It is important to realize that cultures and cuisines constantly evolve. This evolution process is brought about when new ingredients and ideas are introduced into a region. Here in South Louisiana, the evolution process may be witnessed at every turn. Today is more and more difficult to distinguish the Cajuns form the Creoles-but it is important to understand the foundation of Cajun and Creole cuisine to understand the direction our Louisiana Cuisine has taken.
The Creoles were the offspring born in New Orleans of European aristocrats who were lured to New Orleans by the Spanish in the 1690’s. Most were second born sons, who could not inherit land or titles in their native countries where the first born son received all these gifts. So the second born sons were offered the opportunity to go to the “new world” to seek their fortunes-and many were successful. To- day the term Creole in New Orleans represents the native born children of the intermarriage of the early cultures which settled New Orleans. These include the Native American, French, Spanish, English, African, German and Italian and which also defines the Creole cuisine that came from this intermarriage of cultures.
The influence of all these cultures is very apparent in the Creole cuisine. A easy example is the Bouillabaisse soup from France which led to the creation of Creole gumbo. The Spanish actually gave us from their paella the jambalaya of Louisiana. The Germans brought to South Louisiana their knowledge of charcuterie which led to the fine sausages of the region. The West Indies and Haiti gave Louisiana exotic vegetables and unique cooking methods like braising and sauce piquantes. And of course the native Indians introduced the settlers to local produce, wildlife and seafood. Important ingredients like corn, sassafras leaves and file powder and bay leaves added to the culinary melting pot.
The cuisine of the Cajuns is a mirror image of their unique history which reflects their ingenuity, creativity, adaptability and survival. When the Canadian French exiles arrived in South Louisiana in 1755 they were already well versed in survival. The French Canadians found a new home in French influenced Louisiana which welcomed their Catholic religion and similar customs from France.
As wave after wave of refugees found Louisiana their Acadian homeland was reborn. They made their homes in the swamps and bayous of the South Louisiana which embraced their joy of living from the land. Armed with their black iron pots, the Cajuns as they came to be known, utilized what foods were indigenous to the area of South Louisiana. None of the exotic spices of Europe was available to the Cajuns in the Bayou country, instead they were happy to live off the land which was abundant with fish, shellfish, wild vegetation, local herbs and wild game. Jambalaya, grillades, stews, fricassees, soups, gumbos, sauce piquantes and stuffed vegetables are all characteristic of those “one pot meals”. Cajun cuisine is a “table in the wilderness”, a creative adaptation of indigenous Louisiana foods.
So, South Louisiana has two rich histories and cuisines: the Creole cuisine with it’s rich array of courses reflecting their close ties to European aristocracy and the Cajun cuisine with it’s one pot meals, pungent with the local flavors of the land’s seafood and wild game.