I remember back to the late ‘60’s. A few close cousins and myself had just begun to inquire into the genealogy of our huge family, and my Dad was opening oysters in our (his) neighborhood restaurant. Growing up in New Orleans, we had always heard of the Creoles and the Cajuns, pretty much always thinking they were much the same thing. I knew our family was of French descent, even with the decidedly un-French name of Laiche (pronounced lesh). As it turns out, we were indeed French – most of the adults around us spoke French often – and were descended from immigrants who originated in the always contested French/German borderlands along the Rhine River. The place called Alsace-Lorraine. Anyway, back to the oysters. I asked Dad whether we were Creoles or Cajuns. BTW, my Mom was definitely a Cajun. Dad responded, in his usual gruff fashion, “Creole or Cajun, bah, it makes no difference. Its all the same thing along the river.” (he had grown up in St. James Parish – ‘along the river’). As it turns out, he was more correct than he knew.
Now, I’m going to pause here to make an announcement. Book 2 of my ongoing saga of the birth of Creole cuisine, Madam Langlois’ Legacy is set for publication this summer (more info to follow), and research has begun on Book 3. Also, our website http://1718neworleans.com is being retired and replaced by a continuing social media presence centered on Books 2 and 3.
The research phase for Book 3 – as yet untitled – has begun. It will cover the origins of French Louisiana cuisine from roughly 1800 up to the Civil War. The above memory was provoked by that research. Dad’s answer to my innocent high school question is actually rooted in my first foray into that research. To wit:
French settlers from Europe and Canada arrived in Louisiana in 1699. The Acadian exiles, aka the Cajuns, arrived in the 1760’s. For sixty years or so, the French, their imported Africans, and the Native Americans co-existed and mixed together to create the Louisiana Creole culture and population. More Francophones arrived over the years, but none more prevalent than the exiles from French Acadia (aka British Nova Scotia). This hardy race had been in New France for more than a century before Louisiana was a significant population center. Their travails and travels make up a whole other story. Their arrival in Louisiana caused somewhat of a culture shock between the two French-speaking GROUPS. There was even some tension between them which was only amplified by the Spanish takeover of French Louisiana. All of this really hits home and directly addresses Dad’s gruff comment. The Spanish authorities settled some of the new arrivals just upriver from the German/French settlements known as the Cote d’Allemands ( the German Coast). Essentially beginning at the current parish boundary between St. John and St. James Parishes, the new parishes of St. James and Ascension (with some overflow north to Baton Rouge) became the Cote d’Acadian (the Acadian Coast).
Bringing all of this full circle, the Laiche ancestors first settled in St. John Parish – near today’s Bonnet Carre Spillway. By the first American born generation, several Laiches had moved to the Acadian Coast. My direct ancestors can be traced directly to St. James Parish, where my father and his 15 siblings were born at the beginning of the 20th century. Much as I hate to admit it, Dad was spot on correct in his dismissal of this Creole/Cajun dichotomy. Intermarriage between the second and third Creole Laiche generations and children of the Acadian Coast created the modern Laiche families which as Dad pointed out, “Creole or Cajun, bah, it makes no difference. Its all the same thing along the river”. I wonder if really knew his heritage, or more to the point, if he really cared.