It’s Official!

This week’s article is meant to educate and enlighten you. If you aren’t feeling the need for either, then you might want to skip to the classified. Or you might want to keep reading so you can let me know that my article did neither for you. It’s your choice.

I find it fascinating that we are one country yet so different. North and South, East and West, North Caroline and South Carolina, the list goes on and on. From politics to religion to the way we pronounce words the differences are enormous. But let’s talk food.

I’ve already discussed the variety of dishes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. However, I recently discovered each state has adopted its own official food. Say what? Growing up in Arkansas, I don’t remember learning this fun fact. Oh sure, I learned that Arkansas is the Natural State, the official tree is the pine and the flower is the apple blossom. While researching this article I’ve learned my home state boasts the vine-ripe pink tomato and rice as its official state foods. Not bad, Arkansas, not bad. But move over—when it comes to food, Louisiana’s in a whole different league.

According to Wikipedia, we have several official state foods. Our fruit is the strawberry, and our vegetable is the sweet potato. We have official jellies, as in not one but two of them. My personal favorite, the mayhaw jelly, and one I’ve never had the pleasure of sampling—the Louisiana sugar cane jelly. But my adopted state doesn’t stop there.

Louisiana has an official state dish—gumbo of course. This all makes sense because here in the pelican state, the first rule of hospitality is that a person can never come between a man (or woman) and a bowl of gumbo. According to Section 170.12 of our state constitution, “There shall be an official state cuisine. The official state cuisine shall be gumbo. Its use on the official documents of the state and with the insignia of the state is hereby authorized.” That’s how seriously we take our gumbo.

I’m going to end the discussion on gumbo to avoid the entire “okra or no okra” debate. From what I understand, this debate takes on a will of its own, heating up tempers and ending friendships. My mother-in-law didn’t add okra to her gumbo, much to the disappointment of my father-in-law. Rumor has it Billy didn’t find that out until after he’d married Ottie. For all our sakes, that’s probably for the best.

Louisiana’s official foods doesn’t end with gumbo. Our state meat pie is the Natchitoches meat pie. But what other kind is there? Personally, I prefer jambalaya over gumbo. And it’s probably a good thing John found that out after we got married.

But what about crawfish, you may ask. Not to worry—our efficient state legislators designated the crawfish as our state crustacean on July 14, 1983. Despite their busy schedules and other important items to vote upon, our elected officials set aside some time and voted in a state shellfish. Thank goodness!

Yes, our state is known for this delightful shellfish, and we put it in everything. I’ve had crawfish in enchiladas, fettuccine, cornbread, meat pie, sauce, bisque, etouffee, and gumbo. On my to do list is trying crawfish fricassee, burgers, fried rice, rolls, au gratin, and hushpuppies. The list grows every time I type “crawfish” into my search engine. Who knew crawfish was so versatile?

I wonder what our state congress will choose to vote upon next? They’ve already made the beignet our state donut. What about voting the pirogue our state boat? Oops, too late—they already did that in 2012. Maybe the Rougarou our state supernatural creature? One man is working on that…but that’s a story for another article.

Jann Goar Franklin graduated Russellville High School in 1989. You can reach her at