Kel's Travels travel blog



pepper plant

white oak barrels

country store


resting place

rose garden



40 ft of flowers

The grotto

house - view from river

house - from front


Mirror Lake




north terrace

I wanted to learn at least a little bit about Louisiana culture but there weren't a lot of options to choose from. I did get a chance to visit the Tobasco factory - the only factory in the world where that famous hot sauce is made. Here's the outside of the building

When you step out of your car, you can smell the hot peppers. There is a little hall where they have several exhibits you can browse before your tour begins. This giant bottle represents the current model - originally Mr McIlhenney used old perfume bottles.

Currently tobasco sauce is shipped to more than 120 countries around the world and labels are printed in more than 20 languages. The company was started in 1865 when someone gave some pepper seeds to Edmund McIlhenney. The original seeds were reported to have come from Mexico and that is where they looked for the name of the finished product. Edmund started growing the peppers in his own garden and experimenting with various recipes for sauce. When he found one that family and friends loved, he started producing it commercially on Avery Island and at one time over 700 acres of the pepper plants were grown there. This shows what the plant looks like

Now only about 30 acres on Avery grow the peppers while the rest are grown in Central and South America where the growing season is a little longer. A member of the McIlhenney family still personally oversees the annual ritual of choosing the best plants to be put aside for their seeds by tying a piece of twine around those plants deemed best. The peppers are still picked by hand and pickers are given a small red stick which has been painted to the exact shade of the ripest, juiciest peppers. They are picked, washed, chopped, and mixed with a little salt mined right on Avery Island. That mixture is then aged for 3 years in white oak barrels like these

The barrels are purchased from the Jack Daniels Company and can have a useful life of up to 100 years! Even after that, they are ground into small bits which are sold to restaurants and the general public to use in smoking meat. After the mixture is properly aged,pure vinegar is added, then it is stirred for 28 days. Once they extract all they can for the sauce, there are still bits of hot pepper ?juice? that are squeezed out and sent to other companies to use in products like Ben-Gay, Dentyne gum, and red-hot candies. After watching an informative video, we saw the line where Tobasco sauce was being labeled, boxed, and prepared for shipping. Next, we went to this "country store"

where a wide variety of products were available, including many I could never have imagined. They also had samples of products for us to taste like chili - good; various sauces, salsas, and jellies - some good, some hot, some not for me; Tobasco soda pop - odd, and jalapeno ice cream - which was just plain nasty. This little choo choo was outside the store also.

After learning all I could about Tobasco, browsing in the store, and sampling the foods I made my way further east through New Orleans and into Mississippi.I stopped at their welcome center just inside the western border to collect a map and tourist info. I planned to spend the night at a state park in a town named Gautier. I thought it was probably pronounced Go-tay or Go-tier but learned at the welcome center that it is called Go-shay. The state park was completely full so I quickly found another RV park to spend the night. The entire state is only about 75 miles wide, at least the southern portion. The next morning I drove to the town of Theodore AL to visit the Bellingrath Home and Garden. It was a beautiful sunny morning, but the temperature was only in the 40s. See, they even covered some of the plants.

I wondered about my sanity in visiting a garden in the winter but enjoyed my wandering anyway. This place is very unusual in that the gardens were designed and planted and even opened to the public before the house was built. Mr. Bellingrath owned a very successful franchise to bottle Coca-Cola in Mobile and was advised by his doctor to learn to relax so he purchased a fish camp along the Fowl River. His wife wanted to create a beautiful garden and their legacy is visited by thousands every year. I would love to come back in the spring or summer when this gorgeous rose garden is in bloom

Can't you see yourself relaxing on this bench in the shade on a hot day?

Of course, they have their own greenhouse where all kinds of tropical plants were blooming in a riot of color, like this close up of an orange hibiscus

The next area is called the great lawn and is bordered by this 40 foot border, featuring over 40,000 plants which are changed 4 times a year.

As you got closer to the house, there were more statues, fountains and benches like this one.

They utilized the natural thermal springs that were present on the property. This one is called "the grotto"

and the water trickles into the river. Here is a view of the house from the level of the river

There are several levels of terraces, each with its own gorgeous landscaping. This one, called the "north terrace" was Mrs. Bellingraths' favorite and she loved to have tea here.

Here is another view of the house, at the entrance where the tour started.

No photos were permitted inside, except for this courtyard

which reminded me of New Orleans. There were 3 dining rooms, including the formal one which featured a table that once belonged to the English Lord Lipton, the famous tea merchant. There were priceless porcelain figures, 9 sets of china, and huge, heavy silver serving pieces of all kinds. After the house tour, I continued on to see this beautiful lake aptly named Mirror Lake.

A hurricane several years ago took many of the trees that grew around its shore and it was decided to leave more green and open space. This started as a small mill pond but was cleaned up, dredged and enlarged to allow visitors to walk around its circumference. Like elsewhere, there were many sitting areas and statues like this regal fellow.

The last place I checked out was this tiny chapel, restored to honor the garden club who help maintain the grounds after the Billingraths death turned this beautiful place into the non-profit organization it is today.

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