Tommy DeVille was first in line Saturday morning, two hours ahead of the start of the annual crawfish boil, making sure he got a taste of his home state, Louisiana.
“Anytime you eat crawfish it’s going to take you home again,” said DeVille, 61, who grew up in Alexandria, La., but left the state 25 years ago for North Carolina.
He now lives in Clayton, and he’s made the trip to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh a few years now to pick up several pounds of boiled North Carolina-grown crawfish that’s cajun-spiced like home. He expects they will be gone before the weekend’s out. He, his wife, Cindy, daughter Tia and her husband, Greg Hodges, planned to feast on them later in the day. His grandson, Hunter, 3, might sample one.
“They were good the couple times I was here,” he said. “They were boiled right and good-sized crawfish. That’s all you can ask for.”
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The crawfish boil is the showcase event for the state’s handful of growers who raise them in earthen ponds in the eastern half of the state. They sold 900 pounds Saturday, which would account for about a tenth of the roughly 9,000 pounds of crawfish grown each year in a harvest that begins in early May and ends by early August.
It didn’t take long to move the crawfish. More than 30 people were lined up to buy a half hour before the boil started, and by 11:15 a.m. the crawfish were gone.
“It was a good cookout,” said Sterling Davenport, one of the first crawfish growers in the state. “We had a few people who got turned away.”
Davenport began raising crawfish 28 years ago in Washington County. He read an article about crawfish farming in Louisiana and thought he could do it here, even though the climate is a bit less steamy than the Pelican State.
“I thought I’d try it,” he said. “Of course, my wife and son told me I was losing my mind.”
That first harvest out of a three-acre pond was among his best ever. He added two more ponds for a total of 13 watery acres. He grows Louisiana red swamp crawfish, which have an especially meaty tail.
The crawfish boils have been going on for about 20 years, Davenport said. Several growers participate, selling raw crawfish for $6 a pound with a five-pound minimum sale. Boiled crawfish goes for $7 a pound with a one-pound minimum. Sales are limited to 25 pounds per person. About a dollar from each pound sold goes to the N.C. Crawfish Growers Association.
There are no pre-orders, so people line up, many with big plastic coolers they sat on until the boil began.
Sherril Phelan’s daughter Cameron, 9, sat on one of them. It would soon be filled with 25 pounds of raw crawfish. Phelan, 49, of Fuquay-Varina, was picking them up for a boil on Sunday. They were second in line, and this was the fourth time someone in the family made the trip.
“It’s a good family thing,” Phelan said. “Cook the crawfish with potatoes, corn on the cob and sausage, you pour it on the paper and everybody goes to town.”
Joseph Gray, a student at Appalachian State University in Boone, hit the road at 5:30 a.m. to make sure he would be eating some fresh boiled crawfish. He began going to the boil five years earlier while living with his family in Fuquay-Varina. He said they aren’t so much into it, but for him: “I got to get my fix.”
He’ll have another opportunity much closer to home at month’s end. The grower’s association holds a second boil at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market just outside of Greensboro on June 27.