History of the Cajun People and Their Cuisine
By Joshua Mcmeans • December 12, 2017
Imagine, if you would, sailing all the way from Europe, across the Atlantic, then settling in the Northeastern part of North America only to be exiled for not submitting to authority and having to travel thousands of miles South till settling in, what is considered today, Southern Louisiana. In a nutshell, this was the beginning of Cajun experience. While the circumstances were gruesome, of course, the Cajun community picked up some new ingredients for their peasant style dishes that we love today. Without the mass exodus of the Cajun people (called initially the Acadians) from what is now Canada, Cajun cuisine would be nothing like it is today.
Cajun cuisine, as a whole, is a variety of different cultures all thrown into one pot. The word “Cajun” is an evolution of the word “Acadian” which was a group of people, primarily from France, who immigrated to Acadia. Acadia comprises the Northeastern North America and what is now the Canadian Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island (Wulff).
There the Acadian’s survived off what the land would offer them and took what they could from the North Atlantic, including lobster, salmon, and cod. But when they refused to submit to the British Crown in 1755, the Acadians, around 14,000 of them, were deported out of Canada and they settled in what is now southern Louisiana (Wulff).
Once they settled in Louisiana, the Acadian people came into contact with peoples of other cultures including Native Americans, Black Creoles, Germans, Spaniards, and also Italians. From interacting with peoples of other cultures, the Cajun culture began to form (encyclopedia.com). The Cajun people began fishing the Gulf and the many bayous along the Mississippi River and began living off the land as well.
Cajun cuisine, during the time of their settlement in Louisiana, was considered to be the cuisine of the peasants. They often took vegetable ingredients from the land and threw it all into one pot. They mixed in seafood and meats of the various types of land animals found in Louisiana into the pot as well. They would serve this pot of deliciousness with rice for more nutrients to help sustain them throughout the day. This dish has been experimented with over the years and is commonly called Gumbo (personally the best of the Cajun cuisine).
Some of the main ingredients that go into most of all major Cajun dishes is what is considered “The Holy Trinity” of Cajun cuisine. These ingredients include Bell Pepper, Onion, and Celery. These ingredients are prominent in Cajun cuisine and can be found in most dishes. Another popular ingredient of the meat category is known as Boudin which is a form of pork sausage. Boudin is commonly found in Jambalaya which is a gravy based dish that is also served with rice. Other ingredients that helped influence modern day Cajun cuisine are spices including black pepper and cayenne (Wulff).
Cajun culture is very community-based in their traditions. One event that most of America are familiar with is the popular Crawfish Boil. The concept is easy to grasp because it is the boiling of crawfish that is offered to everyone. The event can be quite messy since the crawfish are boiled with the shells intact and is up to the individual to crack and pry the meat from the shell to eat.
Another event held within the Cajun community is the butchering of a pig which is called a “Boucherie.” This event consists of butchering, processing, and cook a pig which everyone takes part (sustainabledish.com). The event is often accompanied by music and celebration, as well as delicious foods, using every part of the pig to feed the community and come together. There the community chops the meat up into bits for cooking and grind the meat to make sausages (sustainabledish.com).
One common, and highly likely, mistake that most people make about Cajun cuisine is the distinction between Creole and Cajun cuisines. The Creoles were French settlers of the French colonial Louisiana which consisted of people of the upper class. Like the Cajuns, the Creoles interacted with peoples of other cultures which helped create the cuisine that we know today. The Creoles were often seen as the aristocrats and considered themselves above the Cajuns regarding social hierarchy and as a culture (Ducote).
Their dishes use more “exotic” ingredients with an abundance of spices, thanks to wealth and an abundance of time and resources. For example, you find tomatoes in Creole jambalaya and not in Cajun jambalaya, and their roux is often made with butter and flour while the Cajuns used oil and flour. (Ducote).
Cajun culture, even in today’s world, is best affiliated with the geography. As mentioned, the Cajuns fished the waterways of Louisiana providing the cuisine with its strong seafood influences. This was still apparent when the Acadians lived in Canada off of the Atlantic coast. Both cultures used what was provided for them from the land as well as the sea. These people were very self-sufficient as a community (encyclopedia.com).
Over the years, Cajun cuisine has been experimented with and popularized thanks to the ever-growing love for the culture by the American population. Everyone around the country often celebrates Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday. New Orleans is the Louisiana hot spot for a mixture of Cajun, Creole, and French cultures. But the food is something that is beyond compare. Although the mass exodus of the Acadians from Canada was brutal, if it weren’t for their relocation we would not have these wonderful cuisines at the tips of our lips.
“Cajuns.” Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Encyclopedia.com, www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/us-history/cajuns.
Ducote, Jay D. “Cajun vs. Creole Food – What Is the Difference?” Louisiana Travel, 8 Nov. 2017, www.louisianatravel.com/articles/cajun-vs-creole-food-what-difference.
Rodgers, Diana. “Boucherie: A Cajun Tradition Still Going Strong.” Sustainable Dish, 3 Dec. 2016, sustainabledish.com/boucherie-cajun-tradition-still-going-strong/.
Rudolphy, Katy. “Overview of Cajun History, Food and Culture.” ThoughtCo, 6 Sept. 2017, www.thoughtco.com/the-cajuns-culture-1435533.
Wulff, Alexia. “A Brief History Of Cajun Cuisine.” Culture Trip, 19 Nov. 2016, theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/a-brief-history-of-cajun-cuisine/.