Jeannine Mary Theresa Helm Stieffel
b. Sunday, November 11, 1928 10:30 AM New Orleans, La.
2nd daughter of Joseph William Peter Helm and
Olga Louise __?___ Sabathier Helm
Christened at St. Leo the Great R. Catholic Church, New Orleans, La.
December, 1928, or January, 1929

We are presently in the process of documenting my family’s presence in the New Orleans area. Unofficially my Mother’s family (original French and Spanish) has been here since 1712 when New Orleans was a settlement or a colony. Our city was officially chartered in 1718.

My Father was of German and Italian descent, one or both families arriving in this area in the early to mid 19th century. (Both of these are currently under research. My Grandfather , Henry Helm, Sr., being of German descent, and my Grandmother, Frances Otillio, of Italian. Her Mother’s parents, according to obituary notice, were Joseph Otillio, possibly of Naples, and May Gabriel, place of birth unknown. We do not know if Joseph was the only migrant or if both were).

Those French people who migrated, lived, married, birthed and died here were known as “Creoles”. Later, when the young, nice looking Spanish soldiers arrived here toward the latter part of the 18th century, intermarriage with the young, very pretty French demoiselles occurred, the term “Creole” was extended to the offspring of these unions. Any other definition of the word “Creole” was and is vehemently denied by those of us who are descendants of this very small and dwindling populace of these French and Spanish originals.

The Acadiana or “Cajun” culture is forever growing, whereas, the true origination of Creole culture is diminishing rapidly and is being picked up by others as their own. One of my lifelong friends, who is also original Creole, and I are struggling within our own respective families to keep this culture alive at least through our cuisine. Which brings us to another major difference, that of cooking, and which will be discussed a little further down the page.

The word “Creole” is NOT synonymous with the word “Acadian” or more popularly known as “Cajun”, which is a contraction or shortened word of the original. (By the way, you may wish to know the history of the word “Cajun”.)

Originally, the word “Acadienne” was used to describe those Frenchmen who were expelled - under threat of persecution - from that part of Canada or Acadia, now known as Nova Scotia, when the British took possession of that land. (Note: If my spelling and/or historical facts are not text-book perfect, please forgive me, as I am pulling on at least 55-odd years of previous knowledge. To many of the history buffs out there, I realize I am over-simplifying the historical facts, but, I hope, I am not offending anyone and that I may still be in the ballpark area.) Many of those refugees migrated to South and Southwest Louisiana where many of their French countrymen had previously settled in the Nouvelle Orleans area. Thus, that area of Southwest Louisiana is known as “Acadiana” or the “Evangeline Country”, as immortalized by Longfellow’s poem , “Evangeline”. That area, as well as the poetry, is very beautiful.

Those Acadian French settlers, however, and the French of New Orleans, surprisingly enough, did not have much in common. The lifestyle of the Acadian was very different, being both agricultural and pastoral. New Orleans, by its own definition, was urban and our residents were concerned with the business of supplying the needs of their families with the mundane shops of butchery, bakery, “green men”, (vegetable vendors), mercantile shops, etc. Even their French language was different. Each area’s language evolved into its own dialect or “patois” due to geographic location and/or contact with other cultures, such as Spanish, German, Italian, Irish, Black and most of all various American Indians.

The important common factors which linked these two peoples were love of freedom, family and most of all their strong Roman Catholic religion.

The similarities stopped there, however.

Naturally transportation and communication were not then as they are now and these differences were hard to bridge. Highways and easy accessibility to that part of our beautiful state has been greatly enhanced in the last three decades, encouraging an intermingling of our two great French or “Cajun”and French/Spanish or “Creole” heritages and cultures.

The Acadiennes, due to their long history of persecution and search for an acceptable area in which to colonize, formed not only strong familial ties, but extremely strong community ties and for many years, this was their bulwark against instrusive other cultures who tried to inject themselves into the Cajin way of life.

The Creole, on the other hand, was a more open society, the Louisiane Territory having gone back and forth for the better part of a century between France to Spain back to Spain then to the United States, and I believe there was a little British (the Feliciana Parishes) in there for a short period of time.

The Creoles very early in their colonization of Nouvelle Orleans brought immigrants from other European countries to further their businesses and population of their city. Germans, Irish, and Italians were encouraged to bring their families here. Blacks were brought in from various geographical locations, such as Africa and the Carribean. The Black population at that time was brought to the Westbank of the Mississippi River in the area now known as Algiers.

