Sepia Saturday 400: First post of the New Year!
The winter holiday season brings to mind memories of time spent with family and the importance of paying attention to those small family history clues that emerge in the most unlikely ways this time of year.
Whether sitting before a fireplace or gathered around a dinner table, many of us feel nostalgia for winter-season family traditions — and taking the time to examine them can enrich our family story.
An ethnic blend
Recipe for Peg (Laurence) Charboneau’s Bouillabaisse
Ingredients: 1 package frozen shrimp (shelled and cleaned), 1/2 cup salad oil, 1 large onion (thinly sliced), 1 clove garlic (finely cut), a large 1-pound can of peeled tomatoes, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 3 strips lemon peel, 2 bay leaves, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (coarsely ground), 8 whole cloves, 1.5 teaspoons salt, 3 cups fish broth, 2 pounds fish filets (fresh or frozen), 12 oysters, 1 can Maine lobster (6 oz.), 1/4 sherry, 1 fresh lemon (thinly sliced).
Preparation: Cook shrimp according to directions on package. To make fish broth, save cooking water from shrimp, add liquid from oysters, add water to make 3 cups. Heat oil in saucepan, and sauté onion and garlic until tender. Stir in tomatoes, lemon juice, lemon peel, bay leaves, pepper, cloves, salt, fish broth and simmer about 30 minutes. Cut fish filets in 2-inch pieces and add to soup mixture. Simmer 8 minutes. Drop in oysters and simmer 3 min, or until edges curl. Add and blend in lobster, shrimp and sherry.
Serve: Garnish with sliced lemon and serve hot with crusty French bread and green salad.
In my case, the tradition was my mother serving bouillabaisse on Christmas Eve.
I’m not sure when she began to annually prepare the lucious seafood stew — but I think it was during the 1960s when we lived in the suburbs near Binghamton, N.Y.
My mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau was a basic meat-and-potatoes cook.
Despite her German-Italian heritage, her closest brush with ethnic dinner cuisine was making spaghetti and meatballs — though pretty much everyone on our block ate that too, regardless of cultural background.
As Catholics, we did not eat meat on Friday — which often meant an easy-to-prepare fish sticks dinner that we children loved!
Christmas Eve was also a meatless day — and one year my mom decided to make bouillabaisse and serve our family dinner on the good china.
The meal was a hit — but consuming the fascinating fish stew with it’s surprise ingredients seemed more connected to my dad Norm Charboneau’s French heritage than my mom’s.
Or so I thought until recently.
An Italian tradition
While holiday food shopping this year, I stopped at an in-store popup where the staff was serving little samples of fish stew.
“Pretty good,” I thought and took the recipe card. Imagine my surprise when I read that eating fish stew on meatless days was an Italian tradition!
I immediately recalled my mom’s bouillabaisse dinners and realized she may have been reprising a tradition passed on by her Italian-American extended family when she was growing up.
Where my mom got the recipe I don’t know, but one year I asked her for a copy — which I hand wrote on a blank staff pad that Mom, a school music educator, used to compose music.
I have prepared my mom’s recipe many times since — never imagining an Italian heritage connection until now. Her recipe is reproduced here for you to enjoy with family and loved ones.
May the heady seafood aromas remind you of those subtle but precious ancestral clues that may come wafting up during the holiday season and in the New Year.
Stop back for another new post next week. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.