Cajun Cooking: History and Ingredients

Acadian cabin, Longfellow, Evangeline State Park, Louisiana
Natalie Tepper / Getty Images

The Acadians brought their extraordinary culinary skills with them from France and applied those skills to the foods that were available in their new land. Some foods were familiar, like pigs, cows, and chickens, but others were strange and some adjustment was needed to incorporate meadowlarks, groundhogs, and porcupine into their meals. Likewise, root vegetables, potatoes, and spinach were old acquaintances, while plantain leaves, samphire, and brined, salted herbs were new ingredients.

Fricot is a soup, a bit thinner than soups we make but prepared in much the same way, and consisting of the usual soup ingredients of chicken, fish, or meat, vegetables, and potatoes. Viande Fricassée is much like my Grandmother Olympe's Fricassée of Beef, though Grandma used a  roux to thicken the stew rather than the potatoes that thicken the Viande. The Mioche au Naveau is simply mashed turnips and potatoes, and the Pâté a la Viande is a meat pie.

Beans and pork were a specialty of my Grandpa Pischoff, who paired them together just as the old Acadians did, though the Acadians served their beans with sugar and molasses. Both cultures relied heavily on animal fat in their cooking, and the one-pot meal is central to both Acadian and Cajun cookery. The biggest difference between old Acadian and new Cajun cooking is found in the seasonings.

Cajuns are not known to cook meadowlark, bobolink, weasel, or snow bunting soup. On an Acadian table you might find eel pie, roast porcupine, goose tongue greens and samphire greens, and pork fat and molasses pie. These dishes were developed to make use of the ingredients available to Acadians in the 1600s – 1700s.

Basic Acadian Foods in the 17th and 18th Centuries 

  • Pigs were an important element in the Acadian kitchen, as most of the meat consumed was pork. Lard was used for frying as well as for flavoring soups and stews, and for any application needing fat--although in some areas bear fat was used for frying.
  • Cows were used for milk, cream, and butter, and oxen were work animals; neither were killed for food until they were too old to be serviceable. Wild game was plentiful in the form of rabbit, moose, deer, porcupine, squirrel, groundhog, and beaver.
  • Sheep were used mainly for wool, as young animals were never killed while they were still useful, and the older meat was considered too strong and unpleasant to eat.
  • Chicken and geese were the favored birds, along with partridge, pigeons, blackbirds, meadowlarks, wild duck, and seagulls.
  • The most common vegetables were root vegetables, such as cabbage and turnips. The greens were mostly wild and included herbs, spinach, and dandelion greens.
  • The blossoms of dandelions were used for wine, and spruce trees and hops were used for making beer. Herbs and plants were used as medicine; those still familiar to us today are mint, plantain leaves, and sarsaparilla.
  • Summer vegetables were corn, beans, and tomatoes; grains consisted of wheat, oats, and barley, although bread products were made mostly from buckwheat. Berries and apples were the main fruits, while maple trees provided syrup and sugar.
  • The abundant fish included herring, cod, smelt, gaspereaus, halibut, trout, clams, oysters, and lobsters.