Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dickens' Christmas

Charles Dickens black and white engravingChristmas holiday food and drink from the works of Charles Dickens
by Steven Williams

Christmas Punch, Negus and Smoking Bishop

Christmas Punch
(from A Christmas Carol (1837), by Charles Dickens)
"Heaped up on the floor, to form a king of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easey state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door."

mulling wine color photographA Christmas Punch recipe
by Charles Dickens (from an 1847 letter written by Dickens)
"Peel into a very common basin (which may be broken in case of accident, without damage to the owner's peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double handful of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass of good old brandy-if it be not a large claret glass, say two. Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again."

mulled wine color photographNegus
(from A Christmas Carol (1837), by Charles Dickens)
"There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up 'Sir Roger de Coverley.' Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking."

Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide, or How to Mix Drinks 1862 edition front coverNegus recipe
from Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tender's Guide or How to Mix Drinks (1862)
"Port Wine Negus
To every pint of Port wine allow:

1 quart of boiling water.
¼ of a pound of loaf-sugar.
1 lemon.
Grated nutmeg to taste.

Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to one-quarter of a pound) on the lemon rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the Port wine, with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use.

Negus may also be made of Sherry, or any other sweet wine, but it is more usually made of Port. This is an English beverage and derives its name from Colonel Negus, who is said to have invented it."

wassail color photographSmoking Bishop
(from A Christmas Carol (1837), by Charles Dickens)
"A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back." A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!"

Smoking Bishop recipe
from Drinking with Dickens (1980), by Cedric Dickens, Charles Dickens' great-grandson
"Take six Seville oranges and bake them in a moderate oven until pale brown. If you cannot procure any bitter Seville oranges, use four regular oranges and one largeScrooge discussing affairs with Bob Cratchit over a bowl of smoking bishop wood engraving by John Leech grapefruit. Prick each of the oranges with five whole cloves, put them into a warmed ceramic or glass vessel with one-quarter pound of sugar and a bottle of red wine, cover the vessel, and leave it in a warm place for twenty-four hours. Take the oranges out of the mixture, cut in half and squeeze the juice, then pour the juice back into the wine. Pour the mixture into a saucepan through a sieve, add a bottle of port, heat (without boiling), and serve in warmed glasses. Drink the mixture, and keep Christmas well!"
(Per NPR "Paul McClowsky of The Dark Horse Inn in Philadelphia recommends bringing the mixture to a boil, then simmering for an hour, adding brandy, brown sugar and orange juice.")

wassail bowl antique engravingWassail
The word 'wassail' has its roots in Britain as a Saxon greeting. From the time of Anglo-Saxon Britain there was a legend that the beautiful daughter of a regional Saxon leader toasted an English High King with the words 'wass-hael', meaning 'your health' or 'be in good health'. It was claimed that this event marked the beginning of the tradition of toasting in Britain. It was also believed that the toast was made with a spiced wine libation based on or very similar to the Roman hypocras or hippocras. A hippocras was simply an infusion of spices and herbs into a wine and was named after Hippocrates, an ancient Greek long associated with medicine and healing. Hippocras infusions were used for both medicinal and celebratory purposes on into the Middle Ages and beyond. Both the drink and its associated greeting survived into pre-Norman England. By the time of the Norman-French conquest of Britain, 'was hail' had become the traditional salutation offered as a toast and it had also come to be associated with the hippocras libation itself, by that time usually a heated spiced ale or mulled wine that was prepared especially for Christmas Eve or Twelfth Night. In western medieval and renaissance Europe, hippocrases were primarily served during the final course of a feast. In this course foods like cheese, candied fruits, light cakes, wafers, and hippocras would be served because they were thought to help close the stomach and so begin the process of digestion.

