“It is now Christmas, and not a cup of drink must pass without a carol; the beasts, fowl, and fish come to a general execution, and the corn is ground to dust for the bakehouse and the pastry...”
Nicholas Breton, 1555-1626
It’s not just the turkey that gets fat at Christmas. For many of us, THE cornerstone of our celebrations is the licence to stuff ourselves with as much seasonal grub as possible. While no-one could deny the myriad delights of a mince pie-plus-baileys-hot-chocolate medley, it’s easy to forget that Christmas hasn’t always been so palatable. Take this 1685 recipe for oyster stuffing:
"To boil the aforesaid Fowls otherways, with Muscles, Oysters, or Cockles; or fried Wickles in Butter, and after stewed with Butter, white Wine, Nutmeg, a slic't Orange, and gravy. Either boil the Fowl or roast them, boil them by themselves in water and alat, scum them clean, and put to them mace, sweet hergs, and onions chopped together, some white-wine, pepper, and sugar, if you please, and a few cloves stuck in the fowls, some grated or strained bread with some of the broth, and give it a warm; dish up the fowls on fine sippets, or French bread, and carve the breast, broth it, and pour on your shell-fish runt it over with beaten butter, and slic't lemon or orange."
- The Accomplisht Cook, Robert May, 1685
Yes, stick some cloves in the fowels with the oysters, if you please, and enjoy your spicy Christmas fishbird.
Or alternatively, get your carol-singer around this 1747 “pye”:
"A Yorkshire Christmas-Pye.
First make a good Standing Crust, let the Wall and Bottom be very thick, bone a Turkey, a Goose, a Fowl, a Partridge, and a Pigeon, season them all very well, take half an Ounce of Mace, half an Ounce of Nutmegs, a quarter of an Ounce of Cloves, half and Ounce of black Pepper, all beat fine together, two large Spoonfuls of Salt, mix them together. Open the Fowls, then then Goose, and then the Turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the Crust, so as it will look only like a whole Turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean Cloth. Cut it to Pieces, that is jointed; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one Side; on the other Side Woodcock, more Game, and what Sort of wild Fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four Pounds of Butter into the Pye, then lay on your Lid, which must be very a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot Oven, and will take at least four Hours. This Pye will take a Bushel of Flour; in this Chapter you will see how to make it. These Pies are ofent sent to London in a Box as Presents; therefore the Walls must be will built."
- The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse c. 1747,
That’s at least four pounds of butter, remember. Can’t abide dry pye.
If you were feeling a little bloated after your savoury repast, you could try this “light” version of Christmas pudding from an 1854 health food cookbook:
Mix together a pound and a quarter of wheaten flour or meal, half a pint of sweet cream, a pound of stoned raisins, four ounces of currants, four ounces of potatoes, mashed, five ounces of brown sugar, and a gill of milk. When thoroughly worked together, add eight large spoonfuls of clean snow; diffuce it through the mass as quickly as possible; tie the pudding tightly in a bag previously wet in cold water, and boil four hours.
Remember: “It is a singular fact that puddings may be made light with snow instead of eggs – a circumstance of some importance in the winter season, when eggs are dear and snow is cheap. Two large tablespoonfuls are equivalent to one egg. The explanation is found in the fact that snow involves within its flakes a large amount of atmospheric air, which is set free as the snow melts.”
[From: The New Hydropathic Cook-book, 1854]
Nothing like the thrifty combination of snow and potatoes to kick off your New Year detox.
While the general populace chowed down on terrible pies and watery pudding, it seems royalty got a slightly tastier end of the deal. Here’s the menu for Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner at Windsor in 1899.
Consommé à la Monaco. Du Berry
Filet de Sole à la Vassant.
Eperlans frits, sauce Verneuil.
Côtelettes de Volaille à la York.
Dinde à la Chipolata.
Roast Beef. Chine of Pork.
Asperges, sauce Hollandaise.
Mince Pies. Plum Pudding.
Gelée d’Orange à l’Anglaise.
Baron of Beef. Boar’s Head. Game Pie.
Woodcock Pie. Brawn.
Roast Fowl. Tongue.
[Have you heard of any particularly outlandish historic Christmas recipes? If so then share below!]