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Cajun and Creole Cuisine and recipes

Creole and Cajun Recipes, Food and Cooking

 

USA Cooking by Country - March 2005

 

 

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Cajun and Creole food is the product of southern Louisiana, a State situated in the south of The United states of America. It has a sub tropical climate with marshes and fertile delta lands as well as prairie and gentle rolling hills. A large area of Louisiana is covered by water, made up of rivers, including the Mississippi and Red Rivers and lakes as well as the many slow moving bayous along costal areas which accounts for the popularity of fish, seafood and other “water animals” in this cuisine.

Southern Louisiana's population is made up of the original Native Indians, as well as the descendants of the many peoples who settled here including French, Spanish, English, German, Acadians, West Indians and Africans, all of whom have contributed to create the cuisine.

 

So,  what’s the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking? Many people who don’t live in Louisiana would say “very little” however this isn’t a view held by many Southern Louisianans. Some would say that Creole cooking is city food: a more refined type of cuisine reflecting its close ties to the European aristocracy who settled here (with their chefs) and that Cajun cuisine is country cooking, illustrated by its many traditional one pot meals made up of whatever was to hand by the people who originally settled in the more rural parts of the area.

 

However,  the two cuisines have melded over the years and many traditional dishes and ingredients are now shared between the two. Gumbo and Jambalaya are two such examples, both of which are eaten and cooked by Creoles and Cajuns alike.

 

Ancient times, influences and history of Cajun and Creole cooking

 

Creole Cuisine
 

Creole cuisine began with the European settlers, many of whom were French, who arrived in New Orleans in the 1690’s. They were mostly aristocrats, often second sons, who took the opportunity to further their fortunes in the New World as it was doubtful that they would inherit land or titles in their native countries. These were the founders of today’s Creole cuisine.

 

They took with them their European traditions including their cuisine and the influences of classic European cooking are still evident in many dishes. The French dish Bouillabaisse is said to be the forebear of Gumbo, the Spanish dish Paella the predecessor of Jambalaya and the use of charcuterie and sausages is attributed to the Germans.

The Native Indians soon introduced the settlers to new locally grown produce such as corn, ground sassafras leaves (or file powder) and bay leaves and the all important tomato was introduced from Central/South America.

The Creoles enjoyed a relatively affluent and elegant lifestyle, part of which included having plenty of servants and workers. With the import of African slaves, a further ingredient of Creole cuisine was added. The Africans brought with them Okra seeds, the African name for which is Gumbo which gave its name to the well known soup.

 

As many of these people worked in the kitchens, their own cooking traditions crept into the cuisine. Also, with the government of Louisiana switching from Spanish to French, these cooks soon learnt the basics of both cuisines, but after a time  the total unification of European, African and Native Indian cooking occurred.


Cajun Cuisine
 

In contrast, the Cajuns were a much tougher people, more used to arduous conditions. Originally called Acadians, Cajuns were in effect refugees from the Acadia region in Canada. Mostly of French peasant stock, they were forced to leave Nova Scotia in the 1700’s when tensions grew between the French and the British in that region. Although many originally landed in New Orleans, the Spanish rulers did not welcome them to the city and promptly re-settled them to the more rural parts of Louisiana.

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Those who settled in the prairie regions soon discovered that the area was ideally suited for cattle, and for them it was a boom time. A dual-class system soon became established within the Cajun populous, with the farmers and planters becoming the elite and adopting slavery in order to run their ranches and plantations. As with the Creoles, the African element is introduced to their cuisine.

However, for the many poor Cajuns who ended up settling in the unclaimed swamp areas, life was to become very hard.  Here they couldn’t raise the crops which they were used to back in Acadia such as wheat, barley, oats, turnips and cabbage, so their attentions were soon turned to mere survival. Luckily the swamps and woods did provide the them with a variety of wild foods including squirrel, wild turkey, alligator, frogs, fish and shellfish. Hunting and trapping became part of the survival process.

Kitchen cookware consisted simply of a cast iron pot suspended over a fire and the one-pot meal was the norm where whatever was available was thrown in. Staple foods such as corn and cornmeal, sweet potatoes, beans, and rice were supplemented with wild game.

As with the Creoles, over time Native American, African, Spanish and German culinary influences were taken on board, although the abundant use of seasonings such as cayenne often made for more spicy dishes than those of the Creoles.

 

Current Day Creole and Cajun Cuisine

 

There was a time when Cajun and Creole cooking were very distinct from each other, however today the general flavour of both cuisines has drawn together quite closely, although differences still occur.

Today Cajuns tend to eat a lot more pork especially in the guise of sausages such as andouille and boudin and lots of crawfish when in season, whereas Creole recipes are much more likely to use oysters, shrimp and crab meat. Cajun cooking still tends to be spicy,  though not always, whereas Creole dishes, whilst rich and flavourful, are not generally so hot.  Creole cooking is still more complex. Apart from using a greater variety of ingredients, the way it’s served is still reminiscent of the Grand European style, consisting of several courses. Cajun cuisine on the other hand, tends to be more robust and hearty and easily made in one pot.

Both cuisines utilise onions, green peppers, celery (the holy trinity) and garlic but although they share recipes, sometimes the way in which they are made are slightly different.

In short, it is almost impossible for non-Louisianans to decide whether certain dishes have origins in Creole “city” cuisine or Cajun “country” cooking – it’s a mixture - but one which has developed into possibly the only true American cuisine.

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