Wassailing the apple tree color illustrationIn the western counties of Britain, Wassailing was also associated with winter rituals used to 'awaken' fruit orchard trees and scare away evil spirits in order to guarantee a good harvest, usually of apples, in the following Autumn. Wassail ceremonies varied from place to place but usually would take place in turn at each orchard in one area. Traditionally the Wassailing would take place on Twelfth Night, the sixth of January. Some Wassailing continued to be practiced on 'Old Twelvey Night', the seventeenth of January, the original date for Twelfth Night before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar corrections in 1752. A primary feature of this ancient British tradition was to name the oldest tree in an orchard the Apple Tree Man and this tree was considered the guardian of that particular orchard. During Wassailing, hot wassail would be sprinkled around the tree roots and cake and toast soaked in cider would be either laid on the ground around the roots or hung in the braches of Apple Tree Man to attract Robins who were believed to embody the spirit of apple trees. old apple tree antique drawingThe participants would then toast to the good health of the apple trees and then guns loaded only with wadding would be fired into the sky while the partiers made noise in order to drive off any evil spirits. After all the noise, special Wassailing songs would then be sung to Apple Tree Man in order to attract beneficial spirits into the orchard and guarantee a bountiful crop. In these ways Wassailing has morphed into traditional caroling and wassail has come to be the name generally given to any type of spiced, sweetened, heated wine or cider.

Carhampton Wassailing Song
"Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs,
Hip, Hip, Hooray!"

Wassailing the apple tree color illustration

Roast Goose color photographThe Christmas Goose
(from A Christmas Carol (1837), by Charles Dickens)
"Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course -- and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah.

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last. Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows."

Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie 1999 edition front coverRoast Goose recipe
from Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches (1837), by Eliza Leslie
"Poultry, Game, &c.

General Remarks
In buying poultry choose those that are fresh and fat. Half-grown poultry is comparatively insipid; it is best when full-grown but not old. Old poultry is tough and hard. An old goose is so tough as to be frequently uneatable. When poultry is young the skin is thin and tender, and can be easily tipped by trying it with a pin; the legs are smooth; the feet moist and limber; and the eyes full and bright. The body should be thick and the breast fat. The bill and feet of a young goose are yellow, and have but few hairs on them; when old they are red and hairy.

Poultry is best when killed overnight, as if cooked too soon after-killing, it is hard and does not taste well. It is not the custom in America, as in some parts of Europe, to keep game, or indeed any sort of eatable, till it begins to taint; all food when inclining to decomposition being regarded by us with disgust.

Poultry should be always scalded in hot water to make the feathers come out easily. Before they are cooked they should be held for a moment over the blaze of the fire to singe off the hairs that are about the skin. The head, neck, and feet should be cut off, and the ends of the legs skewered in the bodies. A string should be tied tightly round.

To Roast a Goose
Having drawn and singed the goose, wipe out the inside with a cloth, and sprinkle in some pepper and salt. Make a stuffing of four good sized onions minced fine, and half their quantity of green sage leaves minced also, a large tea-cupful of grated bread-crumbs, a piece of butter the size of a walnut, and the beaten yolks of two eggs, with a little pepper and salt. Mix the whole together, and incorporate them well. Put the stuffing into the goose, and press it in hard; but do not entirely fill up the cavity, as the mixture will swell in cooking. Tie the goose securely round with a greased or wetted string; and paper the breast to prevent it from scorching. Fasten the goose on the spit at both ends. The fire must be brisk and well kept up. It will require from two hours to two and a half to roast. Baste it at first with a little salt and water, and then with its own gravy. Take off the paper when the goose is about half done, and dredge it with a little flour towards the last. Having parboiled the liver and heart, chop them and put them into the gravy, which must be skimmed well and thickened with a little browned flour.

Send apple-sauce to table with the goose; also mashed potatoes.

A goose may be stuffed entirely with potatoes, boiled and mashed with milk, butter, pepper and salt.

You may make a gravy of the giblets, that is the neck, pinions, liver, heart and gizzard, stewed in a little water, thickened with butter rolled in flour, and seasoned with pepper and salt. Add a glass of red wine. Before you send it to table, take out all but the liver and heart; mince them and leave them in the gravy. This gravy is by many preferred to that which comes from the goose in roasting. It is well to have both.

If a goose is old it is useless to cook it, as when hard and tough it cannot be eaten."

Eliza Leslie black and white engravingEliza Leslie (1787–1858) was a nineteenth century American author of popular cookbooks and books on etiquette. She is the author of Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828), American Girl's Book (1831), Domestic French Cookery (1832), Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Characters and Manners (1833), Miss Leslie's Behavior Book (1834), Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches (1837), The Indian Meal Book (1847), The Lady's Receipt-Book: A Useful Companion for Large or Small Families (1847), Amelia; or, A Young Lady's Vicissitudes (1848), Miss Leslie's Lady's New Receipt-Book (1850), Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery (1851), More Receipts (1852), Miss Leslie's New Receipts for Cooking (1854) and Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book (1857).

