Ellen Byron's debut novel, Plantation Shudders, made the USA Today Bestsellers list, and was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. The second book in her Cajun Country Mystery Series, Body on the Bayou, was recently released. Learn more aobut Ellen and her books at her website.
A great way to build a day trip from New Orleans is to tour one Creole plantation and one American plantation, with a lunch break between tours –which is exactly what I did with my family on a recent visit to Louisiana.
Creole plantations are of an earlier vintage and were painted in vivid colors. American plantations tend to date after the Louisiana Purchase, when planters from other parts of the country migrated to Louisiana. They were usually white and leaned more toward Greek Revival in style. (There was a reason Creole planters avoided white - colors did a much better job of hiding Louisiana's mold and mildew. However, once American rule was imposed on Louisiana, many Creoles wound up painting their houses white so that they blended in with their new neighbors.)
My husband, daughter and I began our adventure at Laura, a Creole plantation on the west River Road. They give a wonderful tour where you get a wide-ranging view of what plantation life was like. The owners had the miraculous good luck to locate the diary of Laura Lacoul Gore, who grew up on the plantation (hence the name) and documented her life there and her home's history. The tales of Br'er Rabbit originated in Laura's slave cabins, and that’s an important part of the tour. You see the grim lodgings where enslaved people were forced to live, and learn about the brutal difficulties they had to endure.
Before crossing the Mississippi to our destination on its east bank, we stopped for lunch at B&C Seafood, a local haunt that also enjoys national popularity. I love its authenticity and delicious dishes.
Next up on our agenda was a tour of Houmas House, once known as The Sugar Palace. Houmas House is a classic "American" plantation, although it’s currently painted pale yellow instead of white. The tour is detailed and fascinating, with even a little gossip thrown in about what happened when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford butted heads on the set of Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. (Hint: Joan Crawford isn’t in the movie.)
Both Laura and Houmas House have excellent gift shops. Houmas House also offers great dining options, so hopefully you’ve worked off that lunch at B&C’s by the time you’re done with their tour. I've had dinner at The Carriage House, and it was outstanding, as was the Burnside Cafe, where I had one of the best oyster po'boys ever. And my husband fell in love with the sweet concoction that they served with their bread. It's made from butter, Steen Cane Syrup, and pecans, and trust me, if he could have packed it in his suitcase, he would have! Enjoy a light bite – or even a heavy one – before you return to New Orleans after a day spent stepping back into Louisiana’s unique past.
Body on the Bayou
The Crozats feared that past murders at Crozat Plantation B&B might spell the death of their beloved estate, but they’ve managed to survive the scandal. Now there’s a très bigger story in Pelican, Louisiana: the upcoming nuptials between Maggie Crozat’s nemesis, Police Chief Rufus Durand, and her co-worker, Vanessa Fleer.
When everyone else refuses the job of being Vanessa's Maid of Honor, Maggie reluctantly takes up the title and finds herself tasked with a long list of duties--the most important of which is entertaining Vanessa’s cousin, Ginger Fleer-Starke. But just days before the wedding, Ginger’s lifeless body is found on the bayou and the Pelican PD, as well as the Crozats, have another murder mystery on their hands.
There’s a gumbo-potful of suspects, including an ex-Marine with PTSD, an annoying local newspaper reporter, and Vanessa’s own sparkplug of a mother. But when it looks like the investigation is zeroing in on Vanessa as the prime suspect, Maggie reluctantly adds keeping the bride-to-be out of jail to her list of Maid of Honor responsibilities.