Réveillon is the most famous of all evenings in Louisiana’s culinary and cultural history.This French tradition is celebrated on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve; however, many Réveillon meals today may last a week.Réveillon is a French word meaning “awakening,” which signaled the end of the Advent fast.South Louisiana’s Catholic community was required to fast on Christmas Eve, so that they could accept Communion at Midnight Mass.Fasting had to be tough with so many incredible foods around, especially since Mass normally lasted until two o’clock in the morning.But, that’s when the Réveillon feast commenced!
Preparation of the lavish dishes was an all-day event that definitely served as penance for the cook.How anyone could endure the intoxicating smells of cookies baking and gumbo simmering without sneaking a tiny taste, is certainly beyond me.The cooks created wonderful soups such as rooster and andouille gumbo, sometimes enhanced with fresh-shucked oysters.The rooster was always plump and ready for butchering in the morning so the gumbo could cook all day long.Rooster made the best gumbo!The wonderful snapping turtle soup of the swamps of Louisiana was an anticipated delicacy as well. Classic dishes of salmis pie filled with fresh game from the hunt graced the Réveillon table. Salmis pie could be filled with any number of wild game meats including duck and venison, perhaps rabbit, or even quail and woodcock.The contents depended on the skill of the hunter.Small game birds were boiled and boned, then cooked in a rich, brown gravy.This delectable filling was poured into a pie shell and salmis emerged.
These magnificent dishes of the Réveillon were accompanied by lamb and veal for the delicious blanquette de veau. Several meat dishes and even sweetbreads found their way to the Réveillon table.Ducks andgeese from the swamps were always enjoyed as were sweet potatoes cooked in any number of ways.Oyster stew with its thick, rich, brown gravy was tucked inside the vols-au-vent,or pastry shells.And for dessert, mother’s cream puffs.I cherish memories of my mother’swonderful cream puffs, the delicious pastry cream inside of the delicate puff pastry.And, île flottante, or floating isles, were awaited all year long.I loved the beauty of the egg whites floating atop beautiful big bowls of crème anglaise.And, no feast was complete without adult beverages:spiked eggnog, anisette and ratafia, the wild fruit liqueurs that graced the table as well.
There were bonfires on the levee to celebrate the season, too.Children began the bonfire building right after Thanksgiving with the lighting of the wooden pyramids on Christmas Eve.Not only was it finally cold enough in Louisiana to burn bonfires, but these levee torches lit the swamplands for Papa Noel to find his way to the homes of children awaiting gifts of oranges, apples and little carved wooden toys.(Of course, the bonfires lit the way to church, too, and allowed passersby to warm themselves on their journeys.)
Réveillon was and is about family.It is about Church.It is about coming together.It’s about the “awakening” after Midnight Mass to a celebratory feast with family and friends.I’m grateful to have the opportunity to serve a genuine, classic Réveillon menu at Restaurant R’evolution that pays homage to our Creole ancestors.I’m proud to share our Louisiana family and holiday traditions with our diners.These lavish, legacy dishes already overfill our kitchen and are just awaiting the arrival of guests from the chill of the French Quarter. That’s Réveillon!