If you find yourself at a festival this weekend that features an orange-peeling contest one day and a shrimp-peeling contest the next, you know you must be in Plaquemines Parish — specifically the Plaquemines Parish Fair and Orange Festival (www.orangefestival.com), which celebrates the harvests of the parish.
The Orange Festival is held Dec. 2-4 at historic Fort Jackson (Hwy. 23 at Fort Jackson Park) in the river town of Buras, about 60 miles from New Orleans. There will be citrus-tasting booths and displays, citrus dessert cooking contests, citrus-eating contests and, as mentioned above, the contest for the longest and most unusual decorative peels contestants can craft from a single orange.
Getting to the fair grounds at Buras at this time of year proves its own primer on Louisiana citrus. Travel down Hwy. 23, the two-lane road that hugs the Mississippi River, and you'll see the citrus groves stretching back toward the levee.
The Louisiana citrus harvest is tiny compared to that of Florida or California. The local citrus has distinctive character, and most of the Louisiana crop is sold and eaten close to home. It's a heritage crop full of the promise of local freshness. As it goes with Creole tomatoes, so it goes with Louisiana citrus.