Jeanerett is a small town along Bayou Teche about half way between New Iberia and Berwick where we were staying. Margery found the Jeanerette Museum when she was doing her research into things to do.
Jeanerette is called "Sugar City," and, in addition to local history, the Jeanerette Museum has a lot of information on growing sugarcane and processing it into sugar. We have been hearing so much about sugarcane at all the Louisiana plantations we have visited, we wanted to learn more.
Another reason we decided to go the Jeanerette Museum was so we would have a good excuse to drive along Bayou Teche. The drive is quite scenic with many old plantation homes that were built in the 1800s. The photo below shows just a few of the mansions we saw.
Since most of the homes are privately owned, it's hard to find out much information about them unless you talk to the locals. The house in the photo below, however, had a plaque on the pillar by the gate that said "Arlington 1861." When we later Googled the name, we found out the house was for sale for $995,000.
Franklin is another town along Bayou Teche on the way to Jeanerette. Franklin, which was named for Benjamin Franklin, was founded in 1808. Franklin is very charming with its white lampposts running down the center of the main street. The lampposts, which date back to 1915, were restored in 2005.
The town of Jeanerette was named for John W. Jeanerette, who came to the area in the 1820s from South Carolina. He worked as a tutor for a planter's family, and he also opened a store and saloon. By the 1830s, he had saved enough money to buy a plantation. John Jeanerette also became the town's first postmaster.
When we got to Jeanerette, we had no problem finding the museum. The Jeanerette Museum is in a 100-year old cedar house on the banks of Bayou Teche in back of a small park right on the main road.
Inside the museum, we watched their excellent video on sugar. From the video, we learned more about how sugarcane is grown and processed. Although sugarcane does produce seeds, it is most commonly grown commercially using stem cuttings. Short sections of stalks containing at least one node are buried horizontally in a shallow trench. Sprouts appear from the nodes. The photo below shows a field of young sugarcane plants.
Although sugarcane is still harvested by hand in some locations, growers in the United States use mechanical harvesters that cut the stalks at the base, strip the leaves and chop the stalks into short lengths all in one operation.
After harvesting, the canes are taken to the sugar mill where they are washed, shredded into small pieces and crushed between rollers to extract the juice. Crushing machines used to be turned by hand or by animal power. Outside the museum, there is a mule-powered sugarcane crusher. The canes would have been fed into the slit in the side of the machine where rollers would have pressed out the juice into the iron kettle.
Bagasse is the byproduct left over after the sweet juice is extracted from the woody stalks. The bagasse is dried and used for fuel for the boilers that produce steam to power the sugar mill.
The juice is then mixed with lime and heated to drive off water. In the past, shallow, open kettles were used. We have seen those kettles everywhere we have gone in southern Louisiana. Modern methods use vacuum kettles to remove water more efficiently at lower temperatures to prevent scorching of the sugar.
After most of the water is driven off, the sugar begins to crystallize. Molasses, which is the thick syrup that is left, is removed from the sugar by centrifuges. The resulting raw sugar is then sent to a refinery for final purification and bleaching into white sugar. Incidentally, most of the brown sugar we buy in the grocery store is really white sugar that has had molasses added back.
On average, one ton of sugarcane yields 180 pounds of raw sugar, 7 gallons of molasses and 270 pounds of bagasse. The remainder of the weight is water, which is evaporated.
One room in the museum had a lot of wooden foundry patterns used to cast gears and other components for local sugar mills.
The foundry, which is located next door, donated the patterns that are no longer needed to the museum. The reason some of the patterns are no longer needed is because many of the local mills have closed due to hurricane damage and environmental pressures against the burning of bagasse for fuel. The foundry is shown in the next photo.
The room with the patterns also had a great piece of local folk art in the form of a alligator hand-carved from cypress.
In addition to sugar-related items, the museum also had lots of photos and items that speak to local history such as these Mardi Gras costumes...
...and these household and kitchen items.
There was also a whole room dedicated to local wildlife. We called it the "man cave." There were mounted specimens of fish on the walls, and there were examples of other wildlife like the armadillo, alligator, wood duck, bobcat and otter shown in the next photo. The canoe-like boat is a pirogue. The pirogue is a traditional Cajun fishing boat built from cypress. The flat bottom is suited to the shallow waters of the swamps and bayous.
One surprising thing we learned about at the museum was that there was a WW II prisoner-of-war camp just 2 miles west of Jeanerette. Most of the prisoners were captured in North Africa and were under the command of General Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox." The prisoners were employed on local farms and engaged in the cultivation of sugar cane.
While the museum isn't a major attraction, we did enjoy it, especially the video on sugar production. It is worth stopping if you are taking the scenic route along the bayou.
Another thing we found out about when we visited the museum was Le Jeune's Bakery, which is located a couple of blocks away. The museum had several photos and newspaper articles about the bakery, which has been owned and operated by 5 generations of the Le Jeune family dating back to 1884. All their products are made from scratch using recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.
LeJeune's Bakery specializes in French bread that they bake three times a day. If you know when to go, you can get it hot out of the oven. But we were interested in their other specialty - ginger cakes. In addition to being able to buy at the bakery, several local grocery stores carry Le Jeune ginger cakes, and you can also order their products online.
Signs direct customers to the side door because they're too busy in the back baking to man the front counter. In the photo below, Paul is trying to decide how many ginger cakes to buy.
The ginger cakes are fairly large (probably 6 to 8 ounces each), and they're only $1.75. We bought two. We should have bought more because we started eating the first one right there in the parking lot. Yum! They were as good as the ones we remember getting at the King's Arms Tavern Bakery in Williamsburg - maybe better.
We again took the scenic route along the bayou back to the motor home as we munched on our ginger cake. We planned to relax for the last couple of days of our stay in Berwick before we headed out to our next destination.