Joyeux Noël

If there were traditions to be observed when I was growing up, they were mostly Scandinavian.  Which makes sense as I am roughly 75% Scandinavian.  The other half of my 25% is French Canadian and unfortunately we don’t have much information on that side of the family or keep in touch with cousins as we should (I’m trying to remedy that). Now that we are in the merry season of Yule, I wonder how the French Canadian side of the family celebrated and what kind of traditions they may have had.

La bûche de Noël

A delicious sponge rolled with jam or cream or chocolate filling, decorated to look like a traditional Yule log.  I tried to make one once complete with meringue mushrooms and it did taste good…

Le réveillon

Christmas Eve was the time for the réveillon – a nightlong dinner and dancing party traditionally held after Catholic midnight mass . The word itself comes from the verb réveiller, which means “to wake up”. People would sleep during the day to be fresh and ready to feast and frolic on Christmas Eve. The réveillon usually was the biggest feast of the year – a large banquet where traditional dishes abounded –  tourtière (a uniquely French-Canadian meat pie), ragoût de patte (pig’s feet stew), ragoût de boulettes (meatball stew), turkey, vegetables, pea soup, meat pâté, roasted chestnuts, maple cream pie, etc etc. This is also where la bûche de Noël would be served.  Gifts were opened after the feast and party.

I’m sure there were many small things, like in every family, that my French Canadian side did out of tradition.  I wish I had more pictures of that side, or knew more stories, or had some relics from them.  I guess I could step up my game and try some of this holiday dishes (maybe my second bûche de Noël would be prettier) in order to feel closer to my francophone family.

Parris family
The Joseph Parris family, ca 1890; the only picture in the author’s collection
Cara Jensen is owner of Sherlock Homes historical consulting & genealogy, where she provides expert services on cultural preservation and ancestral discovery. She is a member of the National Genealogical Society, National Council on Public History, and American Association for State and Local History. You can find Cara on Twitter @cjjens
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The Recipe Box

I’m sure many of you have a collection of family recipes.  I think our tastes are a blend of genetic, cultural,  and regional factors – I know some of my favorite recipes have been added since we’ve moved ‘south’ to St Louis – flavors and tastes that I hadn’t been exposed to as a child.   But have you stopped to recognize and document the stories behind the recipes?  Who gave this recipe to you and how did they come across it?  Was it something they grew up with or something they discovered?  I was reminded of this as I asked my Aunt Linnea for her pecan pie recipe this morning.  She is also a Southern transplant, so I’m thinking her recipe came from her time in South Carolina, not from her childhood in Minnesota. (I also have her chex mix recipe 🙂 )

Nea and David 2016
Aunt Nea; author’s collection

I  have my French Canadian great grandmother’s recipe for cream cake, which my  mother remembers eating for her birthday.  I’ve tried making it several times, but I think recipes that are generations older suffer because our ingredients are different now.  The cake I made was dry, but maybe that’s just how it was? (or I just need to become a better baker – lol)  My cousin asked for the recipe and has had it for her birthday too.

Esther Parris
Great grandmother Esther Parris ca 1910; author’s collection
image6
1st attempt at cream cake; author’s collection
Amy and Abigail and creamcake
Cousins Amy & Abigail and their cream cake; author’s collection

I have my neighbor’s cheese ball recipe, which she made for my husband every time we got together for dinner – he makes and eats it now in her memory.  I have my mother’s recipes for peanut brittle, gingersnaps, and ham balls.  I have my husband’s grandmother’s recipe for Danish æbleskiver, which we turn in the pan using HER mother’s steel knitting needles.  I have a handwritten note from my Korean friend for ‘BBQ’ with differing ingredients for pork and beef.  My mother-in-law has given me her recipes for bran muffins and her famous caramels.  I remember making tomato soup in the hot summer with my best friend’s family and think of her when I make it now.

Lela aged 14
husband’s grandmother Lela Rattenborg Jensen; author’s collection
IMG_1898
my kids making æbleskiver; author’s collection

What recipes do you have in your collections that have come from family and friends?  Do you know their stories and secrets?  I certainly need to document my recipe box more carefully and deliberately!

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