European Holiday Traditions Part II: Le Menu
As many of us are preparing for our guests’ arrival for the holiday, much time is spent in the kitchen! In France, families share a special meal honoring the beginning of Christmas day. “Le Réveillon de Noël,” or Christmas dinner. This feast is served late in the evening following, “La Messe de Minuit” (Midnight Mass) which is observed earlier in the evening by many parishes.
Opulent still life with gold and silver metalwork, nautilus shell, porcelain, victuals and other motifs on a draped table, ca. 1650 by Christiaen Luyckx
The dining experience begins with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, often seafood, such as escargot, caviar, oysters, lobster, or sea scallops poached in white wine. Try this version of gratinéed sea scallops: Coquilles St. Jacques. For the main course the family might enjoy a traditional French dish of Duck à l’Orange, Roasted Christmas Goose with Chesnuts, Truffled Turkey with Foie Gras, or Carp with Roasted Fennel. In the small Italian region of Umbria this dish is referred to as “Regina in Porcetta.” Each region has their popular favorites, though, in typical French spirit, this meal is not complete without champagne!
The final course is made of thirteen different desserts. This tradition is mainly celebrated in the region of Provence to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. The selection of thirteen sweets may vary, though “les quatre mendiants,” representing the 4 monastic orders, are usually among them and sometimes served with nougat. The Dominicans are represented by Raisins, the Augustines by walnuts or hazelnuts, the Franciscans by dried figs, and the Carmelites by almonds. Dates or dried plums from Brignoles are served to symbolize the region of the Christ story origin. These four special ingredients frequently make it into a dessert all their own with chocolate called, Recettes de Mendiants, or in a galette (flat round cake or pastry).
Galette des rois aux 4 mendiants
Fruit desserts make a richly colored edible tapestry for the plate, and may contain melon, quince, white grapes, tangerines, or candied citron. Other desserts served are Pain d’épices (spiced gingerbread), and Calissons d’Aix (marzipan pastry).
Unlike the French, Christmas Eve dinner for Italians is light and meat is avoided, to “purify” the body before la Vigilia de Natale (Feast of the Seven Fishes). They indulge instead on an array of seafood dishes. This meal is observed before Midnight Mass. Following mass, in the Dolomites region of northern Italy, many thrill-seeking Italians put on their skis and head down the mountain at night with torch, or flashlight, in hand to ring in Christmas Day!
There is much focus and festivity in the U.S. surrounding the Christmas Tree, rather than the age-old Yule Log. In much of Northern Europe and throughout France, a Yule log, often from a fruit tree, would be lit on Christmas Eve and burn through New Year’s Day. Burning the log was historically thought to bring luck to the family farm, or to protect against lightning. In some regions, as in Provence, it was a family affair to cut the tree used for the log. The remains of the log would be saved for the following year once the burning ceased after the Twelfth Night. A few traditions may be fading, as they may not be practical for many modern households. Yet France pays homage to older traditions with modern representations as in their delectable dessert, Bûche de Noël (Christmas Yule Log).
We recommend this recipe from Bon Appétit here.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our sampling of European Holiday recipes. Please feel free to share some of your own below!
From all of us at Jean-Marc Fray Antiques, we wish you and yours a Joyeux Noël.