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Finding New Orleans Thanksgiving, in Maryland

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

This Thanksgiving, hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians will be celebrating the holiday around new tables in new cities perhaps with new friends and maybe even eating some new food. Hurricane Katrina dispersed them across the United States far from the tastes of their hometown. We have three stories about some of the foods they miss. First NPR's Allison Keyes returns to a couple she profiled yesterday, now living in Mt. Rainier, Maryland.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

It's stressful enough to have survived a hurricane while giving birth, being separated from 10 of your 11 children, moving to a completely unfamiliar part of the country, then being unable to get your usual comfort food. Just ask Demetria Martin(ph) and her husband Kenny James(ph).

Mr. KENNY JAMES: You know, at the job, we talked to a man, he said--well, I asked him for pickled meat. He said, `Well, we've got pig feet.' I said, `No, we can't put pig feet in our beans.'

KEYES: And, no, Demetria explains, pickled meat is not meat that tastes like pickles.

Ms. DEMETRIA MARTIN: We just call it pickle meat because they have a flavor where you don't have to add salt, pepper or none of that.

Mr. JAMES: Just like the butt part. It's just sweet pickled meat. It's good.

KEYES: Kenny isn't just an amateur. In New Orleans, he was a professional caterer. He rubs his hands together thinking of some of the tastes from home.

Mr. JAMES: Hot sauces. Oh, D&D smoked sauces(ph), muffalettas. Well, muffalettas like an Italian type of sandwich with the olives and the olive oil and all of that and it's all a big muffaletta, but we cannot get po'boys down here.

KEYES: He says in Maryland, you also can't find decent jambalaya, shrimp Creole, pralines and don't get him started on crawfish.

Mr. JAMES: I ain't had mudbugs in a while. That's what we call them, mudbugs. You get a big old pot about that tall and you heat it up with water and you get a sack of crawfish and you throw the crawfish in there, the crabs, the corn, the potatoes and you put all the spices in it. We have crawfish contests, who can eat the most. You suck the head and eat the tail.

KEYES: Kenny, Demetria and their two-month-old daughter Kiara(ph) are spending Thanksgiving with their 10 other children in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The family was separated during the storm and the kids are living with their grandfather. Kenny says the table today will be full.

Mr. JAMES: Well, the whole family, everybody, do a certain type of cooking. I'm cooking the gumbo. She's going to make the macaronis and ham. And her daddy going to cook, like, the jambalaya and coon and rabbit and nutria rat.

KEYES: Nutria rat?

Mr. JAMES: Nutria rats is these rats that be in the water in the swamps. It tastes like fried chicken. You have to try it.

KEYES: There'll also be turkey for the faint of heart.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.