“My favorite Creole holiday food would be all of the stuffings and dressings. I love stuffed bell peppers and seafood and sausage dressing. You know the food that makes you think of your grandmother, family and flavor,” said Julie “The Creole Sausage Queen” Vaucresson, co-owner of the legendary Vaucresson Sausage Company in New Orleans.
Vaucresson’s Creole Hot Sausage is a holiday staple in her home and with the company’s customers. “It is the sausage we’ve been making since 1899, and no authentic Creole gumbo is made without it. I also use it in cornbread dressing, stuffed bell peppers, stuffed mirlitons, and oyster dressing,” said Vaucresson. [Watch Julie and husband Vance discuss mirliton on YouTube.]
Stuffed pepper preparation, Photo courtesy Julie Vaucresson
There’s not a Creole family anywhere in the United States or the world that would disagree with Vaucresson about the importance of keeping food traditions during the holiday season. The menus may vary to include other fare but gumbo and variations of the dressing will be found on many tables in the cities and rural areas of South Louisiana.
Chef Cleo Robinson, Leah Chase’s niece, said a Poached Redfish dish was brought to New Orleans from her family’s home in rural Madisonville, St. Tammany Parish. The Lange family recipe, as prepared by Chef Cleo on “The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah’s Legacy” (Ep 122 Christmas Traditions), is poached and stuffed with shrimp salad. [You can watch the episode here or on PBS Passport and purchase the cookbook that contains Leah’s recipe here.]
Stuffed mirliton is another dish, countryside or city, that is a Creole holiday treat. Also called chayote or choko or vegetable pear, mirliton is a gourd-like squash that is shaped like a very large pear. Creole recipes call for the mirliton to be stuffed with seafood (crawfish, crab, shrimp), onion and pepper, minced garlic and celery, diced ham, sausage, a dash of tabasco and topped with bread crumbs. Stuffed mirliton can be served as an appetizer, snack or side dish at dinner.
In the country, especially near swamps, a Creole dish could be cooked outdoors over an open fire. Seafood stew, bouillabaisse, chowder and bisque can easily be a part of a Christmas feast. Factor in access to alligator meat, prawns, crab, soft shell crab, crawfish, shrimp and oysters – daily staples – and you have the makings of a delectable menu. It’s also possible to find wild game like venison, quail and duck on a table.
A Southern Louisiana Creole holiday dessert table will have pralines and Creole Kisses for treats, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, citrus olive oil cake, bread pudding with bourbon or whiskey sauce, fruitcake, pear or apple galette, and cobbler.. And, as Dook Chase mentions on the family’s cooking show on PBS, homemade eggnog is a must.
Julie Vaucresson added, “Don’t forget the charcuterie,” which is a great offering to family and guests as the gumbo and other slow-cooked dishes are cooking. Top your board with seasonal (and regional) fruit and locally-sourced cheeses, jellies like hot pepper mayhaw and muscadine, crackers, sausages, pates and mustards.
Charcuterie Board, Photo courtesy of Julie Vaucresson
St. Louis historian, Miller Boyd III, said that when he can’t make it to Mobile or Louisiana, he makes gumbo and his brother has made the seafood dressing for their local celebrations with close family and friends. When asked if his family adheres to any particular ritual during the holiday season, he said, “Eat, drink and be merry!”
He’s not wrong. La fête de Noël (or Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve) with any number of the foods above, and you’re bound to have a great holiday feast. And every Creole knows that the end-of-year festivities are a dress rehearsal for Mardi Gras.
If you don’t live in South Louisiana, no worries. Vaucresson Sausage Company is loading up their site for shipping, and La Pâtisserie Chouquette par Simone Faure has Creole and Creole-inspired desserts for shipping as well.2