Carving the Christmas goose black and white illustrationChristmas Goose
The tradition of eating goose at Christmas in the Old World has roots in ancient mythology. There were goose gods in many ancient pagan cultures with a result that there was a widespread tendency for ancient cultures to place ritual importance on geese. Many holiday celebrations and associations have developed from older cultural traditions of sacrificing geese at the turn of the seasons. It is believed that a significant impetus to this practice came from the fact that geese were migratory fowl and that they happened to appear and disappear in temperate areas at crucial times in the yearly sun cycle, of particularly importance in marking the agricultural year. The sacrifice of a goose in the fall would frequently be made to the spirit of vegetation as a way of giving thanks for a successful harvest. Following the ritual killing of the goose, there would be an equally ritualized eating of its flesh done to ensure the regeneration of the Earth in the spring when, coincidentally, migrating geese would reappear.

It is known that goose was served at the Celtic fall seasonal feast called Samhain, a festival held to both celebrate the harvest as well as to propitiate or celebrate the spirits of all the dead. With Christianity, the pagan Samhain became transformed into Hallowe'en or Halloween (hallowed has its roots in the old English word for holy) or All Hallows or Hallowmas also known as All Saints' Day (November first) and All Souls Day (November second). Goose was also traditionally served at Germanic Yule (the first day of their new year which is the modern first of November), as well as Michaelmas (September 29th) and Martinmas (11th of November), the Christian feast days associated with a flock of geeseSaint Michael and Saint Martin. In time all of these holidays (holydays or Holy Days) came to be additionally associated with the upcoming winter solstice (the modern December 22nd). By the time of the European Renaissance, the tradition of eating goose on All Saints' Day was widely observed in Western Europe.

In England, the association of eating geese on Michaelmas Day was already a tradition when it was given an even greater emphasis by folklore related to Queen Elizabeth. Goose was one of her favorite meats and English folklore claims that she happened to be eating a course of roast goose on Michaelmas Day and had just toasted to the defeat of the Spanish Armada when she received word that the surviving Spanish fleet had been severely mauled by unusually severe storms as the ships had rounded Ireland. The Queen is commonly believed to have then declared that goose should be served to her every following year on Michaelmas Day to commemorate the great English victory.

A more likely preference by the English for goose on Michaelmas Day relates to the time of year. Traditionally celebrated on September 29, Michaelmas Day happens to be one of the 'quarter days' (i.e., every three months and representing a quarter of the year) of the traditional English agricultural year. 'Quarter days' antique color drawing of geesewere when tenant farmers would go to their landlords because rents and tithes were due. It was customary to also bring a fattened goose along with the rent in order to help dissuade the landlord from raising rent or revising the terms. Conveniently, farmers would have set their geese to gleaning the harvest stubble in order to fatten them up making this one of the best times of the year for eating roast goose. Because of the British tradition of associating 'quarter days' with geese and Michaelmas Day, it also became a common belief that to eat a goose on Michaelmas Day would bring good luck, especially financial luck, for the following year. The result is that by Dickens' time, the English had long associated roast goose with fall holiday feasts and Christmas dinner in particular.

Christmas plum pudding color photographPlum Pudding
(from A Christmas Carol (1837) by Charles Dickens)
"Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone -- too nervous to bear witnesses -- to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the backyard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose -- a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry-cook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered -- flushed, but smiling proudly -- with the pudding, like a speckled cannonball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top. Oh, a wonderful pudding!"

Victorian woman presenting a Christmas pudding antique black and white illustration

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton 1861 edition front coverChristmas Pudding recipe and related observations
from The Book Of Household Management (1861) by Mrs. Isabella Beeton
(Note: the raisins used in Victorian puddings were commonly called "plums" in reference to the tradition of medieval pudding recipes calling for dried plums.)

"Christmas Plum-Pudding (Very Good)

1 1/2 lb of raisins
1/2 lb of currants
1/2 lb of mixed peel
3/4 lb of bread crumbs
3/4 lb of suet
8 eggs
1 wineglassful of brandy.

Mode: Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas-day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.

Time: 5 or 6 hours the first time of boiling; 2 hours the day it is to be served.

Average cost, 4s.

Sufficient for a quart mould for 7 or 8 persons.

Seasonable on the 25th of December, and on various festive occasions till March.

