The term Creole can have many meanings, but during the early days of Louisiana, it meant that a person was born in the colony and was the descendant of French or Spanish parents. The term is a derivative of the word “criollo,” which means native or local, and was intended as a class distinction. In present Louisiana, Creole generally means a person or people of mixed colonial French, African American and Native American ancestry. The term Black Creole refers to freed slaves from Haiti and their descendants.
Still another class of Creole originates with the placage system in which white and creole men took on mixed-race mistresses in a lifelong arrangement, even if the men were married or married later. In this arrangement, the women had property, their children were educated and entitled to part of the man’s estate upon his death. In New Orleans, these people made up the artisan class and became wealthy and very influential.
“Cajun” is derived from “Acadian” which are the people the modern day Cajuns descend from. These were the French immigrants who were expelled from Nova Scotia, and eventually landed in Louisiana after decades of hardship and exile. Hearty folks from many backgrounds married into the culture, including Germans, Italians, Free People of Color, Cubans, Native Americans and Ango-Americans. French or patois, a rural dialect, was always spoken. Due to the isolation of the group in the southern locations of Louisiana, they have retained a strong culture to this day.
As to the difference in the cuisines, Creole can be defined as “city cooking” with influences from Spain, Africa, Germany, Italy and the West Indies combined with native ingredients. Cajun cooking is more of a home cooked style that is rich with the ingredients at hand in the new world the Acadians settled into. A one pot, hearty meal is typical in Cajun cooking.