Cajun Food is one of the two major cuisines of the state of Louisiana, the other being Creole.
Both cuisines draw on the same ingredients: both use roux a lot as a base, both use rice, seafood, and spice. They differ in preparation methods, Cajun being simpler.
- Creole — city, fancier, has its base in the area’s earliest European history, a meal has two or more courses;
- Cajun — rural, spicier, more one dish meals, has its base in the Acadian refugees migration, served with hot sauce on side.
Cajun style cooking calls home roughly 22 parishes in southern Louisiana. The major urban centre of Cajun culture is Lafayette. In French, the Cajuns call themselves, their culture and their food “cadien.”
Cajun was up until the 1950s seen as a pejorative word. A revival of interest in the culture began in the 1970s, and with that, an interest in the food. Cajun cooking started to become known in the 1980s, being introduced to a broader culture by chefs such as Paul Prudhomme and Alex Patout. Emeril Lagasse is not Cajun but promotes the food.
Cajun food is not as hot and spicy as outsiders believe it to be, though there are intense, strong flavours developed through long simmering which will be combined with a bland item such as rice. The “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking is bell-pepper, celery and onion. Seasonings are bay leaf, garlic, parsleyy, scallions, and cayenne pepper (either dried or in the form of a pepper sauce.)
Flavouring vegetables such as onion, garlic, celery, bell paper are browned before incorporation into a recipe; roux is also browned first to develop flavour. Coffee is dark-roasted.
Barnyard meat was traditionally pork and poultry, with beef in the south-western part of Louisiana. Traditional vegetables were chayote, corn, garlic, greens, okra, onions, and peppers; rice was an important grain crop. All of this was supplemented with alligator, crab, crawfish, oysters, turtle, shrimp, squirrel, venison, as well as fish in general and filé powder from sassafras trees as a thickener.
A “boucherie” is a party at which a pig is butchered and the meat cut up.
A “cochon de lait” is a pig roast party.
At Mardi Gras out in the country, people go house to house asking for ingredients. The women make a gumbo from the ingredients and it is served at a community dance. This no doubt came from their Acadien ancestors in Canada, who at Candlemas would “courir la Chandeleur”, going from house to house for food donations, doing a dance for the donors at their door, and using the assembled food for a big community supper.
Crawfish Boils, called crab boils by some, are big backyard events with extended family and friends invited. The crawfish are boiled up with Old Bay spice mix in the water, along with vegetables such as corn, potatoes, carrot and cayenne peppers in the same pot.
When cooked, the boiled mixture is drained and then just dumped in one big huge pile on sheets of newspaper in the centre of an outdoor table. You just serve yourself by hand, peeling the crawfish as you eat them. Fans even suck the juices out of the heads.
Cajun Food has been mainly influenced by American south, and Acadien cooking, with smaller influences from Spanish, Native American, and African cooking.
- Louisiana Territory claimed by France in 1682.
- Biloxi was the first French settlement there, in 1699.
- New Orleans was founded by France in 1718.
- In 1762, it passed to Spain by treaty.
- 1764 first record of Acadians arriving in Louisiana. They had been expelled from Canada, where they had been since the start of the 1600s, for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown. They brought with them the rustic French-Canadian cooking that the Acadians did in Canada, with lots of game, etc. They settled at Poste des Attakapas. In their cooking, the Acadiens substituted cornflour, cornmeal and rice in Louisiana where wheat was expensive.
- 1785 last of 1,600 Acadian refugees arrive
- 1789 – fresh wave of French refugees starts — this time from France, fleeing the Revolution at home
- 180, France repossessed it,
- 1803 France sold it to the United States for $15 million
- the native Indians in the area were the Choctaw
- the Acadians settled in the woods and marshes
- 1812 Louisiana becomes a state
- The mixture of influences in Cajun cooking remains largely unaffected by the outside world until cultural changes started coming to the area in the 1900s such as mandatory education in English, mass media, etc.
- in the early 1900s, there was an effort to suppress French, with the language banished from Cajun schools
- 1921 – Louisiana Constitution (the state’s 9th) forbids any language other than English in schools
- the fleeing from Nova Scotia is called the “Grand Dérangement”
- 1836 – Lafayette incorporated as a city (first named Vermilionville)
- 1969 – French allowed in schools again
Literature & Lore
State Fruit: strawberry
State crustacean: Crawfish
State drink: milk
State freshwater fish: white perch (aka poxomis annularis, sac-au-lait)
State saltwater fish: Spotted sea trout, or speckled trout (aka Cynoscion nebulosus)
State jellies: mayhaw jelly, and sugar cane jelly
State meat pie: Natchitoches Meat Pie
State vegetable plant: Creole Tomato
State vegetable: Sweet potato
Louisiana Day is 30th April each year. (Louisiana Legislature, 1954, No. 44, §§1-3.)
Ancelet, Barry Jean. From Evangeline Hot Sauce to Cajun Ice: Signs of Ethnicity in South Louisiana. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana Folklore Miscellany. 1996.
Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. Louisiana’s French History. Lafayette, LA. Retrived June 2009 from http://www.codofil.org/english/lafrenchhistory.html .
Robichaud, Daniel L. La cuisine cadienne – Cajun (en Louisiane). Retrieved June 2009 from http://cyberacadie.com/index.php?/coutumes/La-cuisine-cadienne-en-Louisiane.html .