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Coffee and Cajun Fiddle

ifiddlemag Jun 26, 2020

Hi, I'm Mitch Reed with MitchReedMusicLessons.com. Thanks for joining me on iFiddleMagazine.com. One of the things I'd like to talk about in this article is how in Cajun country and Creole country down here in southwest Louisiana, how coffee and fiddling are such a big part of the culture.

When I was a kid learning from old fiddlers, I started going to their houses to visit them. One of the first things we'd do is make a pot of coffee or the woman of the house would make a pot. Then when we were in the living room beginning to play tunes, she would bring out a tray of hot black coffee with a cup of milk and a cup of sugar. She would hold the tray out in front of you and you could personalize your cup of coffee in whichever way you wanted. That was a big part of going to Canray Fontenot's house. We'd always started it off with coffee, and then we played tunes, and then more coffee. And Canray was really old school. And when we'd get in his living room, he would just holler out, "Coffee!" And his wife would bring the tray with the coffee, the cream, and the sugar. So it was pretty funny, just the old days, you know?

I used to visit another fiddler who I talk about a lot. His name was Adner Ortego and he had this old-time coffee pot that I think belonged to his parents. And he would make a type of coffee called sweetened in the pot.

What he would do is when he would put his coffee grinds in the filter, he would also put a teaspoon of sugar. And then when he poured his hot water through the coffee, the sugar would melt into the coffee. So you had sweet coffee, no matter what. Whether you liked it or not, that's what you got at his house. He was a real special guy. Same thing, we'd make coffee then we'd play fiddle tunes, and talk about old fiddle players, stories, the culture, how things are changing, and how things used to be. But coffee, again, always the biggest part of what was involved or what got us going, what sparked things off with playing tunes. And even after playing tunes for a couple of hours, you get tired and you need a break so we'd make more coffee, you know? And it's just a big part of our culture, probably from the French, and the Creoles, and Africans, and things like that. So yeah, so much coffee down here.

Beausoleil even wrote a song about coffee; they call it "The Coffee Song". It's a great song. It's a huge part of our culture. When there's no coffee in the house somebody has got to go get some at the store. In the old days, they used to actually buy the beans and roast the beans in the house, grind it in there. So as soon as you walked in, the whole house smelled so good with coffee. But even for me, when I teach lessons one of the first things I do is I find out which students I have that are coffee drinkers and always have a pot of coffee ready for them when they get here for their lesson because it's just a big part of it.

And sometimes I end up drinking too much coffee. I'm 45 now, and I have high blood pressure. And sometimes, you know, I get a little carried away with it, but it's okay because it's who I am as a Cajun, you know. My whole family was huge coffee drinkers. My father played accordion, my brother played accordion, and on Saturdays that was like our music days. And the first thing we would do, my brother would make a big pot of coffee. Of course, he would drink the whole pot himself first, then we'd make another pot and then he'd get out the accordion. And sometimes we would play records and I'd get out the fiddle and we'd have a jam, but it was always a pot of coffee going on.

Don't get me wrong. The Cajuns like whiskey too. Later at night when the kids are in bed and stuff then the whiskey would come out. But even sometimes no whiskey at night; sometimes it's coffee, especially if you had a long drive back home I used to go visit Mr. Ortego, and he would make homemade wine. We'd drink a little bit of that, but because he knew we were getting ready to get on the road and drive maybe 30 minutes to an hour and he would make us a pot of coffee, and then we would hit the road. So just wanted to talk a little bit about Cajun music, Cajun culture, Creole culture as well.

And when I say Creoles, I mean, you know, black, French-speaking people. Cajuns are the descendants of the Acadians from Nova Scotia who came down to Louisiana. When I learned Creole fiddle from Calvin Carriere, the coffee they made was amazing. And what they would do is his wife would take the coffee grinds; it was always dark roast, Colombian coffee. And she would grind it really fine and put it just in the bottom of a pot and then put water in there and boil it. So almost like a Turkish style coffee, you know, she would boil the grinds in the water and then turn the heat off, let the grinds set. Or like we say in French, the grimilles, let them go to the bottom and then just dip your cup in there. And then you had really nice strong black coffee. It's such a big part of our culture and our fiddle music. And I just can't even imagine what it would have been like growing up and playing tunes and not drinking coffee. I mean, we could have drank tea, but that would have been a whole 'nother experience. Just wanted to share that with you on this article was how coffee and fiddles go together in Cajun country. Thank you.

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