What is a Creole? The word Creole means many things to many people. It derives from the Latin word “Creare,” meaning “to beget” or “create.” The Webster dictionary says a Creole is a “white person descended from the French or Spanish settlers of Louisiana and the Gulf States and preserving their characteristic speech and culture.”
Creoles, a term first used in the 16th century in Latin America to distinguish the offspring of European settlers from Native Americans, blacks, and later immigrant groups. In colonial America the designally originally applied to the American-born descendants of European-born settlers. The term has since acquired varying meanings in different regions.
In the United States, the state of Louisiana has a diverse Creole population. White Creoles are the French-speaking descendants of early French or Spanish settlers. Black Creoles are generally the French-speaking Louisianians of mixed race, once constituted a separate group, but have now largely assimilated into the black Creole population. These people have their own culture and customs and even a compostite language derived from the French. In Latin America the term may refer to people of direct Spanish extraction or just to members of families whose ancestory goes back to the colonial period. In the West Indies the word Creole is used to identify descendants of any European settlers. (Encarta Encyclopedia 226).
The Spanish introduced the word as Criollo, and during Louisiana’s colonial period (1699-1803) the evolving word Creole generally referred to persons of African or European heritage born in the New World. Creoles can mean anything from individuals born in the New Orleans with French and Spanish ancestry to those who descended from African, Caribbean, French, and Spanish combinations. The Creoles have played an important part in the heritage of New Orleans.(HERRIN,29)
Strictly speaking, a New Orleans Creole is a descendent of an early French or Spanish settler, “born in the colony,” not in Europe. Most colonials in the eighteenth century were French. They dominated New Orleans cultural and social life for more than 100 years, long before the “Americans” arrived. Most Creoles called themselves “French,” spoke French and considered themselves the only true “natives”. They occupied a middle ground between whites and unslaved blacks, and as such often possessed property and received formal education.
Today Creole is most often used in Acadiana to refer to a person’s full or mixed African heritage. It is generally understood among these Creoles that Creoles of the Color still refers to Creoles of mixed-race heritage, while the term black Creole refers to Creoles of more or less pure African descent. Their popular ethnic music, known as zydeco, is celebrated annually at the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival in Plaisance. Creoles of Africa descent exerted a strong influence on Cajun culture and vice versa, affecting, the Cajuns music, foodways, and religion.(Herrin,67)
In 1952, they founded a preservation group, C.R.E.O.L.E, Inc., which stands for (Cultural Resourceful Educational Opportunities toward Linguistic Enrichment). (Herrin, 82) When New Orleans was founded in 1718, Creoles were strictly cosmopolitan city dwellers. Cajuns, on the other hand, were rustic, self-sufficient country dwellers. They lived along the bayous and amid the swamps of South Louisiana for two centuries, isolated, clannish, devoutly Catholic, French speaking and happily removed from mannered city society.
Creoles are not Cajuns, and Cajuns are not Creoles. Both groups are French in descent, dating back for centuries. There both hunters, trappers, fishermen, farmers, boat builders, breeders of quarterhorses who worked hard weekdays and weekends celebrating life with their fais do-do’s. “Laissez les bons temps rouler” meaning (Let the good times roll) has been a part of their basic philosophy. They lacked in education, they lived close to land, intermarried, and proudly retained their own customs, their religion and their own provincial form of the French language. (Herrin, 102)
The Cajuns’ ancestors, were cruelly exiled from New Acadia by the British in 1765. In one of the nations largest, mass migrations, more than 10,000 fond permanent homes in Louisiana. In Anacadia, newly impoverished white Creoles often intermarried with the predominantly lower-class Cajuns, and were largely assimilated into Cajun culture.(Herrin,111)
Cajuns and Creoles both have contributed so much to New Orleans culture and social life that without it New Orleans wouldn’t be the unique city it is. Cajuns are French colonists who settled the Canadian Maritime provinces in the 1600’s. The settlers named their region “Acadia” and were known as Acadians. In Acadia this is where the word Cajuns came about.(Herrin 115)
The Cajuns developed their own distinct lifestyle in the swamps and surrounding areas of south Louisiana. Cajun contributions of New Orleans and Louisiana are immense and improved the quality of life we now enjoy. Over one million people of Cajun or mixed Cajun blood live in Louisiana with the Creoles.
Both Cajun and Creole food rely heavily on a variety of herbs and spices. The Cajuns in particular love the food hot and spicy. They make a lot of fish dishes. One of their popular fish dishes in New Orleans is the trout marguery. There is no one way to make this dish and as for any other dishes. There are plenty of different recipes for each new dish they make. Cajun cooking is a combination of French and Southern cuisine.(Sherman,117)
When it comes to food both Cajuns and Creoles have no problem sharing. They make huge amounts of food to feed enough mouths. They are both not greedy and certainty not selfish. They will gladly share a meal with you offering the choicest morsels for your pleasure. All their recipes came from France and Spain as did their chef’s. By using classical techniques with local foodstuffs they created a whole new cuisine, Creole Cooking. They adopted the Spanish “my house is your house” philosophy and are happy to make sure your stomach is full.
The difference between Creole cooking from Cajun cooking is many Creoles were rich planters and their kitchens aspired to Grande cuisine. The Cajuns tended to serve strong country food prepared from locally available ingredients. It was pungent, peppery, and practical since it was when Cajun cooking was all cooked in one single pot. This was when Cajun cooking was born. There are hundreds of different recipes for each dish both Creoles or Cajuns make. Another major difference between Creoles and Cajuns is the fact that Creoles ate in the dining room, and the Cajuns ate in the kitchen.(Sherman,120)
Many people confuse Cajun cooking with Creole cooking, but though there are many points of similarity, there are also distinct differences. A popular basis for many dishes done by both Creoles and Cajuns was called roux. Roux is a mixture of flour and fat, usually butter and oil. There is three basic types of roux. There is light, which Cajuns call it “blond”, medium, which is peanut butter color, and dark. There is also white roux, which is cooked for just a minute to get the flour taste out, but is rarely used in Louisiana cooking.
Creoles tend to like their roux a blond or medium type. The Cajuns prefer their roux dark. The preparation of roux is dependent on cooking time, the darker the roux. The blond roux only takes 4 to 5 minutes to cook and the dark roux will take up to 20 to 25 minutes to cook. It all depends on how dark you want it and this is how you base how many minutes it will take. The roux must always be stirred constantly to avoid burning it. Cooking to Creoles and Cajuns is taken very seriously.(Shermn,122)
The Creoles lived an interesting culture, however, the word Creole remains murky, with some individuals (black, white, mixed-race) futilely claiming the right of exclusive use. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture states, perhaps the “safest” course is to say that a Creole is “anyone who says he is one.”(Encyclopedia,295)