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Cajun & Creole

"New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin."   -- Mark Twain, 1884

Creole and Cajun are much more alike than they are like anything else.  The Creoles and the Cajuns came to Louisiana by different paths. And once they got there, they lived differently.  This accounts for the differences in the cuisines.

The Creoles were much more cosmopolitan.   They  were the European born aristocrats, wooed by the Spanish to establish New Orleans in the 1690's. 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. They brought with them not only their wealth and education, but their chefs and cooks. With these chefs came the knowledge of the grand cuisines of Europe. 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 carried over, some with more evolution than others, and provided a solid base or foundation for Creole cooking.  The French Quarter became the Creole sector, while the Americans built their homes and businesses on the other side of Canal Street, the main thoroughfare and dividing line between the French Quarter and the rest of the city.

Bouillabaisse, a soup that came from the Provence region of France in and around Marseilles, played a part in the creation of gumbo. The Spanish gave Creole food its spices, and the paella, which was the forefather of Louisiana's jambalaya. On the coastline, seafoods were often substituted for meats in the jambalaya creating many variations, according to the local ingredients available at different times of the year. The Germans who arrived in Louisiana in 1690 were knowledgeable in all forms of charcuterie and from them came the andouille and other sausages. Mirlitons (or chayote squash), sauce piquantes from south and central America and the use of tomato rounded out the emerging Creole cuisine.The African slave brought with them the "gumbo" or okra plant from their native soil, which not only gave name to that premier soup, but introduced a new vegetable to South Louisiana.

Creole cuisine, then, is a blending of artistry and talent of cooking, developed and made possible by the people of various nations and cultures who settled in and around New Orleans, and is kept alive by Louisiana sharing it with the rest of the world.

The Cajuns, on the other hand, were isolated for most of their history. The Cajuns are descendants of the French-speaking Acadians who were banished from Nova Scotia in the early 1700s. They settled in southwest Louisiana and lived in isolation until modern times. Until the oil boom came, they had to fight to survive.    The Cajun farmers, fishermen, and hunters sold the best of their gatherings and subsisted on the worst. That necessity inspired Cajun cooking, which can make a great meal out of poor ingredients.
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. 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.

The Acadians subsidized their diet with game and seafood. The Cajun cooks were blessed with an abundance of crab, river shrimp, lake shrimp, oysters, crawfish, freshwater and saltwater fish, plus squirrels, wild turkeys, ducks, frogs, turtles, pork, homemade sausages, beans of all kinds, tomatoes, okra, yams, pecans, oranges, etc.

They ate maple syrup and molasses for sweets. They grew apples, peaches, pears, etc and gathered wild blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries.  In Louisiana, wheat was scarce and expensive so corn flour and cornmeal were substituted, and rice was the main staple at the Cajun table.

The Acadians made friends with the Spanish and Germans that preceded them as well. From the Spanish they were introduced to paella (the predecessor of jambalaya), grillades, stews, fricassees, soups, gumbos, sauce piquantes and a host of stuffed vegetable dishes, such as Mirlitons, are all characteristic of these new Cajun "one pot meals". And 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. Their dishes were often pungent, peppery and very practical since it was also all cooked in a single pot.

There are hundreds of different recipes for gumbo, jambalaya, turtle soup and they are all right because no one is wrong.