Victorian Christmas Fare
The Victorian Christmas Feast
Prominent in our list of Christmas delicacies, the turkey, in the estimation of many, stands unrivalled, and on this account we shall treat of how to cook and carve it.
Recipes for boiling and roasting the bird were given and a diagram accompanied directions for carving. Whilst a sausage-meat or bread stuffing was recommended for the roast bird a more interesting stuffing was suggested for the boiled turkey. It was left to the January issue to provide advice on selecting and cooking a goose.
STUFFING AND SAUCE FOR BOILED TURKEY
Make a stuffing of bread, herbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon-peel, a few oysters or an anchovy, a bit of butter, some suet and an egg; put this into the crop, fasten up the skin, and boil the turkey in a floured cloth to make it very white. Have ready an oyster- sauce made with butter, and pour it over the bird, sometimes liver and lemon- sauce is preferred. (extract from the cooking directions.)
Other early volumes of the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine carried a column "Cookery, Pickling, and Preserving" to which readers contributed their own recipes. One particular column in 1858 was devoted to "Christmas Recipes" and contained no less than six different recipes for Plum Pudding under that name and the now more familiar "Christmas Pudding".
All the recipes directed boiling the puddings for several hours, though some recommended putting the mixture into a mould, whilst others used a pudding cloth. The quantities given would have produced different sizes of puddings.
Particularly interesting, in view of the extraordinary popularity of the classic cookery book bearing the Beeton name, which adopted a standard formula in which all the ingredients and quantities were listed before a detailed method, is the varied structure of the recipes. Family recipes handed down, and ones submitted by a cook, or elicited from her by her mistress, would not necessarily spell out the kind of detail a novice in the kitchen would require. Perhaps it was such a situation that resulted in the shortest recipe for Christmas pudding - Victorian or otherwise - which I have ever seen. [If you know of one to beat this for brevity do let me know!]
A GOOD CHRISTMAS PUDDING - one pound of flour, two pounds of suet, one pound of currants, one pound of plums, eight eggs, two ounces of candied peel almonds and mixed spice according to taste. Boil gently for seven hours.
Anyone following this recipe would need some idea of how much and which spices suited the taste-buds of the diners, be aware that the ingredients should be mixed thoroughly, and know that the result should not be cooked directly over a stove, but contained in a mould or pudding cloth, before being steamed/boiled in a pan of gently bubbling water.
Luckily the most elaborate recipe for
AN UNRIVALLED CHRISTMAS PUDDING
not only gave ingredients, but instructed the reader how to prepare the pudding-cloth, and decorate the pudding for serving, with powdered sugar and split almonds. [This particular idea seems to me an attractive alternative for anyone looking to avoid the usual holly and lighted brandy routine, which appeared in Isabella Beeton's original Book of Household Management (1861) ]
There was also this added tip, proof that some Victorian cooks were as careful of their choice of ingredients as any modern food writer:-
N B Muscatel raisins can be purchased at a cheap rate loose (not in bunches); they are scarcely higher in price than the ordinary pudding raisins, and impart a much richer flavour to the pudding; they should be stoned and cut up.
ALCOHOL- FREE VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS PUDDING
This is on a smaller scale than the "Unrivalled Christmas Pudding" and does not include bitter almonds. It will still be in time for your Victorian Christmas celebration as these recipes were designed to be made a few days before Christmas rather than months before. Apart from its omission of any instructions for transferring the mixture to the prepared pudding-cloth, it is surprisingly detailed in its methodology.
Like the extremely short recipe above, it is one of the alcohol-free recipes, and relies for its sweetness upon the sugar in the dried fruits (and probably the peels which were available candied). If you wanted a "keeping" pudding then you could take advice from some of the others, which suggest adding sugar "to taste" and replacing some of the milk added at the final stage with a wine-glass of brandy. Some recipes stipulate only "half a wine-glass".
The pudding could of course be boiled in a lightly-greased pudding-bowl tightly-wrapped in the modern way.
CHRISTMAS PLUM PUDDING - A pound of suet, cut in pieces not too fine, a pound of currants, and a pound of raisins stoned, four eggs, half a grated nutmeg, an ounce of citron and lemon-peel shred fine, a teaspoonful of beaten ginger, half a pound of bread-crumbs, and half a pound of flour, and a pint of milk; beat the eggs first, add half the milk; beat them together, and by degrees stir in the flour, then the suet, spice and fruit, and as much milk as will mix it together very thick; then take a clean cloth, dip it boiling water, and squeeze dry. While the water is boiling fast, put in your pudding, which should boil at least five hours.
