Regency Christmas Traditions: The Christmas Feast

Regency Christmas TraditonsThough the Christmas feast was a high point in the festivities, other balls and parties, especially on Twelfth Night placed many demands on the Regency kitchen.

 

So many guests could require a tremendous amount of food to be kept on hand. All this celebrating could leave a hostess utterly overwhelmed and exasperated by the end of the season.

A wide variety of dishes would be prepared, but a few were particularly favored and iconic.

Boar’s Head and Brawn 

Wild boar was a most feared animal. Its presence at a meal represented the victory of good over evil. Since wild boar became extinct in Britain during the 17th century a pig’s head was typically substituted.

During the Regency, brawn was a favorite Christmas treat. Recipes for it are reminiscent of modern headcheese featuring ox feet and pork belly boiled and chilled and sauced.

To make Sham Brawn

TAKE the belly piece, and head of a young pork, rub it well with salt-petre, let it lie three or four days, wash it clean; boil the head, and take off all the meat, and cut it in pieces , have four neat’s feet boiled tender, take out the bones, and cut it in thin slices, and mix it with the head, and lay it in the belly-piece, and roll it up tight, and bind it round with sheet-tin, and boil it four hours; take it up, and set it on one end, put a trencher on it within the tin, and a large weight upon that, and let it stand all night; in the morning take it out, and bind it with a fillet; put it in spring-water and salt, and it will be fit for use. When you use it, cut it in slices life brawn. Garnish with parsley. Observe to change the pickle every four or five days, and it will keep a long time. ~From Hannah Glasse

Christmas Goose

For most of the 19th century goose the featured poultry of Christmas dinner. Though not so difficult to prepare, the size of the bird often posed challenges for more modest kitchens. Local bakers provided a solution, roasting birds for customers to pick up on their way home from church on Christmas day. Apparently ‘take out’ food is not a new idea.

Mince Meat Pie/ Twelfth Night Pie

Mince_PieMost also considered mince meat pies, also known as Christmas or Twelfth Night pies staples for a Christmas feast. Recipes varied by region, but usually included beef, poultry and other meats, suet, sugar, raisins or currants, spices, orange and lemon peel, eggs, apples and brandy. Leftovers from the Christmas feast would be used to make pies for the twelve days until Epiphany. Eating minced pie every day of the twelve days of Christmas was said to bring twelve months of happiness in the new year. To strengthen the charm, the pies must be baked by the dozen and offered by friends.

Plum Pudding

The last Sunday in November was known as Stir Up Sunday. On this day, the family would gather to make Christmas puddings which needed to age before they were served at Christmas dinner. The day became known as “Stir Up Sunday,” not because of the great deal of stirring done, but because the opening words of the main prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 for that day are: ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people…’ (Read a Stir it Up Sunday scene here.)

Christmas pudding was prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles then stirred up all family members who must take a hand in the stirring, using a special wooden spoon (in honor of Christ’s crib and stable). The stirring must be done clockwise, from east to west to honor the journey of the Magi, with eyes shut, while making a secret wish. After the family stirred the pudding, tiny charms might be added to the pudding to reveal their finders’ fortune. The pudding was steamed in a cloth bag, then hung up to dry on hooks for weeks prior to serving in order to enhance the flavor.

Once dried, they were wrapped in alcohol-soaked cheese cloth, stored in earthenware/crockery, and placed somewhere cool for the duration. More alcohol may have been added during this period. The puddings might also have been sealed against air with suet or wax to aid in preservation. When served, they were typically set aflame.

Black Butter

Black butter was another traditional treat, mentioned in a letter of Jane Austen’s. It sounds rather unappealing until you realize that black butter contains no butter at all. It is a fruit preserve much like today’s apple butter.

This is thought to be Jane Austen’s recipe for Black Butter.

Take 4 pounds of full ripe apples, and peel and core them. Meanwhile put into a pan 2 pints of sweet cider, and boil until it reduces by half. Put the apples, chopped small, to the cider. Cook slowly stirring frequently, until the fruit is tender, as you can crush beneath the back of a spoon. Then work the apple through a sieve, and return to the pan adding 1lb beaten (granulated) sugar and spices as following, 1 teaspoon clove well ground, 2 teaspoons cinnamon well ground, 1 saltspoon allspice well ground.

Cook over low fire for about ¾ hour, stirring until mixture thickens and turns a rich brown. Pour the butter into into small clean jars, and cover with clarified butter when cold. Seal and keep for three months before using. By this time the butter will have turned almost black, and have a most delicious flavour. – Copyright Maria Hubert von Staufer March 1995

Fruit Cake

Decadent fruit cakes, whose consumption was regulated in the 18th century, were enjoyed for special occasions like Christmas. Like the yule log and yule candle, it was considered good luck to save a portion of the holiday fruit cake for the following year. The quantities of alcohol and dried fruit in the cake made it quite possible for it to last that long.

CakegingerbreadGingerbread

Another perennial favorite, gingerbread often appeared with Christmas desserts.

To make Ginger-Bread Cakes.

