RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Cajuns mark Good Friday with Pie Day – cooked a day ahead

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

CATAHOULA, La. – Pies, far as the eye can see. Chocolate pies, fig pies, lemon pies, rhubarb pies, cream pies, blackberry pies, crawfish pies, pizza pies.
This breezy April day, Greg Guirard’s cypress home at the edge of the Atchafalaya Swamp could be an advertisement for, I don’t know, Bon Apetit magazine, or Heaven.
Cajuns are known for their good cooking and superb food, and for being an enterprising and tradition-respecting tribe that always gets things done. Pie Day is proof.
To honor the Catholic custom of eating only one meal on Good Friday, many Cajun families have resurrected the Medieval French custom of Pie Day. It is, technically, the one meal that s allowed by the church, but, Cajun-style, the pie orgy lasts for hours – in some cases, all day long. The pies are cooked the day before, again, abiding by the no-cooking-on-Good-Friday rule.
To be honest, I’d never heard of Pie Day till last year. Being a quick study, however, and having an appreciation for pies and friends in strategic places and parishes, this year I managed to get myself invited to not one, but two Pie Days. I did both marathon, loophole pie meals justice.
The first started early in the morning at Paul Begnaud s home in Scott, La. Mister Paul, as friends call him, lives right in downtown Scott in a converted red-brick bank. The tall walls of the old bank are covered with brightly colored original art, and the kitchen is in the vault.
The day before Pie Day, Mister Paul and his harem of helpers rolled out dough with wine bottles, assembly-line style, producing 97 homemade pies before their work was done. There was a band, The Pie Eyes, making merry music to bake by, and lots of raucous laughter and the occasional visit from relatives and television reporters.
By 8 a.m. Friday, an appreciative horde of neighbors was dropping by for heaping helpings of pie, all of it served on Mister Paul’s good china. By the time I made it, around 10 a.m., there was a line wagging out the door, people waiting their turn. Tables were set inside and out, with lipsticky-pink azaleas as centerpieces.
I sat with my sweet friend Ruth Duhon and tried fig pie, and a piece of blackberry, then decided it wouldn’t do to peak on pie early. I excused myself. I still had another event, the more informal but equally delicious Pie Day near Catahoula at crawfisherman and photographer Greg Guirard’s house.
Everyone attending the Guirard Pie Day brings a pie and, ideally, a fork. Greg’s tables and benches are cypress planks he has reclaimed from the bottom of the swamp, and everything happens outside beneath the cypress and live oaks. The only decorations are work boats and old trailers stacked high with found lumber, boat motors dangling from trees, sundry and sometimes rusty tools, and gnarly, interesting stumps hauled home from the swamp.
Once again, I do my part. I eat asparagus pie and crawfish pie, then just a few thousand calories of an apple cinnamon sweet pie. Musician Drew Landry and others jam beneath the trees. Patchwork quilts make color splashes on the green grass. Children see how many bodies they can pile on a hammock.
Pie Day meets my expectations, which were high as meringue on the lemon icebox. They say the French have given up the custom, but their spunky Cajun cousins are doing their best to keep a good thing alive.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

Click video to hear audio