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Nippy the Nutria

By Tara and Ralph

On our tour of the Mississippi River we learned about the nutria rat. This species of rat was introduced to Louisiana for fur trade in the 19th century. The nutria were accidentally released into the wild when a hurricane destroyed their holding pens and the nutria escaped. They are now invasive to New Orleans and because there are so many of them negatively affecting the ecosystem, a law was placed to control the problem. When a rat is killed, the tail can be cut off and the hunter can get 5 dollars per tail as an incentive for hunting the rats.

The Captain shared this picture of his catch of invasive nutria .

Our tour guide recollected the time he captured one. While hunting the “nutra”-as he calls it, he ended up killing a mother nutria rat and one of its babies was left behind. He felt bad for the little critter, so he stuffed it in his boot, took it home, and nursed it to health with a milk. The rat he describes as friendly. It runs around the house and and answers to “Nippy” or “MAHHH!!”. He has the pet rat named Nippy to this day. Although he loves his pet rat, he still goes hunting for nutra and does his part to help decrease the nutra population, so that the ecosystem can get back into order.

Hey Good Lookin’ Whatcha got Cookin’

Today we headed to the French Quarter of New Orleans, and we had the pleasure of meeting Michael Devidts- the instructor of New Orleans School of Cooking. Established 39 years ago, the school specializes in New Orleans cuisine. First, Michael took us to the Farmer’s Market to get some ingredients for our meals.

Crescent City Farmer’s Market. Credits: Matt Hershberger

We were divided into groups and assigned to cook a portion of a five-course meal (appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and dessert). With guidance from Michael and his assistant Josh, my group cooked gumbo for the soup portion of the meal.

Our  gumbo recipe:

First, you make the roux (equal parts oil and flour). Wisk until dark brown.

Add onions, celery, garlic, and peppers in the roux.

In a vegetable stock, we boiled carrots and potatoes. Add vegetable stock (with potatoes and carrots) to the roux. Joe’s Stuff Seasoning. Michael is adamant that no salt is needed. “We don’t use salt- only Joe’s Stuff!” Simmer for 30+ minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Pre New Orleans Trip

This will be my first trip to New Orleans and I am excited to go. My peers who have previously participated in the service learning to New Orleans seem to be saying the same things: it is hard work, but it is also worth it! I look forward to working in wetland restoration and also helping out with the community garden. I also want to experience New Orleans Culture- especially the food.