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Christmas In New Orleans

March 2024
3min read


In nineteenth-century New Orleans and environs, Christmas was a two-day affair, particularly among the devoutly Catholic Creoles. From sunset to sunrise on Christmas Eve, the air was pungent with the smell of burning hackberry and cypress from the triangularshaped bonfires burning along the levee, which were kept blazing to light the way for Papa Noel.

On the day before Christmas, families set up their tree—a swamp myrtle cut from the batture and trimmed with candles, cornucopias filled with sugared almonds, and ornaments cut from red paper. After exchanging small presents, the young children hung their stockings from their bedposts and were tucked in for the night. Adults and older children then went to midnight Mass, the focus of the Christmas observance, and came home to a formal but (by their standards) light Souper Creole . To twentieth-century diners, the typical menu seems both large and splendid.

Christmas Eve Souper on the Bayou, around 1880

Oyster Gumbo Filé • Lemon Rice

Daube Glacé • Hot French Bread and Molded Butter

Roast Partridge with Hot Brandy Sauce • Oyster and Pecan Dressing

Green Peas in Roux with Bacon and Mushrooms

Yams in Candied Orange Shells

Charlotte Russe with Cherries Jubilee Rum Cake filled with Jelly and topped with Whipped Cream

Chicory Coffee with Steamed Milk Pink Coconut Pralines • Candied Grapefruit and Lime Rind

The Christmas Day dinner, a family meal served in early afternoon, was even heavier, topped by dozens of desserts. Eggnog was a big Christmas Day item, served before breakfast, and again after dinner, when it was laced with brandy. In that era the Creole celebration spilled over to New Year’s Day, when adults exchanged their big presents and had open house for their friends. Sweets and cookies were served: queen’s drops, pecan dollars, fruit and sherry trifle.

Today Christmas in New Orleans is not too different from Christmas elsewhere in America, except that the bonfires are still burned along the levee, perfuming the Christmas Eve air, and the food served on Christmas Day is still Creole and therefore, as any loyal Louisianian will insist, better than the food most Americans put on their Christmas tables.

Christmas Day Menu, 1986

Thin Crawfish Bisque with Brandy and Cream , served with Garlic and Herb Toast

Roast Quail with Gravy • Oyster, Pecan, and Cornbread Stuffing

Candied Orange Shells stuffed with Yams

Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, and Baby Corn in Anchovy and Pimento Sauce Brandied Fruit Thais

Creole Salad

Charlotte Russe with Cherries Jubilee

Café Brûlot • Grapes Glazed with Crème de Menthe

Selected recipes for some intriguing dishes in this menu follow:

Crawfish Bisque with Brandy and Cream

(May substitute lobster, redfish, shrimp, or crabmeat.) Serves 6-8 .

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons tomato paste

2 cups dry white wine

3 cups well-seasoned chicken stock, lobster, fish, or crawfish stock

1 egg yolk

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup or more good brandy

1 cup cooked seafood, cut into bite-sized pieces

Salt

Tabasco

Melt the butter in a large, heavy casserole. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of flour over low heat. Make a paste, add the tomato paste, add the white wine and stock. Stir with a whisk to break up any flour particles. Still stirring, bring the soup to a boil.∗ To do ahead, make the bisque and freeze it. Before serving, add the cream mixture and seafood .

Off the stove mix together the egg yolk and cream. Add a few tablespoons of the hot soup to the mixture. Let the soup on the stove cool slightly, to the simmering point. Add the cream and egg mixture, stirring constantly. Bring almost to the boiling point, add seafood and brandy—do not let it boil. Add seasoning and serve. NOTE: Never let seafood sit in a hot soup or sauce for too long, as it will get tough. Once the seafood is cooked, it only needs to be warmed.

Candied Orange Shells Stuffed with Yams

Serves 12 .

4 cups sugar 2 cups water 6 large navel oranges, cut in half

crosswise 4 large yams, baked 1 stick butter, softened ¼ cup Grand Marnier 1 tablespoon angostura bitters 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon cinnamon Grated and toasted meat of 1 coconut

(approximately 2 cups)

Make a simple syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water in a pot and boiling for 5 minutes. Set aside. Working over a bowl, loosen the orange pulp with a sharp knife. Scoop out the pulp and discard the seeds and fibrous membranes. Reserve pulp. Place orange shells in a Dutch oven, cut side up. Pour in the syrup and add the pulp. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove oranges and strain syrup. Discard pulp. Reduce syrup by half or until very thick.

Mash baked yams. Beat in butter, Grand Marnier, bitters, allspice, and cinnamon. Sweeten to taste with strained syrup. Mix in all but ½ cup coconut. Fill pastry bag with yam mixture, pipe into orange shells. (Shells are not meant to be eaten.) Sprinkle remaining coconut on top. Place on a buttered baking sheet and reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until warmed through. Broil until tops are brown. Serve immediately.

Creole Salad

Serves 8-10 .

3/8 cup rice wine vinegar

5/8 cup mild olive oil

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

½ cup white raisins

16 cups Boston or red leaf lettuce, torn into pieces

1 cup julienned strips Swiss cheese 1 ½ cups julienned ham

Whisk vinegar and oil together in a small bowl to make the dressing. Add nuts and raisins. Soak for 1 hour. Arrange lettuce in layers in a crystal or glass serving bowl. Add a layer of cheese, then a layer of ham. Top with dressing mixture. Bring to the table and toss when ready to serve.

Café Brûlot

Makes about 10 demitasse coffees .

4 cinnamon sticks, halved(or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon) 4 whole allspice berries (or ½ teaspoon ground allspice) 10 whole cloves 6 tablespoons sugar 8 3-inch strips of lemon rind 4 3-inch strips of orange rind 1½ cups brandy at room temperature ½ cup curaçao (optional) 1 quart very hot black coffee

Combine the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, sugar, and lemon and orange peels in a warm chafing dish or in a brûlot bowl placed over warm water. Crush the ingredients slightly with the back of a ladle. Heat 1 cup of the brandy with the curaçao together in a saucepan until lukewarm and add to the chafing dish. Ignite the remaining ½ cup brandy and lower it into the chafing dish or bowl while it is still flaming to set the entire contents aflame. Add the hot coffee gradually while stirring until the flame subsides. Ladle into brûlot or demitasse cups.

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