As many of my readers may already know, this blog is spinoff of “The 1718 Project”. Today I am trying something new. To date, (since 2010), the main energies of the project have been channelled into the production of a Culinary History of French Colonial Louisiana. The preceding entries have included some recipes and/or other mentions or inclusions from The Petticoat Rebellion (the book’s title), But now I have decided to present a finished chapter, albeit the first draft, (the full recipes will appear in the final published text) to see if it garners any reaction.If you care to, please leave your comments, or e-mail me, and/or visit the project website at http://1718neworleans.com. I would appreciate any and all feedback.
And don’t fret, my 300 Years Ago columns will continue.
PRC Chapter 11: Suzanne Cooks for Christmas
The wheel of the year has turned once more, and Noël is fast approaching. This is easily my most favorite time of the year. Here in Louisiana, the weather is almost perfect throughout this season. It isn’t as warm as when I was a little girl in the islands, nor as cold, Icy, and snowy as the people from France often describe Noël in their homeland. The pleasant weather, cold enough to brace the blood, but not so cold as to slow down the business and commerce of the city, only serves to create a prosperous and vibrant holiday season.
By now, I have been here long enough to establish the Marigny’s household kitchen and garden as a well run operation. So its only with a glad heart that I sit down at the beginning of December to plan the Christmas season. The first step, of course, is to set the menu. Not just the menu for the main meal, but also all the accompaniments for before and after, as well as foods and treats to keep around the house throughout the festive season. This plan will serve to structure the shopping and food gathering for the next several weeks.
Once the menu is decided and along with the necessary shopping, it is also time now to begin decorating the house for the Yuletide gatherings and festivities. As long as there has been a France, Gallic homes, villages, and towns were hung all about with evergreens gathered from the local forests. People liked to mark these long dark nights with reminders of the greener times to come as the year turns and the days begin once again to lengthen with their local firs, pines, and other green and growing things. Here in Louisiana, the vegetation never really dies off and the pines, oaks, and evergreen shrubs happily give up their branches to decorate our homes. The ancient custom of the Yule Log burning throughout the long Christmas nights is also, for many, a fond memory of the Old Country. Our Rhenish (German) neighbors from upriver even have a custom from their old homes of bringing a whole tree, a smaller one of course, into the house and decorating it with colored ribbons, little keepsakes, and even some candles. These folks from the Rhine valley also had a wonderful custom of lighting bonfires along their rivers and waterways to light up the long solstice nights and some even say it marks the way for St. Nicholas or Pere Noel to pass over and bless their homes and settlements. These also help to light their families’ way to Midnight Mass, after all, this is the “main event” of the Christmas celebrations,
After the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, all the shopping and decorating would come to purpose as the festivities and feasting commenced and proceeded through the morning meal and throughout the day. Now to begin, I think for the meal after Mass this year we will have:
Baked Glace’ Bananas,
Eggs, scrambled and deviled
Grits & Grillades
Daube Glace’ >>>> Rump Roast, Veal Rump, Pig’s Feet, Salt meat, onions, turnips, garlic, Bay Leaf, Lard, Sherry, Thyme, parsley, Salt, pepper, cayenne
(Note) Suzanne’s post-Midnight Mass Creole breakfast, which was mirrored throughout the colonial creole homes in New Orleans and beyond, later evolved (in Ante-Bellum days) into the Creole Reveillon.
As the great feast day wears on, the celebrations consist of general revelry/and playing pranks, songs, dancing, parades, parties, carol singing, etc. (Today, 2017, we call this goofing- off). Here in New Orleans, a curious custom has also evolved. To beautify and somewhat humanize the new city as it was (and is) being built up, the city fathers decided to plant the streets with orange trees (easily obtained from my home islands). As a consequence, during the Yuletide season, we have oranges all over the place. As such oranges have become an essential part of the New Orleans Christmas scene. Needless to say, orange cakes, orange jam, and stewed oranges are part of the Yule menu. Good children, even in the poorest homes, can usually find an orange or two among their gifts from Pere Noel.
