Back to HomeChristmas Edition - December 22, 201

Christmas 2011

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A Memorable Walk to the First Christmas

Balthazar's Brainstorm
by Antonia Chatson

Christmas Messages for the Clergy

Christmas Poems & Stories

Reveillon Christmas

Early Literacy:
Are You Ready for Christmas

The Good Life


Le Réveillon dinner; pork pie from Québec, & local food for Christmas.

by Jeff Green


One of the great traditions of Christmas in France is the Reveillon dinner.

In some incarnations it is a dinner that only starts after midnight mass, and continues on until the morning, when parents greet their children for opening presents under the tree. Presumably, everyone then goes to bed to sleep away most of Christmas Day.

Le Réveillon literally means “eve”, but also refers to the coming of a new day as an extension of the verb réveiller – to wake.

There are versions of Réveillon dinners throughout the French Diaspora as well as in France, particularly in Quebec and Louisiana, and the traditional foods have been adapted to local produce and culinary traditions.

For those interested in the idea of local food, the Quebec Reveillon dishes are easily adapted to the 100 mile or even the 15 or 20 kilometre diet.

But first to the south of France, to the Provence region.

Christmas begins on December 4, St. Barbe's Day, with the planting of wheat germ in saucers on wet paper towels. By Christmas Day the miniature wheat fields will be placed in the family crib.

Family crib, or crèche scenes, located in courtyards or in front of homes, are still common, and they include Provencal “santos” or “little saints”, clay figurines that are produced in workshops throughout the region and sold in Christmas markets that spring up each November.

On Christmas Eve, the Provencal version of Le Reveillon includes “les treize desserts” (13 desserts) that are served after mass. Before mass, on Christmas Eve, “Le Gros Souper” is served. Numbers are important in these meals as they all have a religious significance. There are 3 white tablecloths on a large table, signifying the Holy Trinity, with 3 white candelabras and 3 saucers of sprouted wheat germ on them. Le Gros Souper consists of 7 dishes, ranging from simple vegetable dishes such as chard, cauliflower, and spinach, to snails and omelettes. The supper is a “lean” offering in memory of the 7 sufferings of Mary, and it is accompanied by 13 bread rolls.

After mass, “Les treize desserts” are set out. While everyone is supposed to sample each of the 13 desserts, it is not as onerous, or fattening a task as one might think, because the desserts are not 13 different cakes and pies.

The desserts vary from town to town or region to region, but they generally include the four mendicants, referring to four orders of friars who had turned their back on earthly things and survived by begging. The desserts include dry figs (Franciscans), almonds (Carmelites), raisins (Dominicans), and hazelnuts (Augustinians). Dates, symbolic of Christ, are served as well, as are two kinds of almond nougat: a hard black nougat, symbolizing the forces of evil, and a soft white nougat symbolizing purity and goodness.

Fresh and candied fruits constitute some of the other desserts, and there are often oreillettes (light, thin waffles) served. An olive oil and orange flavoured bread, called “La pompe a L'huile” is another tradition.

In Provence, “Les 13 desserts” are left on the table from early on December 25 until December 27.

Another tradition that comes from southern France was the burning of a Yule log in the fireplace overnight between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This has come down to us in dessert form as “La Bûche de Noël”

Réveillon dinners in more northern parts of France are often elaborate feasts, including foie gras, oysters, lobster, sausages, wine, ham, goose or turkey stuffed with chestnuts and fruit, followed by cheese, pastries and sweet dessert wines or cognac.

I'm not sure how such combinations of rich food and wine work to réveiller the revellers, but it sounds like it might be worth a try.

In Louisiana, cooking for Reveillon took on a Creole bent, with New World traditions such as game pie, local seafood and la croquembouche (a tree made up of chocolate covered cream puffs)

Réveillons have died out as a home tradition in Louisiana over the last 100 years but they have made a comeback in high end restaurants, particularly in New Orleans, where Prix fixe Reveillon dinners are served throughout the month of December as a means of generating tourist and local traffic during one of the slower months of the year.

The famous New Orleans chef, Emeril, is serving Mississippi rabbit tourine, spiced cured foie gras, followed by a main course of Louisiana popcorn rice and tasso stuffed quail with black eyed peas and bacon smothered cabbage, and pecan pie with caramel sauce for dessert at his NOLA restaurant in the French Quarter this month at a cost of $60.

But long before Le Reveillon travelled down the Mississippi it had put down roots in New France.

The stories of the Order of Good Cheer demonstrate how feasting was used by the early governors of Quebec in the 17th Century to keep up the spirits of the immigrant population who had to suffer through long, cold winters. They are also the stories of how a distinctly Canadian cuisine was born.

To this day, the Réveillon dinners in Québec demonstrate how hearty rural French cooking has been adapted to the agricultural realities in the land of ice and snow and maple trees that we also share in Eastern Ontario.

Tourtières are a Quebec Christmas tradition like none other. Originally they were a pie made out of the meat of the tourtes, or passenger pigeon. Due to over hunting, partly but not exclusively for use in pies, the tourtes became extinct in 1914, and tourtière now generally refers to a meat-filled pie.

There are as many tourtière recipes as there are cooks, but they do fall into two or three categories. In the Lac St. Jean region, tourtières are still often made using chunks of meat (pork, beef, and sometimes chicken) as well as potatoes and other root vegetables.

Elsewhere it is more common to use ground pork, sometimes cut with ground beef to make a pie that is made of only meat, onions, and spices such as nutmeg, allspice and cloves. As well, tourtières can be a mixed meat pie including any variety of wild game, often deer or moose venison. Ham cooked in maple syrup is also popular, as are maple pork baked beans. For dessert, sugar pie or runny maple fudge as well as a Bûche Noël can be served.


