My parents made their first trip down to Baton Rouge to visit so I created a list of places that I hadn’t yet had the chance to see so we could check them out as a family. Quality time with the “rents”!
At the top of my list was the Tabasco Pepper Sauce factory located on Avery Island. Avery Island is about an hour and a half drive West of Baton Rouge, and in addition to being the location of the original factory, it’s also home to the McIlhenny family’s Jungle Gardens and Bird City.
Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny (from pepper pods obtained after the Civil War), and the name is still found bottles of pepper sauce to this very day. While the seeds are still grown on Avery Island for quality assurance, most of the peppers are now grown in Central and South America, and true to company tradition, they are still handpicked. Each worker is supplied with a little red stick (le petit bâton rouge) and peppers are compared to the color of the stick to determine ripeness. The sauce recipe is so unique, it was actually awarded a patent. The aging barrels are actually old white oak barrels previously used to age Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey! If you want to see the factory in action, you have to visit during the weekday…we went on a Saturday and were disappointed that it wasn’t running.
How do I know all this? Because the factory gives free tours all day. Just show up any time Monday-Sunday 9am-4pm for an educational tour of the plant (tours are conducted every 1/2 hour, so no need for a reservation).
Of course, at the end of the tour you are directed to the “Tabasco Country Store” gift shop. I have to admit, though, they have a lot of cool stuff and they have free samples of all of their sauces, including Tabasco-flavor-infused ice creams (no lie, they taste great.). I “picked” up a string of pepper lights for my patio! I love to stir-fry, so I picked up a bottle of Tabasco’s new “Sweet and Spicy” East Asian Style Chile Sauce. It’s a little sweet with a little heat.
E.A. McIlhenny, son of Tabasco sauce inventor Edmund McIlhenny was known as a naturalist and explorer and cultivated the 200 acres of gardens surrounding the plant. Ten’s of thousands of birds inhabit the little island and there are even a few alligators wandering around (and without fences, as seen in the photo below. I was literally 4 feet from this gator when I snapped the photo with nothing keeping him from snapping my leg off!).
I was totally surprised when I turned the corner and saw this beautiful Buddhist Shrine. It was like I was on a mountain top in Tibet! The centuries-old Buddha was created for the Shonfa Temple in Peking by the order of Emperor Hui-Tsung between 1101 and 1125. The Shonfa Temple was looted and the Buddha was stolen and sent to New York to be sold. Two friends of E.A. McIlhenny saw it and purchased it as a gift for him in 1937.
Veteran wide receiver, Super Bowl XLVI Champion, and 2004 #1 draft pick, Michael Clayton, returned to his Baton Rouge hometown to host the inaugural Baton Rouge Rush Football Mini-Camp to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at the Christian Life Academy.
Michael, along with a few top LSU Tigers and other professional athletes, personally taught young sports enthusiasts several offensive and defensive drills, as well as the off-the-field importance of good character, attitude, and hard work ethics.
Michael kicked off the event with opening remarks, testimonials, and paid tribute to his childhood school Christian Life Academy, his time spent playing at LSU, followed by a guest speaker from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Select families from St. Jude were also in attendance.
Michael has a wonderful goal and vision in creating a unique platform that proves kids can accomplish anything with hard work and determination.