If accounts I’ve heard over the years are correct, some merchants took in more eggs than they did in hard money – at least in those long, lean months between harvests.
In an interview some years ago Claude Johnson of Cecilia recalled that in his youth two eggs were the price of a sack of decent tobacco.
In Church Point, according to a remembrance by Marie Louise LaCaze, many of the eggs were taken to Alsace Sonnier’s store on Main Street. She remembered putting on a mask and costume on Mardi Gras day and making the rounds of neighbors, much like city kids still do on Halloween. She said the neighbors would give each of the costumers either a nickel or an egg, which could be traded for a nickel’s worth of goods at Mr. Sonnier’s store.
I presume the value of eggs changed from time to time and from store to store, depending on how many chickens there were in the neighborhood and who was doing the bartering.
A lot of the bartered eggs eventually ended up in the hands of O.J. LeBlanc, an egg wholesaler whose business was at the corner of Garfield and Johnston streets in Lafayette. He sent his trucks out to the country stores to buy the bartered eggs and distributed them to grocery stores in town.
Joyce Cormier remembered LeBlanc’s trucks coming to her father’s grocery store in Mire in the late 1920s and early 1930s. She said her father would “candle” the eggs and put them into crates that held several trays. Each tray held about two dozen eggs.
In candling, a bright light is shined on the egg. The light penetrates the shell and lets you see the condition of the yolk inside and discard any bad eggs before they go to market.
Acadiana eggs (and those from other places) also ended up in New Orleans. Gene Thibodeaux found a newspaper account reporting that in 1904 some 18,000 cases of eggs (at 50 pounds of eggs per case) were shipped from the railroad depot in Rayne alone. Emile Daboval Jr. of Rayne invented a special container made of straw and wood pulp to ship them in.
Like amounts of eggs were shipped from other places on the rail line, and even by other means before there were railroads. In 1869 the New Orleans Picayune reported, “We know several persons who have made fortunes from the traffic in the small matter of poultry and eggs. We have generally two steamboats and sometimes three plying between Washington [in St. Landry Parish] and New Orleans … during the business season [carrying] as many as a thousand dozen eggs … per week.”
The community of Egg Bend in Avoyelles Parish got its name because people went there to barter their eggs at the local store. Steamboat captains gave the place its name because of the many eggs regularly shipped from that landing.
“I remember a relative telling me about a woman from New Orleans who detested the taste of eggs until she moved to the country,” Thibodeaux said. “She figured that with the time it took the local merchant to collect enough eggs to send to New Orleans, plus the shipping time, plus the time the eggs sat on the New Orleans grocer’s shelf, she had never eaten a fresh egg until she moved closer to the chicken.”
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.