Let me preface this post by saying that I’m not much for a Christmas person and don’t traditionally celebrate Christmas. The main reasons for this are because my family isn’t religious and there isn’t a huge family gathering to attend, as my family members are scattered all around the world.
It is a different affair for my French partner however, where Christmas is a time for the family to get together, back at the family home, over a big, traditional meal.
The last time I had spent Christmas in Normandy, France was about 4 years ago. It was time to change that this year as I hadn’t seen J’s family in a while and I missed having traditional homemade French food. This is why I found myself travelling on a ferry on the 23rd December from Newhaven Harbour to Dieppe in Normandy, by far the easiest mode of transport!
My first evening in the old family house was a quiet affair, with just us and J’s parents. Nevertheless, we were off to a good start food-wise, where we began with warming vegetable soup and were then treated to some good old croque-monsieur. If you don’t know what croque-monsieur is, it’s essentially a French style grilled ham and cheese sandwich (typically emmental or gruyere) with béchamel sauce. I’ve never eaten a homemade one before, and hadn’t realised how much better it tastes compared to what you get at cafes!
Being in the middle of the countryside, with cows and chickens for neighbours, I slept soundly and deeply and had a late start on Christmas Eve. The early afternoon was spent reading and relaxing indoors, before J took me to a local boulangerie to try some authentic “real deal” pastries.
As you can see, we were spoilt for choice but eventually “settled” for a salambo and coffee eclair. They both went down in no time at all. I don’t think I’ve ever had a creamy eclair that good…mmm…
Our arrival back home meant that the family gathering was complete, with preparations for Christmas Eve dinner already underway. Contrary to the UK and US, in France, Christmas Eve is when the family actually get together and celebrate the holiday, rather than Christmas Day itself. This is similar to the practice in most of the rest of Europe.
Whilst our main course was roasting away in the oven, we sat ourselves around a small table with some yummy homemade mini-pizzas for canapes and a glass of champagne mixed with cassis (blackcurrant cordial) to toast to family and Christmas. The mini-pizzas, very much a family Christmas tradition, were made by Grandma and Grandpa, who are both extremely talented chefs.
We then moved on to the main table which was beautifully set and waiting for us.
Dad ran down to the cellar to bring up a few bottles of choice wine which included some absolute beauts. I don’t tend to drink alcohol normally, but it’s not everyday that I get the chance to try wine that’s of an older vintage than myself!
Our starter course was homemade foie gras, a classically French christmas dish! I have never tried foie gras before as I disagree with how it’s made and have never felt the urge to taste it, so this was a first for me. I put aside my opinions this evening and gave it a shot. It was interesting taste, but not something I’d want to eat again on my own accord. The way it was eaten by my French family was with sweet jam, a bit of paprika and a wee bit of fleur de sel.
This was followed by a succulent venison roast, which was carved up and eaten so quickly that I missed my chance for photos. We were feel pretty full by this time, and so gave the salad course a miss and jumped straight to the cheese platter. Lovers of stinky cheeses were in luck before there were a great many choices on offer!
I tried a bit of the soft goats cheese just for a taste, but kept my remaining stomach space for dessert. Grandma and Grandpa came with a gorgeous bûche de Noël which was covered in coffee flavoured cream and icing. I’m not normally a huge fan of yule logs, as I tend to find them overly sweet with artificial tasting chocolate syrup. This one however, I could happily eat all year long.
The family dogs kept us company throughout our meal and came all dressed up for the occasion.
After more drinks and conversation, we finally headed to bed at around 1am, far too late a time for opening presents. This would therefore have to wait until Christmas Day itself.
Predictably, everyone had a late start the following morning, with breakfast happening at about 10.30am. Once everyone was dressed and ready, we commenced the opening of the presents, giving kisses and thanks to the family. One of my gifts was a large box of macaroons – how lovely is that? They didn’t last long however, and were finished by the end of the day. 🙂
Ever organised, Mum already had Christmas lunch roasting away in the oven and it was soon time to eat again. After a starter of smoked salmon with lemon (another typically French Christmas dish), we proceeded with a main course of roast chicken with chestnut stuffing and a side of green beans. Delish!
Following the salad and cheese courses (a must at all French meals!), we shared a box of 12 petit fours amongst us for dessert #1, before being treated to a new iced sweet treat for dessert course #2.
As you can imagine, we were positively stuffed by the end of it and we all settled down for a snooze or quiet read, after trying to digest everything with a strong cup of coffee.
It was soon time to say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa (J and I drove them back home), but not before we were invited in for a few homemade butter biscuits and tea. I’ve only ever visited one other time previously, but it’s always good fun to come round as they always seem to have some sweet homemade something or other on offer, or fresh fruits / vegetables / nuts / eggs from their backyard. Being a city girl through and through, it’s not something that I’ve ever grown up with and I’m constantly delighted by J’s childhood stories with his grandparents and actually experiencing it when I come round.
After all of the festivities over the last 24 hours, dinner was a relatively quiet affair of leftovers. All in all, French Christmas with the family has been rather good fun, and it was great seeing everyone again.
I hope that you all managed to spend some good times with your families over this period too. Any nice family stories to relay? I’d love to hear them!