I have included a number of recipes that tend towards the rich and filling end of the Reveillon spectrum. Even if the weather has been unseasonably warm of late, we are still faced with 15 hours of darkness each day and we know the bone-chilling cold is coming on. So if there is a time to eat comfort food, we are there now.

There are recipes below for Ham and Maple Syrup, Maple baked beans, and for a simple tourtière. As well, while lard and pork scraps on toast does have its appeal, I have included instead a recipe for chicken liver pâté, also a Québec tradition, instead.

For dessert, a nod to the Bûche Noël, and a French inspired apple cake recipe courtesy of Andrea Duggan, formerly of Sunsets Restaurant, whose blog includes step by step directions for desserts and many other dishes.

Ham and Maple Syrup


1 smoked ham (approx. 4 kg. or 9 lb.)

2 cups maple syrup, combined with 10 cups water

2 cups raisins

2 cups maple sugar, crumbled

1 teaspoon dried mustard

2 teaspoons while cloves (optional)

4 teaspoons apple juice

In a large pot bring the ham to a boil in the maple syrup water. Reduce the heat and let simmer on low heat for 3 to 4 hours, or until the ham is tender. Remove the ham from the water and let sit for 15 minutes or until cooled. Reserve a few cups of this water for later use. Once ham is cooled remove the rind and set aside.

In a bowl crush the maple sugar and mix with the mustard and apple juice, stir well till blended. Add the cloves to the maple sugar and juice mixture and let sit for 15 minutes until the flavors blend together. Place your ham in a roasting pan and baste your ham with the maple sugar juice mixture, making sure to heavily coat the whole ham. Add a cup or more of the ham water into your roasting pan and add the ham rind. Add the raisins, placing some over top of ham.

Bake ham for 40 to 50 minutes in a 300°F oven. Baste your ham often, adding more ham water if needed, the more the tastier it will be. Remove from oven and place on serving platter, pour the raisins and maple syrup drippings over the ham.

Serve with mashed potatoes, carrots and turnips all whipped together.

Note – The outcome of this dish is dependent on the quality of the ham.

Maple baked beans

1 lb small white pea beans

1 onion

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon summer savory

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 teaspoons chili powder

1½ cups maple syrup

¼ lb salt pork

½ teaspoon salt

Soak beans overnight to cut down on cooking time. Drain and place in a 4 quart bean pot. Mix seasonings and maple syrup together and stir into beans. Add enough water to cover. Peel onion and remove root and blossom ends. Push whole onion down into beans and place the salt pork next to it. Bake covered in a 250 degree oven for about 8 hours, checking on them every hour or so and see if you need to add water so they never dry out.

When finished if you want the sauce to be thicker, then you can always stir in some refried bean flakes and let sit to thicken.


1½ pound lean ground pork or

1 pound lean ground pork and ½ pound lean ground beef

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

1/4 teaspoon ground sage

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). In a saucepan, combine pork (or pork and beef) onion, garlic, water, salt, thyme, sage, black pepper and cloves. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils; stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is cooked, about 5 minutes.

Spoon the meat mixture into the piecrust. Place top crust on top of pie and pinch edges to seal. Cut slits in top crust so steam can escape. Cover edges of pie with strips of aluminium foil.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, remove foil and return to oven. Bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing.

Chicken liver pâté

1 lb fresh chicken liver, cleaned

1 cup milk

½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons green peppercorns, drained

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

¼ cup cognac or ¼ cup brandy

chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

In a bowl, soak the livers in the milk for 2 hours and drain well. In a large sauté pan or skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken livers, 1 tablespoon of the peppercorns, the bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the livers are browned on the outside and still slightly pink on the inside, about 5 minutes. Add the Cognac and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated and the livers are cooked through but still tender. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Discard the bay leaves.

In a food processor, purée the liver mixture. Add the remaining butter in pieces and pulse to blend. Fold in the remaining 1 tablespoon peppercorns and adjust the seasoning, to taste.

Pack the pâté into 6 individual ramekins or small molds, about 4 ounces each. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours. Garnish the tops with parsley and surround with croutons or French bread. Serve with sweet pickles, if desired.

Apple Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)

2 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform or non-stick 9 inch pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl. Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks (pretty big chunks)

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s even-ish.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for five minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the spring form pan, making sure there are no apples stuck to the side of the pan. Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature.

La Bûche de Noël (Yule log)

This is a flourless recipe so it is light and has the added advantage of being gluten-free.


¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

6 large eggs (separated)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, cut in pieces

¾ teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate whipped cream filling

1 cup whipping cream (35% butterfat)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons sugar

1½ tablespoons cocoa powder

Grease a 17 x 12 inch (43x30 cm) baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and then butter and flour the parchment paper.

While the eggs are still cold, separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Cover and bring to room temperature before using (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and cool.

Place the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy (about five minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the melted chocolate and beat only to combine.

In a clean mixing bowl, and with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture using a rubber spatula or whisk, a little at a time. Don't over mix. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is puffed, has lost its shine, and springs back when gently pressed, about 15 -17 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Cover the cake with a clean, slightly damp towel.

For the chocolate whipped cream: in a large mixing bowl place the whipping cream, vanilla extract, sugar, and cocoa powder and stir to combine. Cover and chill the bowl and beaters in the refrigerator for at least one hour so the cocoa powder has time to dissolve.

Beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Once the cake has cooled, spread with the cream (set 2 tablespoons aside) and then gently roll the cake, peeling off the parchment paper as you roll (the cake may crack). Trim one end of the cake at an angle and set it aside. Then place the cake, seam side down, on your serving platter.

Take the slice of reserved cake and, using the reserved whipped cream, attach it to the side of the cake so it resembles a branch.

Cover and chill until serving time. Dust with icing sugar, the snow on the log, and eat.