Tobacco was a major crop in South Louisiana in the 1800s and many people still grew their own tobacco as late as the 1940s. Grandpa often had a chew – “chique” – of tobacco in his mouth when I visited him. Grandma placed spittoons around the house to accommodate him.
Tobacco was hardly ever grown commercially in Louisiana in modern times, except as a hobby or for the livelihood of a few farmers in St. James Parish, where they grow and sell a unique kind of tobacco called Perique.
Perique tobacco was discovered by Pierre Chenet in the 1780s when he saw Choctaw Indians smoking a tobacco that had been fermented under pressure in tree stumps. In the 1820s, Chenet developed a process of fermenting Perique tobacco under pressure that remains almost unchanged to this day. After fermentation for about a year, the tobacco is jet black, glossy and has a very distinctive smell. The tobacco came to be known as Perique, generally regarded as having been a nickname for Chenet.
Pierre Chenet’s granddaughter, Coralie Decareau, married Celestin Poché in February 1829, and the Poché family has been involved in the cultivation and processing of Perique tobacco into current times. Although there are only a few farmers who still grow tobacco commercially in Louisiana, the tobacco grown in St. James Parish is still in great demand and is sold worldwide. In Acadiana, the growing of tobacco as a major farm crop is only a memory.
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