With the festive season fast approaching, I for one am already making my plans for the type of feast I will prepare for my family and guests this year. I grew up in the south of France not too far away from Marseille and was thinking that this year I would indulge myself and the family with a traditionally French Christmas. We will of course have a turkey for Christmas day itself but I will prepare a special French treat for Christmas Eve as well.
I grew up with the festive season starting at the beginning of December, on Saint Nicholas’s day and the build up to Christmas Eve was always a very exciting time, especially for us as children. We did not have a tree instead we had a traditional Crèche which my grandmother had made years before and each year we would revive it with new decorations and sometimes a little coat of paint.
We celebrated the ‘reveillon’ with our friends and neighbours and had a real feast on Christmas Eve. My grandmother would prepare wonderful dishes which included ‘gibiers’ which translated means ‘game’. We would have superb starters of langoustines with mayonnaise, pâtés and rillettes that she had prepared weeks in advance for the occasion. Along with these there would great platters of charcuterie with cornichons and crudités and homemade vinaigrette dressings.
The main courses were fabulous, a stuffed goose with potatoes which had been roasted in the goose fat, wild boar that had come from Corsica with an uncle who spent Christmas with us every year and rows of platters of vegetables of every colour including stuffed poivrons (green peppers) and fried aubergines with plenty of aromatic herbs as well as cheesy potato croquettes which were crisp on the outside but gooey on the inside.
For dessert we always had the traditional Bûche de Noël but we also had meringue cakes filled with crème fraiche called Dacquoise. The crème fraiche was flavoured with almonds and pistachios and the Dacquoise filled with fruits from the garden that had been made into conserves that summer. There were pickled walnuts and cashews as well as sweet chestnuts, it was to say the least a veritable feast.
Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year, when families and friends reunite to enjoy each others’ company and I remember that our house was filled with laughter for many days during this time. There were always 20 or so people who ate dinner with us on Christmas Eve and I remember these occasions with great fondness. I can still taste the wonderful flavours that my grandmother created for us every year for Noël.
To celebrate a traditional Christmas is always so much fun but this year I will mix French and English traditions together so that I can relive my childhood once more and share a little bit of my past with my own family and friends. I know I will really enjoy making a Bûche de Noël and I also know that everyone will enjoy eating it as much as I did when I was a child.