. Hays Town.
                                                                                                                                                                                         Richard Woods CEO, Albany Woodworks
As the owner and CEO of Albany Woodworks for over 37 years, Richard Woods has always believed in using sustainable building materials. His home is completely constructed from Antique Heart Pine and Cypress that he carefully salvaged from 100+ year old buildings. In fact, the home he built for his family is where Albany Woodworks got its start.

Looking for a quality building material that would endure the wear and tear of raising two young children and not cost an arm and a leg, Richard was inspired by the rich history of Southern Architecture that surrounded him, and specifically the designs of A. Hayes Town. He noticed that the most beautiful homes in New Orleans and surrounding areas was constructed almost entirely out of Heart Pine and Cypress from the original swamp forests of the South.
With the last virgin-growth forests long since cut down, where would Richard find the tight-grain and large percentage of heart wood that the old lumber had to offer. Following the history of where the original lumber forests traveled, Richard found many turn-of-the-century commercial buildings were built from this quality lumber, and at the time in the 1980's were being torn down.

Richard has spent years perfecting the process of reclaiming these original well-seasoned beams using state-of-the-art machinery. Whether for a new construction or a re-modeling project, we offer a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of truly beautiful Southern-style architecture."