Note: Five or six of these puddings should be made at one time, as they will keep good for many weeks, and in cases where unexpected guests arrive, will be found an acceptable, and, as it only requires warming through, a quickly-prepared dish. Moulds of every shape and size are manufactured for these puddings, and may be purchased of Messrs. R. & J. Slack, 336, Strand."

Christmas pudding antique black and white drawing

"General Observations on Puddings

Isabella Beeton black and white photographThe freshness of all pudding ingredients is of much importance, as one bad article will taint the whole mixture.

Suet should be finely chopped, perfectly free from skin, and quite sweet; during the process of chopping, it should be lightly dredged with flour, which prevents the pieces from sticking together. Beef suet is considered the best; but veal suet, or the outside fat of a loin or neck of mutton, makes good crusts; as also the skimmings in which a joint of mutton has been boiled, but without vegetables.

When the freshness of eggs is doubtful, break each one separately in a cup, before mixing them altogether. Should there be a bad one amongst them, it can be thrown away; whereas, if mixed with the good ones, the entire quantity would be spoiled. The yolks and whites beaten separately make the articles they are put into much lighter.

Raisins and dried fruits for puddings should be carefully picked, and, in many cases, stoned. Currants should be well washed, pressed in a cloth, and placed on a dish before the fire to get thoroughly dry; they should then be picked carefully over, and every piece of grit or stone removed from amongst them. To plump them, some cooks pour boiling water over them, and then dry them before the fire.

All boiled puddings should be put on in boiling water, which must not be allowed to stop simmering, and the pudding must always be covered with the water; if requisite, the saucepan should be kept filled up.

For dishing a boiled pudding as soon as it comes out of the pot, dip it into a basin of cold water, and the cloth will then not adhere to it. Great expedition is necessary in sending puddings to table, as, by standing, they quickly become heavy, batter puddings particularly."
presenting the Christmas plum pudding antique black and white cartoon
flaming Christmas plum pudding color photographPlum Pudding
Plum or Christmas Pudding had its origins in a fourteenth century Christmas Pudding that was similar to a porridge-like dish prepared with beef or mutton cooked with spices, dried fruits, and wine. It was eaten as a fasting dish in preparation for anticipated excesses of Christmas feasting. By the Victorian era (circa 1837 to 1900), a Plum Pudding with a special presentation was the traditional Christmas pudding. Victorian Plum Puddings were made up of suet, breadcrumbs, raisins, and spices and their consistency somewhat resembled the contemporary American fruitcake. The preparations of a Christmas plum pudding would involve the entire family. On 'Stir-Up Sunday' at the beginning of Advent, a ring, coin, and a thimble would be tossed into the batter. After these tokens were placed in the batter, each family member would took a turn at 'beating' or mixing the pudding and as they did so they would each make a wish all the while stirring the batter clockwise for good luck. Until Christmas Day the pudding was placed in a cloth sack and hung from a hook in order to dry as well as to enhance the flavor. On Christmas Day the plum pudding would be boiled in beef broth for as long as eight hours. After dinner it would be turned out onto a platter, topped with a sprig of holly, bathed in brandy and the brandy would be set alight just before the pudding was to be carried into the dining room. The head of the household would then slice and serve the pudding while asking a blessing on everyone who had participated in its preparation. To receive the portion containing the ring meant a happy marriage, the portion with the coin meant wealth, and the portion with the thimble meant a happy but single life.

presentation of the Christmas plum pudding antique color painting

For additional recipes see also:
A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Corn Pone

A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Andalusian Gaspacho, a recipe by Van Wyck Brooks

A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Beer Bread, a bronze age flavor variation with other ideas

A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Spring Fava Beans, Roman Style

A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Aliter Lenticulam (Lentils Another Way aka Lentils with Coriander)

A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Beef Burgundy, Crackling Bread, Pice Ar Y Maen, Sevillian Yellow Plum Conserve, and Les Ioles (Writers' and Artists' recipes)

A Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline favicon icon.Omlette Aurore by Alice B. Toklas, Artists' and Writers' Recipes

Newer Article: The Collectability of Proofs and other Types of Advance Editions


Older Article: Beef Burgundy, Crackling Bread, Pice Ar Y Maen, Sevillian Yellow Plum Conserve, and Les Ioles (Writers' and Artists' recipes)

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Christmas holiday food and drink from the works of Charles Dickens by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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