But for me and my kitchen, the climax of every Christmas season is the Christmas dinner. Usually, the Marigny family ( extended to include aunts and uncles, cousins from the country, and other close friends and relatives from around town). The meal is traditionally the sit-down meal with all the trimmings. However, every family had its own traditions, and it may become a day-long buffet, or a picnic in the courtyard (weather permitting). This year, I am cooking my:
Creole Christmas Feast
Brandy Candied Pecans, Brown Sugar Nut Clusters,
Pecans, Walnuts, Brandy, Brown sugar
Oyster Dressing: The Trinity, Garlic, Oil, Bread Crumbs, a pit. or qt. of Oysters
Trout Meuniere: Butter, Flour, Lemon, Parsley, salt-pepper
Chicken Espagnole: Chicken, the Trinity, Garlic, Seasoned flour, bacon grease, ½ cup flour, qt. of chicken stock, salt-pepper-bay leaves- sugar
Orange Cake >>>>>Flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda, OJ
Wine, Coffee, Lemonade, and apres diner, brandy, coffee, tobacco pipes, and fine conversation.
A Note on French Catholicism
Recently a quote I encountered reading about the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef sets the perfect tone for a consideration of French Catholicism; “He was a good Catholic without thinking much about it.” Never has there been a better or more succinct description of French and/or Louisiana Catholicism.
As France, and the rest of Europe, emerged from the Catholic Middle Ages, society was rocked by the tidal wave of Luther’s Reformation. This is not the place to mark all the horrors, injustice, and tragedy of this ridiculous situation when Christians slaughtered each other because they went to the wrong church. It was little different in the European colonies. In North America, vast distances between the Protestant English, Catholic French and Spanish, and pagan Native Americans minimized this silliness, but it was never far from the surface. Besides, simple survival often trumped philosophical differences. Here in Louisiana, this cultural aspect of life was defined by French reaction to the ground shaking social changes rocking Europe during these centuries. The virtual theocracy of Richelieu’s reign during the 1600’s and the legacy of Marazin’s influence and the “divine’ kingship of Louis XIV’s long rule produced a curious riff on tradition Catholicism known as Gallicanism.
In Early Modern times (1500 – 1800), an ongoing conflict between church and state centered around the appointment of local or regional leaders (e.g. Bishops). The Catholic Church (for better or worse) since the fall of Rome had been the only recognizable form of authority throughout much of Europe. as a result the local bishop in a given region was usually a political as well as a spiritual leader. The Reformation in the 1500’s threw a wrench into this ancient system. Additionally, as Kings and nobility grew in political power, conflict about these episcopal appointments grew more VIOLENT. In France, the 1600’s saw the apex of this episcopal power under the reigns of Richelieu and then Marazin. When Marazin passed on, young Louis XIV shifted his authority to the throne. As part of this general move away from this Roman (papal) influence, a theological movement known as Gallicanism began to take form. But let us let the online Britannica explain in clearer terms than your poor author.
“The most notable champion of parliamentary Gallicanism was the jurist Pierre Pithou, who published his Les Libertés de l’église gallicane in 1594. This book, together with several commentaries on it, was condemned by Rome but continued to be influential well into the 19th century.
The best expression of theological Gallicanism was found in the Four Gallican Articles, approved by the assembly of the clergy of France in 1682. This declaration stated: (1) the pope has supreme spiritual but no secular power; (2) the pope is subject to ecumenical councils; (3) the pope must accept as inviolable immemorial customs of the French Church—e.g., the right of secular rulers to appoint bishops or use revenues of vacant bishoprics; (4) papal infallibility in doctrinal matters presupposes confirmation by the total church. Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet drafted the declaration in Latin and defended it in a conciliatory preamble. Though the articles were condemned at Rome by Alexander VIII in 1690 and were revoked in France by Louis XIV in 1693, they remained the typical expression of Gallicanism.”
More details can be found in the Wikipedia article at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallicanism
In far away, isolated Louisiana, these factors produced an easy-going, common sense approach to religious matters. Most folks did not ponder the philosophical niceties of the Gallican interpretation of their faith. They were too busy trying to stay alive. Besides the Pope, and the King for that matter, were literally thousands of miles away, and even priests were few and far between. It was, to the Catholics of Louisiana, enough to be “a good Catholic without thinking much about it.” Thence, it not a quirk, that customs like Midnight Mass, Mardi Gras, All Saint’s Day, and Catholic schools have anchored themselves along the French Gulf Coast and have become hallmarks of our “Catholic” culture.