Cajun Facts

The STEVENS Family

Cajun History

1604 - Looking for freedom to live as they please, French settlers begin moving into an area of eastern Canada. There they find fertile fields and abundant fish and wildlife. It is a heaven on earth so they call it Arcadia, or "Acadia." During the ensuing century, the colony grows and prospers and the population continues to increase.

1713 - The golden age of the Acadians comes to an end when the English take control of their settlements after a war with France. The Acadians strike a deal with their new rulers. They agree to remain neutral in any future conflicts between the English and French. In return, they asked to be left alone to live in peace and isolation.

1755 - A power-hungry English governor disputes the pact with the Acadians. He orders them to swear allegiance to the crown of England. The Acadian people refuse his demand and reaffirm their desire to remain as neutrals. The governor retaliates against th Acadians, confiscating their lands and ordering them into exile. Some return to Europe, others move to French-speaking parts of Canada and still others seek haven in the English colonies, to the south.

1765 - Acadian leader Joseph Broussard dit Beausoliel arrives in New Orleans with a band of about 200 Acadians. Beausleil realizes that city life is not for his people so he heads west to start a New Acadia on land near what is now Breaux Bridge. Over the next several decades, thousands of other exiles would follow his lead to southwest Louisiana. Living in isolation from the rest of the country, these Acadians or Cajuns as they came to be called - build a wonderful new culture, much of which still survives today.

1785 - The second great Acadian migration begins from France. Most of the newly arrived settlers take up residence along Bayou Lafourche.

1847 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes the epic poem Evangeline, the story of two star-crossed Acadian Lovers who are divided by the exile never to be reunited. For over a century, Americans view the Acadian Culture through the prism of this literary classic.

1901 - The modern era begins in Southwest Louisiana as oil is discovered near Jennings, at Evangeline. Cajuns are isolated no longer as outsiders begin pouring into the area to work the oil fields. The culture of the region will never be the same as it begins absorbing American influences.

1921 - The new state Constitution requires all children to attend school, a positive step forward for the state. But a fallout from the new requirement is that schools begin mandating that only English be spoken in classrooms and on playgrounds. Cajun children, many of whom speak no English, are spanked for uttering the words of their native tongue on the school playgrounds.

1928 - The authorities may try to silence the children's native tongue, but they cannot stop the Cajuns from playing their distinctive music. The Breaux family records Jolie Blonde, which will eventually be called the Cajun National anthem. In the 1940's, Harry Choates records a hit version of the song which chronicles the sad departure of a pretty blond woman (Jolie Blonde) from the ones who love her.

1968 - English repression and American intolerance fail to destroy the Acadian culture and language. The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) is created by the Legislature ushering in a Cajun Renaissance in South Louisiana. Teachers from France and other Franco phone countries begin arriving in the state to teach the language to school children.

1974 - The first Tribute to Cajun Music draws thousands of fans to Lafayette's Blackham Coliseum. the annual event, now incorporated into Festivals Acadians, spotlights traditional bands that have labored in obscurity and provides exposure for up-and-coming Cajun groups.

1980 - Mulate's Restaurant is opened in Breaux Bridge, dedicated to the preservation of the traditional food, music and dancing of the Cajun people.

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The Cajun and Creole Cuisines of South Louisiana

There is perhaps no region of the United States that holds its cuisine more dear than South Louisiana. A great love of food, flavor, culture and tradition has been combined with an astounding array of natural resources to create these multi-faceted cuisines that are unlike any others.

Cajun and Creole cuisines are closely linked, though each has its own specific identity. Both began developing in the 18th century, and a little history is helpful in fully appreciating the tastes that today, are enjoying increasing popularity all over the world. The Cajun and Creole cuisines were the products of the Acadian and New Orleans kitchens of the 1700's. Though they essentially developed separately, the similar cultural and environmental ingredients of the two produced two styles of cooking that have merged through the years, while retaining a certain amount of individuality.

The term Creole refers to the original European settlers of Louisiana who continued to maintain some of the customs and the language of their mother country. The first colonists came from France as early as 1699 and were followed by settlers from Spain, Africa, Germany, Italy and Great Britain.

These Creoles, who settled mainly in the area of the future New Orleans, came from the affluent aristocratic families of Paris, Madrid and other European cultural centers. The ladies and their imported cooks tried to adapt their native cuisines to the bounty available in the South Louisiana swampland, but, much to their dismay, many of the necessary ingredients to concoct the smooth sauces and delicately flavored dishes from the old country were not locally available.