It may surprise some readers that in the late 1850s two of the three recipes for mincemeat and mince pies followed the ancient pattern of meat and dried fruits. Here is one of them- the 'pimento in fine powder' is an interesting touch:-
Take a pound of beef, free from skin and strings, and chop it very fine, then two pounds of suet, which likewise pick and chop; then add three pounds of currants, nicely cleaned and perfectly dry, one pound and a half of apples, the peel and juice of a lemon, half a pint of sweet wine, half a nutmeg, and a few cloves and mace, with pimento in fine powder. Have citron, orange and lemon peel ready, and put some in each of the pies when made.
In 1861 the Ladies' Treasury in its short cookery article "The Epicure", gave two lengthy seasonal recipes, written in a discursive narrative style. Below is an extract from one of them, omitting the detailed directions for making flaky (or puff) pastry, as the main interest in this recipe lies in the ingredients and method of preparation of the mincemeat.
The italics are those of the original.
EXQUISITELY DELICIOUS MINCE PIES.
Take a pound of the underdressed under-cut of sirloin of beef, mince it very fine indeed, put it in a pie dish, then cover it with a flat dish, into a moderately hot oven till it is cooked; drain off the fat from it thoroughly, and mix in two ounces of fresh butter, and half an ounce of finely ground allspice; four large apples pared, cored, and chopped very fine, and mixed in; half a pound of Sultana raisins washed and chopped fine, and mixed in; half a pound of currants well washed; three tablespoonsful of moist sugar; three ounces of candied orange peel (not lemon), chopped rather fine. Mix the whole of these ingredients well together; then place a half-pound preserve jar of raspberry jam in boiling water, but without letting any water enter, and without uncovering the jar, till the jam is dissolved, then strain the jam over the ingredients; taking care not to have the slightest portion of the seeds escape; throw these latter away, then mix the whole thoroughly ...
[Then follows the very full directions for making 'an excellent and simple paste for these or any other pies'. ]
...roll it to a sufficient thickness for the covers of the pies; then turning the patty-pans downwards on the paste, but without pressure, cut the paste round to the size; the remainder of the paste roll out and line the patty-pans; then fill them with the mince meat; put on the covers without wetting the edges, and take them in a very quick oven for a few minutes, or as long as necessary, but the quicker the better, so that they are sufficiently cooked. When the pies are nearly cold, lift the corner of each, and pour over the mince a teaspoonful of brandy. These will keep a good three weeks.
The peculiarity in these pies is, that no suet is used, which agrees but with few people, and that the juice of the raspberries gives them an indescribable but delicious flavour.
Another peculiarity is the addition of the brandy to each individual pie after cooking,(- which is why the tops must not be sealed -) rather than adding it to the mixture beforehand. The alcohol would, therefore, not evaporate during the cooking in the very hot oven and would I imagine assist the raspberries in producing that 'indescribable but delicious' taste. In this context it should be remembered that brandy in small quantities was valued by the Victorians for its medicinal properties.
The holly motif is taken from a magazine of the 1880s;the illustrations of a Christmas pudding, and the serviette folded into a Fan from an undated late C19/early C20 cookery book. And yes - pace Nancy Mitford - the source termed them "serviettes" not napkins though for folding we are instructed they should be 'slightly stiffened, and very evenly folded in the ironing' and are usually of 'plain damask'.
A Disastrous Victorian "Olden Times" Christmas Feast
thou shall taste of the lusty brown and manchet-loaves -- the reeking sirloin and savoury goose, Master Robinson. Plum-porridge shall not be wanting, nor that lord of the feast, the Christmas pie. The wassail bowl shall come in its due season with its garnish of ribbons - and a soused boar's head crested with bays, and tricked out with rosemary ...
His host informs him that he has "drilled" his cook 'in the whole art of ancient cookery' for a week. As unpalatable course follows inedible course in alarming succession the host is forced to confess to his unfortunate guest that amazingly the cook after all his trouble had left without giving notice that very morning and consequently he had 'been compelled to secure the services of the greengrocer's wife...'
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© Barbara Onslow 2007 Page published November 2007 Last updated January 18th 2010