The American Indians in this area were very friendly. There was much cooperation between the original French explorer brothers, Sieur d’Iberville and Sieur d’Bienville. The many small communities of Indians in this area taught the new settlers many of their ways of cooking while at the same time introducing these new peoples to all this bountiful area had to offer in the line of seafood, wildlife and indigenous seasonings. All these, combined with the original French cuisine, evolved into a unique form of cooking handed down through many generations and still followed by many of us today. Because of these combinations - and there are as many variations and recipes as there are cooks - it is not always so easy to copy our way or our recipes. (I should point out the fact that very seldom were recipes written down, but were handed down by word of mouth or more than often, as in my case and in the case of my friends, having hands-on experience with Mama standing over us in the kitchen). Our local seasonings and availability of seafood, which can be purchased in any small market on a daily basis and at very reasonal prices, is not as readily available in many other areas even in the northern areas of Louisiana.

Naturally transportation and communication were not then as they are now and these differences between the provincial French and the urban French were hard to bridge. Highways and easy accessibility to that part of our beautiful state has been greatly enhanced in the last three decades, encouraging an intermingling of our two great French or “Cajun”and French/Spanish or “Creole” heritages and cultures.

Origin and Evolution of the Term “Cajun”

The word “Cajun” was originally spelled “Cajin”, pronounced “Cah-janh” with the emphasis on the last syllable. Before WWII this was used to describe the rural country French or Acadian of SW Louisiana. (At that time the term was used in a somewhat derogatory manner). When the young men from the North and other parts of the country came down to our bases before and during the war , they were not aware of this and there were too many of them to learn our French pronunciations and idiomatic definitions, thus the word “Cajin” became “Ca’jun” with a long “a” and accent on the first syllable, and, in time, the French spelling gave way to its present phonetic spelling, “Cajun”.

I am glad to say the prewar definition has completely gone and I hope no longer remembered, because our brothers and sisters in SW Louisiana are a marvelous, warm, happy and great people.

We are still, however, greatly separated by our different forms and methods of cooking. And each of our cultures is extremely proud and jealous of this variance.

In New Orleans food is invariably one of the main topics of the day. It is an institution in itself. More than a pasttime and certainly more than a hobby. Most of us live, eat, and breathe food. We live to eat, not eat to live. We love our choices of entrees, such as variety of meats, our variety of seafood (shrimp, crabs, oysters, crawfish) , our variety of poultry (game duck, etc.), our herbs, our condiments, our recipes, and our many and different and varied cultures of preparing them , and, last but not least, our thousand-and-one recipes for just one dish. It is a daily occurrence with many of us to ‘phone each other with a new recipe or a new variance of an old recipe. New places to purchase ingredients are discussed at least on a weekly basis when the different grocery sale ads appear in the paper. And definitely new places to eat are discussed. Many of us keep lists with us of restaurants to try when we are on our outings.


The Cajuns say, “First you start with a roux,” whereas the Creoles will say, “First you saute the meat, poultry or crustacean seafood, such as shrimp , oyster, crawfish or softshell crab, then you make the roux from the “graton” (pronounced “grah-tonh, emphasis on the last syllable), that is, the drippings or light crust left in the bottom of the skillet or iron Dutch oven.

Definition: A Creole roux (pronounced roo) is, as stated above, the graton and/or crust left on the bottom of your skillet or iron Dutch oven after the sautéing of meat or poultry or crustacean seafood which all, with your permission, shall be hereafter referred to as meat. Once this has been done, remove the meat from skillet and add a little more oil to pan if necessary. Bring the additional oil up to heat. Add the chopped seasonings of onions (red or yellow), bell pepper, thyme and garlic. If you wish, celery may be added, but I prefer not to use this vegetable as I find that it has a tendency to take over in flavor and turns black. Also it has a powerful and/or bitter flavor the next day if there are any leftovers.

Stirring almost constantly and scraping the graton from the bottom of the pan, saute the vegetables on medium high heat until onions are limp or translucent and bell pepper is lightly browned. When vegetables begin to brown this means that the natural sugars within the veggies are being released and are now caramelizing which in turn is a major part of coloring and adding to the crust or graton. To this mixture add all-purpose flour, about 3 or 4 tablespoons, or the amount commensurate to the oil or meat pan-drippings and/or to the sautéed seasoning.

On medium high heat saute flour and seasonings stirring constantly until flour is completely mixed with oil and vegetables and until all begin to caramelize and turn brown. Colors of roux should progress from light tan to pecan to dark brown. At all times, be aware of and adjust heat according to rapidity of browning. (A well-cooked roux takes a while to cook and should not be hurried). Attention should be given to heat adjustment, as you want to be sure that the flour is cooked properly, not raw and definitely not burned. Heat should be about med to med high. Again, be careful not allow all to burn.

