History of Cajun and Creole Cuisine

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Isabelle Fassinou

History of Cajun and Creole Cuisine

Post by Isabelle Fassinou » Thu Oct 11, 2007 9:39 am

Prior to beginning our adventure into the cuisines of South Louisiana, it is imperative that I begin by outlining the basic principles, procedures and terminologies that are unique to Cajun and Creole cookery.
It is important to realize that cultures and cuisines must 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. The Cajuns today have more access to the outside world because of increased mobility and as interstates began to cross the bayous, cities arose from our swamplands. An example of this process of change is the merging of cultures in New Orleans.

Today it is difficult even for the locals to tell the Cajuns from the Creoles. However, we all agree that evolution is imperative, if our cultures and cuisines are to survive.

Though we will look into this evolution of Louisiana cuisines, I feel it is necessary to first understand from whence it came. Knowing the foundation of Cajun and Creole cooking will ensure a clear understanding of the direction we have chosen to take.

As the young chefs of America travel into the bayous of South Louisiana and walk the French Market area of New Orleans, their creative juices cannot help but flow. The volumes of crawfish, crab, shrimp, oysters, wild game and other local ingredients lend themselves perfectly to the evolution process at the hands of these young masters. So for a moment, let's look into the past. This certainly will place a bright spotlight on the future of our magnificent cuisine, a cuisine constantly evolving for the better in South Louisiana.

The Cajun and Creole cultures are quite distinct and so are their cuisines. The Creoles were the offspring born in New Orleans of the European aristocrats, wooed by the Spanish to establish New Orleans in the early 1690s. Second-born sons, who could not own land or titles in their native countries, were offered the opportunity to live and prosper in their family traditions here in the New World. It is believed the word Creole can be traced to one of two origins. First, the old Spanish word "Criallo" meaning a mixture of cultures or color such as in the word Crayola. Secondly, from the Latin word "Creare" meaning to create as in creating a new race. Although the first Creoles were documented in Mobile, Alabama in 1702, Natchitoches and New Orleans followed in 1714 and 1718 respectively. Today, the term Creole in New Orleans represents the native born children of the intermarriage of the early cultures settling the city. These include the Native American, French, Spanish, English, African, German and Italian and further defines the cuisine that came from this intermarriage.

The influences of classical and regional French, Spanish, German and Italian cooking are readily apparent in Creole cuisine. The terminologies, precepts, sauces and major dishes were carried over, some with more evolution than others, and provided a solid foundation for Creole cooking.

Bouillabaisse is a soup that came from the Provence region of France in and around Marseilles. This dish is integral to the history of Creole food because of the part it played in the creation of gumbo.

The Spanish, who actually played host to this new adventure, gave Creole food its spice, many great cooks and paella, which was the forefather of Louisiana's jambalaya. Paella is the internationally famous Spanish rice dish made with vegetables, meats and sausages. On the coastline, seafoods were often substituted for meats. Jambalaya has variations as well, according to the local ingredients available at different times of the year.

The Germans who arrived in Louisiana in 1725 were knowledgeable in all forms of charcuterie and helped establish the boucherie and fine sausage making in South Louisiana. They brought with them not only pigs, but chicken and cattle as well. A good steady supply of milk and butter was seldom available in South Louisiana prior to the arrival of the Germans.

The Italians were famous for their culinary talents. They were summoned to France by Catherine de Medicis to teach their pastry and ice cream making skills to Europeans. Many Creole dishes reflect the Italian influence and their love of good cooking.

From the West Indies and the smoke pots of Haiti came exotic vegetables and cooking methods. Braising, a slow-cooking technique, contributed to the development of our gumbos. Mirlitons, sauce piquantes and the use of tomato rounded out the emerging Creole cuisine.

Native Indians, the Choctaws, Chetimaches and Houmas, befriended the new settlers and introduced them to local produce, wildlife and cooking methods. New ingredients, such as corn, ground sassafras leaves or filé powder and bay leaves from the laurel tree all contributed to the culinary melting pot.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the tremendous influence of "the black hand in the pot" in Creole cooking. The Africans brought with them the "kin gumbo" or okra plant from their native soil which not only gave name to our premier soup, but introduced a new vegetable to South Louisiana. Even more importantly, African Americans have maintained a significant role in development of Creole cuisine in the home as well as the professional kitchen.

Creole cuisine is indebted to many unique people and diverse cultures who were willing to contribute and share their cooking styles, ingredients and talent. Obviously, Creole cuisine represents the history of sharing in South Louisiana. Early on in the history of New Orleans, the Creole wives became frustrated, not being able to duplicate their old world dishes with new world products. Governor Bienville helped to solve this problem by commissioning his housekeeper, Madame Langlois, to introduce them to local vegetables, meats and seafoods in what became the first cooking school in America. This school aided them in developing their cuisine in a new and strange land.

