Les livres de cuisine franco-américains
Cookbooks contain more than recipes. They often describe a lot about cultures.
Over the years, I’ve collected more than a few culinary books especially focused on French and Franco-American cuisines. Therefore, an article shared with me by a writer for a Louisiana newspaper gave me reason to pull out a few of my bookshelf cookbooks. These are among the references I use for recipes served by traditional Franco-Americans, when cooking for special occasions, holidays or just because they happen to taste good. It’s interesting to note how Franco-American recipes and culinary traditions are diversified blends of many cultures that are rooted in the French language and customs. For example, distinctly Quebec culinary recipes are often a combination of historic food sharing with Native Americans and Acadians.
In Louisiana, the culinary blends include Creole and Cajun, rooted in the French and Franco-American traditions.
In other words, in the collective sense, Franco-American cooking is truly “un mélange”. There are as many layers to Franco-American cooking as there are ingredients in Jambalaya.
Food writer Vicky Branton writes for the Louisiana newspaper The Daily Iberian. Her article about the differences and similarities between “Creole versus Cajun” cooking is now bookmarked in my computer files. I’ve also made a print copy to add to my cookbook collection.
She gave her permission for me to reference her food analysis in this blog.
Of course, the Acadians in Louisiana are often referred to as Cajuns, a shortened reference to their origins in Nova Scotia. They were the victims of Les Grand Derangement, or the 1755, “Great Upheaval”. Following their expulsion by the British, from their homes in “Acadia” (Nova Scotia), many of the refugees found their way to Louisiana, where they assimilated into the culture and became the Cajuns. Their oral history recipes expanded to include the native ingredients found in Louisiana.
Creole cooking is somewhat different from Cajun, but the culinary traditions are included in the overview of Franco-American cultures and diverse regional tastes.
These differences and similarities are evident in several of my cookbooks.
Branton explains some of the difference between French, Cajun and Creole cooking.
In fact, France’s culinary history is the backbone of what evolved into Cajun/Creole cuisines, so popular in Louisiana and throughout the American south. All three traditions – French, Cajun and Creole – depend on the “foundational skills” of knowing how to make a roux, bouillabaisses and fricassees.
The technique, and pride, in knowing how to make a roux is nicely explained in “Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux?”, a family recipe book by Marcelle Bienvenu.
Typically, the Creole ladies who entertained in New Orleans presented a taste for French finery. They set a formal table with linens, china, crystal and silver service. Moreover, the Creole meals were served in courses accompanied by wines. Coffee and liqueurs were served following dinner.
On the other hand, the Cajun ladies who lived outside of New Orleans were creative about how they assembled their cooking ingredients. They looked out of their back door and whatever swam, flew or crawled may well have ended up in their cooking pots.
These abilities to create family recipes using local ingredients are certainly evident in Quebec, and in the Acadian settlements located in northern Maine, and in the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and the Maritimes.
Here are a few of the cookbooks I’ve pulled out of my library:
The Top 100 Cajun Recipes of All Time, published by Acadian House Publishing of Lafayette, LA: Recipes in this collection include how to cook alligator meat! Nevertheless, those particularly exotic dishes notwithstanding, the other recipes include making Boudin (sausage), Chicken Fricassee and Tourtiere.
A Taste of Quebec by Julian Armstrong, published by Macmillan of Canada: This is a fantastic cookbook because Armstrong highlights each of the special regional areas of Quebec and spotlights a traditional recipe from each place. Color photography is exceptionally good quality. This collection includes various ways of preparing Tourtieres. Sidebar articles describe something special about each of the Quebec regions.
Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale with original drawings by Morna MacLellan Anderson, published by Nimbus Publishing. This is one of my favorite history books. Along with providing my very favorite recipe for Lobster Stew and the unusual directions about how to skin an eel, the first few chapters of this book describes the diverse cultures of Nova Scotia. These include the Native Americans or “Indians”, the French, the English, the Germans and the New Englanders. A recipe in this collection for making La Tire- aka “taffy”- (a tribute to Saint Catherine of Alexandria) is a treasure.
Bienvenu’s family cookbook and its title, “…Can you Make a Roux?”, challenged me to learn how to make roux. My mother in law made a roux, but it was called “farine brun” or brown flour. After much practice, I can make a modestly appropriate roux, in the Cajun tradition, but I wouldn’t want to compete with experts.
Cookbooks are interesting and delicious ways to learn cultural histories, by reading how recipes have evolved through generations of families. Most recipes originated from oral histories.
French cooking in Franco-American kitchens, Acadian, Quebecois, Creole or Cajun, has evolved to include the best of the European, Caribbean, Spanish, and Native American ethnic groups. Truly a “Jambalaya” of tastes and ingredients.