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.
This traditional Creole meal originally was served after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Early New Orleans was almost entirely Catholic, and this was a tradition in most homes (from what I can gather) up until World War II. Everyone would return from midnight Mass and the lavish buffet would be laid out on the table or sideboard. I cannot help but laugh to myself every time I hear "midnight Mass"; my sister Mary works at St. Mary's Basilica here in Natchez (one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the South) and she vows she is going to write a book and title it "What time is Midnight Mass"? Now the title does not work because midnight Mass is now at 9 p.m....
A typical early Reveillon menu had Daube Glace or veal grillades, egg dishes, breads, and puddings, and would often include turtle soup and oysters. Naturally, there was an abundance of wines, cordials, and other fortified drinks. I love this tradition and I think there is something magical about Christmas night. Even as an adult, I feel the excitement and want to stay up late. I want more time in front of my tree and I want more Christmas music, and my family indulges me just up until midnight—then no more Christmas music until next year when I begin decorating my tree.
The Reveillon dinner slowly began to disappear like many of our traditions, but many of the New Orleans restaurants have revived it to bring more visitors to New Orleans during the holiday season. I for one will be there. As I wrote months ago when I wrote about the Gulf oil spill, I will support New Orleans by visiting and spending money. There are so many talented chefs there that I do not worry what ingredients they have to work with—they 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.