A Week of Christmas Lunch in France

During the week surrounding Christmas, lunch routinely stretches past the four-hour mark. There is no rush. We drink champagne by the magnum—this year, Rosé Brut—sample a multitude of small courses, and then linger over coffee and spirited conversation.

Lunch opens with an apéritif, commenced by The Opening of the Champagne Bottle. We gather around my fiancé on the terrace as he carefully removes the foil cap, unwinds the thin gold cage. With a tiny twist, he sets the cork sliding. He aims the neck strategically toward the garden and—pop!—the cork flies squarely into the pool. The champagne is then poured into lace-etched glass coups from a great grandmother’s wedding, dating back to 1910.

After the apéritif, we sit down at the table. My future mother-in-law has a no-nonsense approach when it comes to cooking. By the time her guests arrive, she is ready to be a participant of the party; she does not want to be yoked to the stove. “Use quality ingredients,” she says. “And after that, you can keep it simple.” And so foie gras d’oie is purchased from a farm near Sarlat, in Dordogne, the French region lauded for ducks, geese, and particularly for their fattened livers.

Since it was an especially good year for figs in the garden, at the height of their season, when the tree was laden and the fruit had turned jammy and sun-bursted, my mother-in-law simmered a copper potful with sugar and Montbazillac. Now, half a year later, we slide buttery smears of the foie across toasted pain de mie, spooned with dollops of rich fig compote. We wash it all down with sips of the sweet Montbazillac.

The goose at the center of the table traveled no farther than a family farm down the road. It was delivered fresh to the kitchen door, and then roasted simply in its own fat, salt, and pepper. More figs were stewed to accompany the full-flavored goose, this time with deep, dark Bordeaux. Green beans, preserved in the summer, round out the main course offerings.

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