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  • Ellen Byron

Hungry for Louisiana Home Cooking

In a recent newsletter, I recommended a wonderful new book, Hungry for Louisiana, by Maggie Heyn Richardson. I tracked down Maggie and got her to share some fun facts about Louisiana's amazing cuisine. (By the way, not only is Hungry for Louisiana a fun read, each chapter features delicious recipes.)

ME: What's the difference between Cajun and Creole food?

MAGGIE: In its purest sense, Creole food is a fusion of Old World and New World. We associate “Creole” with the immigrant wave that hit New Orleans beginning in the early 1700s. The term also refers to the mixed races of Louisiana. “Cajun” refers to the thrifty foodways of the Acadian immigrants who populated different parts of South Louisiana. Cajun farmers had land and livestock, but not much money. But they were plucky survivors. They knew how to convert a pig into countless different foodstuffs. They trapped and hunted, and later, planted crops like rice.

ME: What's the difference between Cajun and Creole jambalaya?

MAGGIE: Creole - or red - jambalaya is more common in New Orleans and south of there. It uses tomatoes and tomato products to darken the white rice so it looks appealing.

Cajun jambalaya gets its brown-paper-bag coloring from browning chicken in chicken fat and then caramelizing onions in the rendered fat.

ME: Let's talk about rice. Why is it such a key ingredient in Cajun - and Creole - cooking?

MAGGIE: Rice is the backbone of so many Cajun dishes. It's all about having enough to go around. Historically, the Cajuns weren't worried about RSVPs; they were going to be prepared for however many people showed up.Big one-pot dishes like jambalaya, red beans and rice and gumbo are reflective of that.

ME: In your book, you share something unique about the citizens of Louisiana that has an impact on their food culture.

MAGGIE: Yes. According to the last census, around eighty percent of Louisiana residents are native-born. I think that's one of the things that's allowed for consistency: the seamless passing of recipes from one generation to the next. I can call my mother in Georgia for a recipe, but it's different when your mother is down the street, and you might have Sunday dinner together every week and witness recipes being made, or crawfish being boiled.

ME: What was your goal with Hungry for Louisiana?

MAGGIE: I wanted to write about Southern food in essay form, and offer a breezy history with recipes. One thing that's really important to me is that it portrays the gravitational pull food has on anyone who is from Louisiana, or like the two of us, lived here long enough to understand it. Hungry for Louisiana is intended to fortify the way we feel about the state and how it's impacted us through its table.

Readers, share your thoughts about Cajun and/or Creole cuisine!

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