To try Regina's recipe for mock turtle soup (the real thing is often served at Christmas Eve Reveillon dinners), click here.
I was influenced by two similar but different worlds when I was young. The first was Natchez, Mississippi, where the signs coming into town boasted "Where the Old South Still Lives."
I admit incoming tourists did not always interpret it as the residents intended it; overall, it was meant to say, "We have kept many of the cultured, genteel ways of the opulent days when cotton was king." Since the 1930s the garden club ladies of Natchez built and continue to build an industry from opening our impressive collection of historic homes, with furnishings, silver, china, and hospitality from a time gone by. Natchez hosts visitors from all over the world and does it sincerely. Entertaining comes naturally and there has always been plenty of it. The food has always been good, but the china, silver, and bourbon have always outclassed the food. That is just the way it has always been.
The talented chefs will put their special touch on what they prepare and it will be that special New Orleans experience that makes us remember why we love New Orleans.
Then there was my father's family, the Trosclairs, in Opelousas, Louisiana, where the traditions of the French and Creoles run deep with religion and food. South Louisiana has always been very much a Catholic community. I was raised Catholic in Natchez, which at times seems more a part of Louisiana than Mississippi, much of that because it had such a large Catholic population. I have more Natchez memories because I am here and I have more family here. Sadly, two generations that I was close to in Opelousas are now gone, but my connection and memories to that part of Louisiana will remain strong.
I am happy to say that I did inherit some cooking genes from the Trosclair side of the family. I also have so many food memories and stories from my great aunts. Nan Marie shared many stories and recipes with me in her later years. I vividly remember her detailed description of "Daube Glace" and how it was served every Christmas Eve in the Trosclair house, after midnight Mass. This was called the Reveillon dinner. Reveillon is a French word for "awakening," and this for generations was a French Creole tradition.
There are many different versions of daube. It seems the most common today is more a braised meat in aspic to be spread on toast points or crackers. This is not the way I remember it. I remember Nan's detailed description of good filet of beef, or during lean years an eye of the round, braised in red wine and spices, but still medium-rare, with lots of thinly sliced carrots, parsley, and green onion with natural jus with a touch of vinegar reduced and chilled into an aspic. In her day I have no doubt the gelatin came from cooking it with a pig's foot or two; now we use an envelope. It would be thinly sliced and served cold. Years later, I had a dish prepared in Paris by my dear friend and mentor Arlette Romand, and it tasted just as Nan Marie had described her Christmas memory of Daube Glace to me. It was a memory for Arlette as well from her childhood holidays in Provence. We both shared memories of turtle soup, too, but hers was a clear broth, whereas mine was a hearty Creole soup, almost a stew.