Le Réveillon, or the awakening (the morning feast following Midnight Mass on Christmas or New Year’s Eve) is an age-old custom inherited by the Louisiana Creoles from their European ancestors and adopted by the Germans who settled in the River parishes of Louisiana. Réveillon was a time of family reunion and thanksgiving, which began early in the evening with family members converging on households for hours of conversation. In the French Quarter of New Orleans when the church bells began to ring at about 11 o’clock, the Creoles and their families strolled to St. Louis Cathedral for Christmas Mass. A man might miss any service during the year, but he would be certain to join his family for Midnight Mass at Christmas.
Christmas Eve was recognized as a day of fasting and abstinence by most Catholics. By the end of Midnight Mass the Creoles were hungry and ready to celebrate with a Réveillon feast. Family members returning from church were greeted with an elaborate meal of daube glacé, chicken and oyster gumbo, salmis or game pies, egg dishes, sweetbreads, soups and soufflés, grillades, grits, hominy, homemade breads, crystallized fruits, fruitcake and lavish desserts, wine, brandy, eggnog and New Orleans coffee. The Creole table emulated what might have been found on the tables of France during that same hour.
In rural South Louisiana, Le Réveillon was celebrated though in admittedly more humble circumstances. People gathered at the house of the family matriarch or patriarch to visit, then to walk to Midnight Mass. Often, the trip was lighted by bonfires along the levee, and a hearty breakfast always followed. It is actually the bonfire tradition that has stood the test of time. St. James Parish, where I grew up, was settled in the 1700s by French and German settlers from the Old World. It seems that the bonfire tradition was inherited from these generations past. As necessity is so often the mother of invention, many surmise that because there were no churches on the east bank of the Mississippi River at that time, those living there had to cross the river to attend Mass. So, bonfires were lit on the west bank to guide their skiffs safely across the muddy waters.
The Folse family certainly participated in the annual bonfire tradition. The day after Thanksgiving, we started gathering timber to create the bonfires that we would enjoy in the weeks ahead. Much to our father’s dismay, we put willow branches within the wooden pyre so that once lit, there would be popping and sparks like fireworks.
Today, it is believed that the bonfires light the way for Papa Noel and his team of swamp gators. Bonfire festivities are accompanied with a celebration of food. Most commonly served are steaming bowls of Chicken and Andouille Gumbo served over rice. Faith, family and food – then, as now – is a mainstay of Louisiana life.
Chef JOHN D. FOLSE is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. A cradle Catholic, Chef Folse supports many Catholic organizations including the Sister Dulce Ministry at Cypress Springs Mercedarian Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, LA.
Daube Glacé – A festive Creole hors d’oeuvre
Daube glacé is a classical Creole hors d’oeuvre, traditionally beef braised with vegetables; this one is made with leftover cooked daube, which is seasoned and set with gelatin. Any combination of leftover meats can be used – such as chicken, turkey, ham, or pork – along with any terrine mold. During the holidays, try a festive shape to add flair to your table.
Prep Time: 2.5 Hours, Yield: 12-15 Servings
1 (3-pound) cooked daube, cut into (1-inch) cubes
2 quarts beef stock reserved sauce from precooked daube
½ cup minced onions
½ cup minced celery
½ cup minced red bell peppers
¼ cup minced garlic
½ cup minced carrots
½ cup chopped parsley
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
3 (1-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin, dissolved in ¾ cup warm water
In a cast-iron Dutch oven, bring beef stock and sauce from precooked daube to a light boil. Add daube, onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic into sauce, stirring to combine. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until meat becomes very tender and easily shreds apart. Strain all ingredients from liquid through a fine sieve and set aside. Return liquid to heat and reduce to 1½ quarts. Add carrots and parsley then season to taste using salt and cayenne pepper. Whisk dissolved gelatin into sauce. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Break the meat into small pieces and place equal amounts into two terrine molds. Divide cooked vegetables from the original sauce evenly between the two molds. Ladle stock over the meat, cover with plastic wrap and allow to set in the refrigerator. Daube glacé is best when allowed to sit 24 hours for flavors to develop. When set, slice daube glacé and serve with garlic croutons.