notes from maggie's farm
Well, actually, no.
In a nutshell, Cajun food originates in the river parishes, based primarily on foods that are easily trapped; wild game, crawfish, poultry, and a favorite of Cajun chefs in all it's forms: pork. It is hearty and heavily seasoned, though not always peppery-hot as has been over-simplified by the chain restaurant masses. It is not unusual to find families gathered around huge communal pots of something, deliciously simmering all day long. Louisiana chef John Folse says,
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.Further, Folse describes the Creole culture, and their cuisine,
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.... 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.Creole food is the more genteel product of New Orleans kitchens, historically, and utilizes cream sauces, shrimp, oysters and crab, and is more delicately spiced. The differences are further delineated , quite thoroughly, in the article, French Quarter: Dining: Creole, Cajun, or Somewhere in Between?, and Folse is fond of summing the issue up, succinctly, by saying,
"Cajuns eat in the kitchen. Creoles eat in the dining room."
Even among natives of Louisiana, the differences are muddied, and you'll get a feel for the confusion, and fierce loyalties, in this lively discourse.
Today, the differences in the two cuisines can be illuminated by comparison of two very similar dishes-- *Creole Beef Daube Glace, and it's Cajun cousin, **Hog's Head Cheese. Both are members of Slow Food's USA's Ark of Taste, a list, by region, of 'endangered' foods that are worthy of preservation.
For purpose of illustration, imagine two men at lunchtime, today, or 80 years ago, it's much the same. Baptiste is our gentleman friend in New Orleans. He's taking a break from a case he's been working on; he's the attorney on record for an unnamed politician, and his legal wranglings have left him with little time, but quite an appetite. He decides a quick repast is in order, so he puts in a call to the house to have lunch delivered. Something light, he requests. Thirty minutes past, he answers the knock at the door, delighted to find his sweetheart, Evangeline, with a picnic basket. He pulls the napkin from the top to spy the goodies she's packed for him. Service will be on bone china, a pearl-handled knife to spread european-style butter upon his crisp, still warm baguette. He's having a favorite snack, beef daube glace, served with cornichon. Evangeline has thought of every last detail--she's packed the cruet of vinegar he'll sprinkle on his bread, a small carafe of Bordeaux and his favorite crystal goblet, even the condiments in their sterling carousel. He's delighted to find the creme fraiche she prepared last night, and, naturally, a silver spoon. He knows--this is the life.
Under the window of his office, on the sidewalk,below, Rene and Jacques brush the mortar and dust from their hands against the bib of their overalls, the closest thing to a clean spot they can find. They've worked since sunrise, and although Rene's wife, Jolene, has packed a lunch for them both, they are eager to complete the stonemason's project for which they've been hired, in order to earn a small bonus for their efficiency. Today, they are eager for the feast sure to be set before them, because they know it's Thursday, the day after Rene's sister makes the head cheese from pork scraps she's saved, and sends over a pan for his family. Rene and Jacques are treated like kings--theirs are always the first slices of the loaf. Jolene has thought of everything--a bottle of hot sauce, a tube of saltines for each, and in a small metal box, she's packed ice around two bottles of beer. No bottle opener, but Jacques makes quick work of using the edge of the cement windowsill and a firm tap with his fist. He pulls the hand towel from his belt loop and lays it out on the ground, Rene takes the utility knife from his toolbox, slices the head cheese into cracker-sized pieces, and they both relax for the first time that day. Jacques takes a swig of cold beer, tops a first saltine with a slab of head cheese and hands it to his friend who shares this meal with him every Thursday. Leaning back against the brick wall, they both know--this is the life.
Different food, different cultures, different lives, but yet all quite the same, in many ways. Creole or Cajun, in food and in cultures--I think we can come to a consensus that it's all good, Cher!
Vive la difference!
*with modifications, we used the Creole Beef Daube Glace, page 166, found in Cooking Up a Storm, a post-Katrina recipe collection from the Times-Picayune newspaper, and identically here.
**with modifications, we used the Hog's Head Cheese recipe, page 40, inspired by a visit to Bailey's Andouille and Produce, in LaPlace, Louisiana, found in Feasting on Asphalt, by Alton Brown.
More on those recipes, with modifications, this Saturday, on the weekend edition of notes from maggie's farm, when we're doing our part to save these rare dishes from extinction. Perhaps you'll pitch in on the effort by trying them out yourself.
About.Com: Creole and Cajun Cookery
Coastal Living: Cajun vs. Creole
Factoidz: Differences between Cajun and Creole Cuisines
Are Cajun and Creole the Same?