Friday, March 30, 2012

Mustard Green Festival

By Anne Butler
Photos by Henry Cancienne 

green festivalEvery little town has one, that dependably generous soul who never says no and thus may be found laboring behind the scenes over a hot stove or flaming grill at every fundraiser, every church dinner, every charitable event. St. Francisville has over the years been fortunate enough to have had a number of these unsung heroes, and one of them is finally getting her due.

For nearly half a century, St. Francisvillians have marked the milestones of life---the summer vacation Bible schools and high school graduations, the engagements and weddings, the baby showers and births, the illnesses and finally the inevitable deaths---over Sue Powell’s delectable dishes. The fundraisers and church socials, the pilgrimage luncheons and potluck suppers, the celebrations of life and the mourning of passings could hardly be observed without Miss Sue’s cakes or casseroles to enhance the joy and ease the pain. Somehow the whole world looked a little better over a heaping bowl of Miss Sue’s famous gumbo or her incredible Italian cream cake, her roast with rice and gravy or her homemade jellies or her lemon icebox pie.

green owenThe effervescent Sue Powell spent years working in the guidance counselors’ office at the local high school. Longtime counselor Ms. Dianne Williams recalls that Miss Sue knew all the students and parents, and she treated each one with love and respect. “She was the life of the party,” said Ms. Williams, “and she could help a child, work with office materials and talk on the phone all at the same time. She loved to cook and coordinate school social activities. She had more recipes than anyone I knew and she’s one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen. The faculty loved her and she loved them. She brought laughter, compassion and a genuine sense of love to West Feliciana High School. Mrs. Sue was ‘Mama’ to all of us. A thousand words are not enough to describe one of the most humble and friendliest human beings I’ve ever know.”

If the bounties of her kitchen spread a little cheer, that was enough for Sue Powell; she never asked for more, never coveted recognition. But when a new festival came to town, another one of those homegrown frolics celebrating the things St. Francisville is famous for, like its birds or its historic plantations and gardens or its local artists, and when there was a contest to see who was the best mustard green cook of them all, well, Miss Sue could hardly be expected to pass up the challenge. After all, she was an old Mississippi country girl who’d spent her entire married life in St. Francisville, where cold-resistant hardy mustard greens graced many a dinner table throughout the winter months, usually accompanied by a baked sweet potato and pone of iron-skillet cornbread to soak up that good ol’ pot likker.

Miss GreenMiss Sue knew you didn’t need any fancy recipe to cook mustard greens to perfection, just a slab of salt pork and a long, slow simmer. “Put ‘em on and let ‘em go; you gotta cook ‘em for a long time,” as her daughter Tootie describes her mama’s secret method. There was plenty of competition, including a couple of upstart wannabees like the regional magazine publisher and one local realtor decked out in real greens, plus some stiff judging by the likes of C.C. Lockwood and Smiley Anders, but not only did Miss Sue win the World Champion Mustard Green Cooking Contest, she was also crowned Mustard Green Queen for having raised the most contributions for the local food bank, over $1000. The only male contestant (in the cooking contest, not the queen’s) was gracious enough to retire from the field. And so, resplendent in denim overalls and a sparkling tiara, Sue Powell, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye and looking far younger than her 75 years, reigned supreme over the first official Feliciana Green Festival sponsored by the local Rotary Club.

pot of greenAt last one of St. Francisville’s unsung heroes finally got her due. While Sue Powell loves to travel and has been all over the world, from Saudi Arabia to Hong Kong, from Hawaii to Belgium, her happiest moments are when she is stirring that pot and cooking something soothing to the soul for her friends and neighbors in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Of course she knows everybody in town; on her last birthday Miss Sue received a grand total of 207 cards! Daughter Tootie says, “Anytime anybody wants anything cooked, she can’t say no.” What a blessing she is to the community, she and all the others like her in every little community, whose culinary contributions mark the milestones of life and make the living and dying more bearable.

St. Francisville is a year-round tourist destination featuring a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation. Afton Villa Gardens is open seasonally; Imahara’s Botanical Garden offers spring tours weekends March through May. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, offering periodic fascinating living-history demonstrations so visitors can experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

Dorcas The nearby Tunica Hills offer unmatched recreational activities in unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from Chinese and Mexican cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups. And those looking for mustard greens and other fresh produce can visit the local Farmers’ Market Thursday and Saturdays.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities) or