Disgruntled Creole ladies impressed on Governor Bienville to improve the food supply to accommodate the cooking skills they already knew or they would leave. Bienville put his own housekeeper in charge of the problem, and she taught the Creole housewives cooking secrets she had learned from the indians in the area. She helped them discover the native dishes and spices, and soon they learned to apply their cooking skills to the preparation of pompano, crabs, shrimp, miriltons, cushaw, red snapper, oysters and the many other meats, seafood and vegetables native to the fertile lands and waters of South Louisiana.

While the Creoles were establishing New Orleans, the Acadians began settling the wild, mysterious swamps and bayous west and south of the city. The Acadians, or Cajuns as they came to be known, originally left France for Nova Scotia, but when the British flag was raised over Canada the French-speaking Catholics were exiled from the country. In search of a new home compatible with their customs and religion, the Acadians found South Louisiana.

When the Acadians first began settling the area, there was no social contact with the New Orleans Creoles. The Cajuns were tied to the land, and unlike the aristocratic Creoles, were rugged and adaptable. For the Cajuns life was a day-to-day, season-to-season battle to sustain their families and their culture, and in this lies the main difference between Creole and Cajun cooking.

The Creoles led a life of relative luxury as rich planters and the dishes which emerged from their kitchens emulated the grand cuisine of their homeland. It was not unusual for a Creole dinner to consist of nine courses, each dish prepared by a cook brought from the Old World or bought from slave traders in New Orleans. The Creoles dined on such wondrous dishes as oysters Bienville, oysters Rockefeller, chicken Rochambeau, pompano en papillote and petris fours with spirited drinks such as Sazerac and Absinth Frappe.

The Cajuns on the other hand, were a hearty people accustomed to roughing it. their meals more than likely come out of one pot, one dish which combined all of the natural ingredients of South Louisiana; fish, rice, pungent spices, shellfish and abundant vegetables. Jambalaya, Gumbo, Sauce Piquante, and Crawfish Etouffee' are all delicious examples of Cajun one-pot meals.

It is interesting to note that, although both the Creoles and Cajun settlers developed their own styles of cooking, the two styles are very similar today. This can be attributed to two basic commonalities: first, the heritage of the people -French- with the mingling with other cultures - German, Italian, African and Spanish; and second, the raw materials produced from the area's land and waters. The second factor probably serves as the cement that holds these two cuisines together because the crops of the area are unlike any other.

Water is the flourishing ground for most of the region's foodstuffs. The plentiful harvest from this land criss- crossed by bayous and waterways includes rice, crawfish, mirlitrons, cushaws, okra, green onions, green peppers, garlic, eggplant, sassafras (which is ground into file' powder used as a thickening agent in gumbo), turtles, frogs, ducks, grouse, quail, geese, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, bass, sweet potatoes and sugar cane. From the Gulf of Mexico comes oysters, shrimp, red snapper, pompano, crabs, redfish, scallops, lemon fish, flounder and speckled trout. With such a wide variety of food available, that is not found together elsewhere, the region's cooks, out of necessity, had to be creative. And it was the cultural mix that spurred the creative juices that produced the Creole and Cajun cuisines.

From the French influence, the Cajun and Creole cuisines adapted the smooth, rich sauces and soups. The basis forming most all dishes in New Orleans and Cajun country is a Roux. "First you make a Roux," is a standard opening for a South Louisiana recipe. French Roux was a combination of butter and flour, however, the settlers had to adapt to a scarcity of dairy products and began making their roux with oil or lard.

Although the French cuisine is a major influence in South Louisiana cookery, the Spanish played an important role in developing the spicy nature of most Cajun and Creole dishes by introducing red pepper.

African cooks brought the vegetable Okra to the region when African slaves were traded to the Americans. The Africans called the vegetable "Gumbo" and the name was eventually adapted to the rich stew made with okra, vegetables and any combination of seafood or meats.

From the Choctaw Indians of the Gulf Coast, South Louisiana settlers discovered File' powder made from the dried leaves of sassafras trees that grow wild along the coast. File' powder was used in gumbo when okra was out of season, but now that okra is available all year, file' powder is used as an alternate to okra. The seasoning has a delicate flavor some- what like thyme, and when added to gumbo, it gives the stock the thickness that the stew must have.

These cultural and environmental ingredients, plus West Indian peppers and allspice, Italian garlic and German mustard, among other influences, have evolved into today's famous South Louisiana cuisine.. Visit our Louisiana Market Place and sample some of these fine cuisines.

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Last Updated 10 November 2001, Version 3.2 w/Updated Family Tree