Jane Fontenot Vidrine is pictured here under the pavilion located adjacent to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel in Belaire Cove. The pavilion, along with other projects at the chapel, was funded by proceeds from the Belaire Cove Crawfish Etoufee Cookoff that was held for 25 years on the chapel grounds. (Gazette photo by Elizabeth West)
At the Heart of the Cove
When the first French settlers came to what is now called Evangeline Parish, many of them came to live in different areas across the vast prairie. Each of these areas came to be known as a l’anse, or cove in English. While the origin on this term is up for debate, what is not debatable is the fact that each of these coves have its own unique characteristics.
One of these coves in particular was named for the family that settled it. “When you think about the genealogy, you think about the Fontenots, and one of them was a Belaire,” said Jane Fontenot Vidrine who is the president of the Evangeline Genealogical and Historical Society. “That’s basically how it got started in this little rural area. There were so many Fontenots, so they called it Belaire Cove.”
Vidrine was born-and-raised in the community of Belaire Cove and has been back-and-forth everyday for the past 33 years to her job at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. “I live near my family,” she said. “My niece lives next door, and my mother lives on the other side. It’s a great community. It really is.”
She described the community that she calls home as being a lot of country land. “There are a lot of people who are moving into the country now because they don’t want to live in town,” Vidrine said. “They want to have acreage and an open field where they can walk and ride four-wheelers and horses. It’s beautiful green pastures everywhere you look.”
“Everybody knows everybody, and it’s home,” she continued. “People who live here have been here for generations, and they don’t move or sell.”
According to Vidrine, there were as many as five stores within a one mile radius of each other. “My grandparents had one of them called Fontenot’s Grocery,” she explained. “They were all mom-and-pop stores, and they all made it. They all did well. They would make their own sausage, tasso, and boudin. Now, there’s not one that’s open in the Cove.”
“There’s still some farmers who farm soybeans and rice a little,” she added. “Other people have cattle, and we have some crawfish farmers now.”
While the stores are gone, what is still standing are the fire station and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel. Vidrine, who lives across the street from the chapel, explained that the building and the grounds were maintained by funds generated from the Belaire Cove Crawfish Etoufee Cookoff that was held for 25 years on the first Sunday after Easter.
“It’s for the upkeep of the church,” Vidrine said about the cookoff that has since ceased. “Over the last couple of years, they changed the roof and changed the windows and the window sills. They also have to pay someone to cut the grass there and to clean the hall.”
Before the cookoffs began in 1989, church bazaars were held to generate money for the chapel. “The older ladies would get together to make cakes, and they’d have a cake sale,” Vidrine said. “I remember, when I was younger, my grandmother was one that would make cakes. They would make money off of the cakes.”
Eventually Runnie and Joe Matte became the original coordinators of the crawfish etoufee cookoff. Vidrine and her husband Roland first got involved with the cookoff after they moved back to Belaire Cove in 1995. “We just volunteered to work and to help out with the cookoff,” she expressed. “My husband and I since then always cooked the hamburgers and ran the hamburger booth. We’d also sell raffle tickets.”
Vidrine explained that crawfish for the event was donated. “Whenever we started, the people would donate sacks and sacks of crawfish,” she said. “Then we would all get together Thursday night and peel crawfish so that they could be cooked on Sunday. Then for the last few years, it was so much work. They just started buying the clean crawfish, and it was a lot easier because for years we’d peel sacks of crawfish.”
Another change over the years was the layout of the cookoff. As Vidrine said, “For the first few years, it would always rain. So, they would rent this humongous tent that cost a lot of money to rent. After renting it for so many years, we decided to build a pavilion. We got enough money from the cookoffs and then had somebody come build a pavilion.”
“Whether it rained or not, people still showed up no matter what,” Vidrine continued. “A lot of the people were neighbors, family, friends, and out-of-towners. We had people from Belgium and Quebec come one year. There are festivals everywhere, but this one little church festival hung around for 25 years. For something to survive 25 years, you know it was well attended and well organized with lots of volunteers.”
The day would begin with a Cajun band playing while the cookoff was going on. Different teams rented a booth for the cookoff to cook their best crawfish etoufee that was judged that afternoon. After the judging, the etoufees that were cooked were sold as plate lunches.
“They also had a bake sale if you wanted to buy a muffin or a piece of cake,” Vidrine said. “They’d call it the Sweet Shop, and it was inside the hall. You could also buy a whole cake, and all of that money was going to the church.”
The highlight of the event was the old-time auction that was held in the afternoon. As Vidrine said, “Sometimes during the auction people would bid on something and send it back to the auction after they would get it so that the church would get more money.”
Vidrine explained how special the cookoffs were for the community of Belaire Cove. “We just came together as volunteers and worked together to put this on,” she said. “It took three or four months to put this together for a one day event to raise money for our little Catholic church. It’s very special for us. We would have people from Ville Platte, the whole parish, and other parishes. It was a very special day, and everyone just had so much fun.”
She concluded, “I really wish that the cookoff would come back so our community could have something to look forward to and raise money for our little chapel. We got to see our friends, our family, and our neighbors because, these days, everybody works and people don’t visit like they used to. It would be wonderful for our community to have that back. We want to keep that church open as long as we can. It opened its door in 1940, and we want it to continue for generations to come.”