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I’m not trying to sound like one of those overtly Southern writers who slings out “y’alls” and “ma’ams” over a thick layer of self-deprecation in an attempt at being endearing. Nor is this a “Fear and Loathing at the Kentucky Derby” piece, though this event doesn’t last as long as the famed horse race. This is simply a story worth telling, and it’s also telling of the culture of my hometown.
About two weeks ago, I was hired as a duet with Amanda Donald to play in Laurel, Miss. That little city is bustling, thanks in part to the HGTV show “Home Town” and other revitalization efforts over the past few years. This event had nothing to do with that show. There were no camera crews or producers, only a few of us with cell phones capturing the moment, while others had seen it so many times before, they just kept theirs in their pockets.
The event was the Laurel Machine and Foundry (LMF) Anvil Shoot. I believe this to be the 19th of its kind, and maybe my fourth or fifth nonconsecutive performance here. I was hired by my friend Trent Mulloy, the fearless leader of this family-run business. I’ve known Trent for over 40 years, living maybe a quarter-mile from one another, separated only by a couple grades in school. I see Trent as a bit of a Renaissance man, but am proud he is keeping some of the traditions set in place before he was in his father’s shoes. This one, in particular, is my favorite.
Before you look down your nose at this, understand this shouldn’t be labeled as some redneck event. Sure, I’m certain a few there may identify as redneck, but in that crowd of folks bathed in a Southern drawl and one Irish accent, there were engineering minds. It’s an anvil shoot. No, we are not shooting AT an anvil. We are shooting an anvil.
Once a year for almost two decades, they’ve had sort of an Employee Appreciation Day at LMF. How better to let the people know you care about them than by loading a 101-pound anvil onto three pounds of black powder. “Light the fuse and run like hell,” would be on the directions. I’m not sure of the legality of it, but we were outside the city limits where, at the minimum, fireworks are legal. I’m sure someone signed off on this.
This year, I was standing post at the beer truck with the Irishman when the countdown began for the 5:30 p.m. launch. We all huddled together a few hundred yards away, the anticipation heavy, as the fuse-lighter casually trotted west from the spark. It took all I could to not yell, “Run!” His lack of urgency was disturbing.
Then, amidst a handful of people at the launch site and heavy equipment 50 or so feet on the other side of the pad, we see a distant flash. A second later we feel the BOOM! The anvil heads straight up, tumbling end over end, as the crowd holds its breath. A collective exhale was heard when the anvil crashed in the dirt, mere feet from where it launched. Total hang time: 16 seconds.
It’s impressive how precise this is, shot again an hour later with identical results. One wrong move and that thing could have glanced off and hit someone in the eye. I’m sure there is no ointment for an anvil wound.
In between the launches, the celebration continued with more live music, beer and 4,000 pounds of crawfish. That’s what this story is really about. It’s my first boil of the year, and they were incredible. It’s that time when the crawfish are larger, but these guys were huge. I don’t like them too big, but when cooked right, that tough shell will loosen up.
What made these so good? I think it’s because they were normal. The perfect boil, to me, is fairly spicy, salty and not too extravagant. I don’t like them tossed in a cooler and drenched in yellow mustard. Nor do I want them tasting like a luau. If you’re a pineapple juice boiler, do so sparingly.
When it comes to veggies, I am open-minded, but my focus is definitely on the mudbugs, not the rabbit food. Classic potatoes, onions, garlic, corn and sausage are musts, but if you want to throw in a head of cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, fine by me. Just don’t add anything that will overpower the boil. It’s about the boil flavoring the veggies, not the veggies flavoring the boil.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, we purged. The washtub full of saltwater has now been replaced by coolers of freshwater. Just clean them up a bit. Salt may kill a few prematurely.
Shocking the boil is only if you’re doing a “one and done.” For me, the first batch is a trial. It helps flavor the boil for the next batch. But if you’re only doing one large batch, shocking is OK. This is when you kill the heat and add a bag or two of ice to stop the cooking process so the crawfish can soak. This will yield a spicier boil, for sure, despite the 10 pounds of water you just added.
We are sliding down the hill of peak crawfish season, but you can still get in a couple more boils. Let those big bugs cook a little longer. The good news is the claws are worth cracking. That’s some of the finest meat in these mini lobsters.
If you’d like to see the engineering feat that is the Laurel Machine and Foundry Boil, check out the video. I’ll post it on the “LagniappeCuisine” Instagram account as well as my personal Facebook page. Also, if you have some land in the country, a license to handle large amounts of black powder and are friends with your local volunteer fire department, I have a couple of burners and a few pots.
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