The onions and other vegetables will produce a type of caramelization due to the great amount of sugars in them. Together with the blending and cooking with the oil or fat drippings, the roux produced will be colored from light tan to pecan colored to dark brown according to your personal choice.

If vegetables show a sign of sticking add, a little at a time, either very hot water or the liquid from a canned vegetable such as green peas, asparagus, or lima beans if these are to be used as part of the meal. (I use only these vegetables as I find that other canned veggies, such as snap beans, carrots, etc., are not as conducive to the flavoring of a brown gravy as these). As stated, add liquid a little at a time, stirring constantly until roux darkens again and mixture again thickens. Repeat this step until the desired consistency of sauce is desired. Later toward the end of the cooking of the gravy, a small amount (about 1/2 cup) of a very good dry white wine may be used if desired but not in great amounts, as this will somewhat change the flavor. Allow enough cooking time for the alcohol content of the wine to evaporate, usually when the sauce returns to a full boil or a bubbling condition. (I prefer Vermouth for this.) Add parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return meat to pan.

This does not make a huge amount of gravy or sauce as the amount made is dependent on amount of meat drippings.

The above is the Creole recipe for roux and sauce.

Definition: Now the Cajun way: In a skillet or Dutch oven, pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of any type oil, such as vegetable, olive oil, canola, etc. Many people keep the drippings or rendered fat of the morning bacon. As they cook the bacon in the morning, the excess fat is strain-poured into a metal container for later use or retained for another time. This is added to previously fried bacon drippings and is covered and kept in the refrigerator.

When above oil or bacon drippings has been heated, stir in about 4 or 5 tablespoons plain
flour. On medium to medium high heat mix thoroughly with grease, stirring mixture almost constantly adjusting heat according to rapidity of browning, again being careful not to allow the mixture to burn. Follow procedure as in the Creole recipe alternating liquid and frying roux while darkening and thickening. Again when the desired color of roux is reached, add chopped vegetables (onions, green onions, bell pepper, thyme, garlic). Cook until vegetables are limp. Add hot water or vegetable liquid a little at a time until desired consistency and amount of gravy desired has been reached. As in the Creole recipe, a very good dry white wine may be added to the gravy mixture nearing the end of cooking, allowing enough cooking time for the alcohol content to evaporate. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste and return meat to pan. In this type of roux you can use any amount of oil or bacon drippings as you wish, remembering to keep the amounts of flour and vegetables proportionate to the oil.

The difference between the Creole and Cajun roux is in the introduction of the vegetables to the oil. In the Creole roux the vegetables are sauteed first allowing the vegetables to emit their natural sugars and to caramelize to assist in adding to the graton, then the flour is added. In the Cajun roux the flour is added first to the oil, then after the flour has browned, the vegetables are added which does not for a complete emission of the natural sugars.

An Autofamilial note: I recall that once as a young 11- or 12- year old girl, my Mother had me cooking the family Sunday dinner (as we called the noon meal in those days) . After I had browned the back-of-the-round pot roast, I removed the meat from the Dutch oven. I then proceeded to add the flour to the pan drippings to begin to brown the roux. After I had done that I then added the onions, etc., to the pot. At that time, my Mother walked into the kitchen to check on my cooking progress. On seeing that I had reversed the order of cooking, i.e., browned the flour first, she then tore into a tirade of angry words, reminding me that a good roux always began with the vegetables and never with the flour. I not only got a good upraiding from her but she also informed her two sisters and our NanNan. I received tongue lashings from all three ladies. Believe me, that mistake was made only once, and was idelibly etched in my memory.

Also, as you can see, the onions and vegetables cannot release their natural sugars as easily in order to caramelize as in the Creole recipe, therefore, the darkening of the roux and gravy depends on the browning of the oil and flour prior to adding the chopped seasonings.

The latter way is the quickest for cooking and you’re able to make a good-sized bowl of gravy depending on the amount of oil or bacon drippings used, and will usually have more of an oily or greasy flavor. However, having been raised to cook in the former method my choice is the Creole even though the amount of gravy is a lot less. In the Creole gravy, you get the full flavor of the sautéed vegetables when perfectly cooked and not overdone, and, if made properly, is silky and not greasy.
It should be delicate in flavor, and roll onto the tongue in a light manner, leaving the taste buds fully satisfied at the same time wanting more.

In the Cajun gravy you get more of an oily or greasy sauce with the vegetables not as thoroughly cooked and a different flavor. Yet, this is my personal opinion. Both, however, are delicious, and both are great over our Louisiana long-grained rice.

Try each and decide for yourself which suits you and your family best.