Creole cuisine, then, is that melange of artistry and talent, developed and made possible by the nations and cultures who settled in and around New Orleans. Those of us who know and love it, keep it alive by sharing it with the world.

The cuisine of the Cajuns is a mirror image of their unique history. It is a cooking style which reflects their ingenuity, creativity, adaptability and survival.

When the exiled French refugees began arriving in South Louisiana from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1755, they were already well-versed in the art of survival. Their forefathers had made a home in the wilderness of southeast Canada in the land of "Acadie." Following their exile, these French Catholics found a new home compatible with their customs and religion in South Louisiana.

The story of "Le Grand Derangement" is memorialized in the epic poem EVANGELINE by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This love story tells of Gabriel and Evangeline, tragically torn apart when 10,000 Acadians were gathered and driven from their homeland. It took six days to burn the village of Grand Pre, and families were divided and put aboard 24 British vessels anchored in the Bay of Fundy.

The Acadians were forcibly dispersed, nearly half of them dying before a year had passed. Survivors landed in Massachusetts, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia (where some were sold into slavery), the French West Indies, Santo Domingo, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Falkland Islands. The main tragedy is that the men were exiled first, to destinations unknown, with the women and children following later. As time passed, the struggle to reunite these families, in most cases, proved futile.

A large contingency of Acadians returned to the coastal seaports of France, their initial homeland, and eventually came to South Louisiana. Some were sent to England while others made their way back to "Acadie" to Sainte-Marie and settled on the French shore. Word rang out across Europe, Canada and South America that reunion with their husbands and fathers could be possible in the bayous of South Louisiana.

As wave after wave of the bedraggled refugees found their way to yet another land, the Acadians were reborn. In Louisiana, they were free to speak their language, believe as they pleased and make a life for themselves in the swamps and bayous of the French Triangle of South Louisiana. They were among friends, friends who enjoyed the same "joie de vivre" or joy of living.

Just as they had become such close friends with the Micmac Indians when they were isolated in the woodlands of Canada, so they befriended the native Indians here in South Louisiana. Friends were quickly made with the Spanish and Germans as well.

The original Acadian immigrants had come to Nova Scotia from France beginning in 1620. They were primarily from Brittany, Normandy, Picardy and Poitou. These fishermen and farmers had learned how to adjust, survive and make a life for themselves in Acadie. Once again, they were faced with the task of survival. Rugged as they were, the Acadians learned to adapt to their new surroundings. Armed with their black iron pots, the Cajuns, as they had come to be known, utilized what was indigenous to the area. No attempt was made to recreate the classical cuisine of Europe. None of the exotic spices and ingredients available to the Creoles were to be found by the Cajuns in Bayou country. They were happy to live off the land, a land abundant with fish, shellfish and wild game.

The Cajuns cooked with joy and love as their most precious ingredients, a joy brought about by reunion, in spite of the tragedy that befell them. To cook Cajun is to discover the love and experience the joy of the most unique American cuisine ever developed.

Cajun cuisine is characterized by the use of wild game, seafoods, wild vegetation and herbs. From their association with the Indians, the Cajuns learned techniques to best utilize the local products from the swamps, bayous, lakes, rivers and woods. Truly remarkable are the variations that have resulted from similar ingredients carefully combined in the black iron pots of the Cajuns.

Jambalaya, grillades, stews, fricassees, soups, gumbos, sauce piquantes and a host of stuffed vegetable dishes are all characteristic of these new Cajun "one pot meals."

From the Germans, the Cajuns were reintroduced to charcuterie and today make andouille, smoked sausage, boudin, chaudin, tasso and chaurice, unparalleled in the world of sausage making.

Cajun cuisine is a "table in the wilderness," a creative adaptation of indigenous Louisiana foods. It is a cuisine forged out of a land that opened its arms to a weary traveler, the Acadian.

And so, South Louisiana has two rich histories and two unique cuisines: the Creole cuisine with its rich array of courses indicating its close tie to European aristocracy; and Cajun cuisine with its one pot meals, pungent with the flavor of seafood and game.

No wonder you want to cook Cajun and Creole!

Chef John D. Folse CEC, AAC
"We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends, we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
He may live without books, what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope, what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love, what is passion but pining?
But where is that man who can live without dining?"
Owen Meredith

http://www.jfolse.com/mm_history.htm

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