by Kelsey Parris
The Acadian to Cajun Exhibit will open April 30th at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. It will explore the history of the Acadians from the point of The Great Expulsion of 1755-1763 from Nova Scotia, Canada to those that settled in Louisiana and eventually became Cajun. The exhibit explores the history of the Acadian diet and agricultural life to cross-cultural cooking that developed Cajun cuisine and the later commercialization of Cajun food culture in the 20th century.
Louisiana is known for its food, its culture, and the resilient spirit of its residents. Cajuns are an integral part of all of these perceptions of the state; they are a people with a long, troubled history who have created a unique way of life. Their story begins on the far-east coast of Canada, in what is known now as Nova Scotia, where a group of French explorers and fur traders made their home in the New World at the beginning of the 17th century.
It was a struggle for the settlers to adapt to the harsh climate-many died or fled the territory. The survivors, with the help of Native Americans, eventually carved out a life and dealt with the world politics that gave Britain and Scotland a claim to the territory. When France reclaimed the area, they sent more settlers, supplies, and women to cement their claim in the 1630s. With their extraordinary resilience and adaptability, Acadians would be able to solve and survive a wide variety of problems, the least of which being what to eat for dinner.
Many of the settlers had been peasants in France, and the sudden introduction of meat, free for the killing, and the abundance of land was quite revolutionary for them. Their age old cooking methods, however, did not change dramatically in response. The French tradition involved two cauldrons, which would be used for long, slow cooking and boiling, and a deep cast-iron in which to fry or bake. Unfortunately, they did not fully appreciate or seek the art of creating flavor, and their dishes were reported to be “neither delicate in flavor, wholesome, nor appetizing” by French historian Paul Lacroix.
In the late eighteenth century, the Acadians were forced out of their homeland by the land hungry British, and by and large managed to find their way down to the one territory that would take them and provide a suitable living: La Louisiane. The climate was completely different, yet the Acadians learned to adapt and they began to make it work for them. Without ready access to flour or a climate suitable for the growing of wheat, they learned to grow maize from the Native American tribes around them and use cornmeal instead. They still boiled their meat, but now seafood such as shrimp and redfish and catfish were easily accessible, which added a whole new dimension to their diets. New fruits and vegetables, the introduction of rice, and the multitude of spices that became available all added their own flavor. As the territory became increasingly populated with colonists from France, Spain, the Caribbean, and America, the foods of the Acadians changed and adapted new techniques and flavors.
The new environment, the different foods available to them, and the multitude of cultural influences from other settlers in the state of Louisiana all contributed to the creation of the unique Cajun cuisine, as we know it today.