TAKE three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in very fine, two ounces of ginger beat fine, a large nutmeg grated.; then take a pound of treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff; roll it out, and make it up into thin wakes, cut them out with a tea-cup, or small glass; or roll them round like nuts, and bake them on tin-plates in a flack oven.~Hannah Glasse

Beverages

Not only did special dishes appear on the table for the holidays, but special beverages as well.605px-Syllabub

Syllabub

Syllabub had several forms, but in all, it was a mixture of alcohol and cream, less potent than eggnog. Some recipes call for making it directly under the cow, but Hannah Glasse recommends three different alternatives, a bit less rustic.

To make Whipped-Syllabubs

TAKE a quart of thick cream, and half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges or lemons, grate in the peel of two lemons, half a pound of double-refined sugar, pour it into a broad earthen pan, and whisk it well; but first sweeten some red-wine or sack, and fill your glasses as full as you choose, then as the froth rises, take it off with a spoon, and lay it on a sieve to drain; then lay it carefully into your glasses till they are as full as they will hold. Do not make these long before you use them: Many use. cyder sweetened, or any wine you please, or lemon, or orange whey made thus: squeeze the juice of a lemon, or orange, into a quarter of a pint of milk; when the curd is hard, pour the whey clear off, and sweeten it to your .palate. You may colour some with the juice of spinach, some with saffron, and some with cochineal, just as you fancy.


To make Everlasting Syllabubs

TAKE five half pints of thick cream, half a pint of Rhenish, half a pint of sack, and the juice of two large Seville oranges; grate in just the yellow rind of three lemons, and a pound of -double-refined sugar well beat and lifted; mix all together with a spoonful of orange-flower water; beat it well together with a whisk half an hour, then with a spoon take it off, and lay it on a sieve to drain, then fill your glasses. These will keep about a week, and is better made the day before. The best way to whip syllabub is, have a fine large chocolate mill, which you must keep on purpose, and a large deep bowl to mill them in. It is both quicker done, and the froth stronger. For the thin that is left at the bottom, have ready some calf’s-foot jelly boiled and clarified, there must be nothing but the calf’s-foot boiled to a hard jelly: when cold, take off the fit, clear it with the whites of eggs, run it through a flannel bag, and mix it with the clear, which you saved of the syllabubs. Sweeten it to your palate, and give it-a boil; then pour it into basins, or what you please. When cold, turn it out, and it is a fine flummery.

To make Solid Syllabub

TO a quart of rich cream put a pint of white-wine, the juice of two lemons, the rind of one grated, sweeten it to your taste; mill it with a chocolate mill till it is all of a thickness; then put it in glasses, or a bowl, and set it in a cool place till next day.

Punch and Wassail

MeissenpunchbowlWassail was essentially punch made with apple cider, spice, sugar, rum and brandy, often served hot. Punch was traditionally served in ceramic punch bowls which were imported into England.Punch was traditionally taken in company and usually contained large amounts of alcohol. Though the recipes varied, they generally included rum, brandy, port, fruit juice, orange, lemons and their rinds and sugar.

Prior to the 19th century, it was shared from a communal punch bowl, afterwards, it was drunk from smaller punch cups served from the larger bowl. Expensive (sugar, spices and liquor were all expensive commodities) and time consuming (hand peeling, squeezing and sieving fruits) to prepare, punch was certainly not a drink for children and could easily lead to riotous behavior in large quantities.

References

A Regency Christmas By Kieran Hazzard ©2013 2nd Bn. 95th Rifles

Black Butter: A Christmas Recipe Popular in Jane Austen’s Day 

BLACK BUTTER, A recipe from Jane Austen’s Christmas by Maria Hubert. Sutton Publishing 1996

Christmas in the Regency Jo Beverley

Celebrating a Regency Christmas by reginajeffers

Christmas Traditions in Regency England by Regan Walker

Christmas Feast Christmas Pudding

Hale, Mrs. Sarah J. Morton M’michael And Louis A. Godey. Lady’s Book, Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, Publishers’ Hall, Dec. 1860.

Jane Austen and Christmas: Mrs Musgrove’s Brawn

Jane Austen and Christmas: The Christmas Eve Dinner at Randalls 

Jane Austen and Christmas: Mr Weston’s Wine and Punch

Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. (1784) London:

Rundell, Eliza. A New System of Domestic Cookery. (1814)

Syllabub or Sillabub, Straight from the Cow: We Just Don’t Drink It Like This Any More


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6 comments

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    • Glynis on November 30, 2017 at 1:33 pm
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    Well I will definitely pass on the brawn (real or sham!) I don’t like today’s mince pies and those don’t sound much better so I will stick with roast goose followed by fruit cake or gingerbread.
    I would hope the syllabub tastes better than it sounds and someone else must make it I’m afraid. Or I will just have a nice cup of tea.

    1. I have to agree, there are a number of things on the menu that don’t sound very appealing. Syllabub intrigues, but raw, unpasteurized egg whites might be a problem. I may get some pasteurized ones to try it out.

    • Teresa Broderick on November 30, 2017 at 3:56 pm
    • Reply

    I just loved this post!!! The food of that time was so interesting. Believe it or not when I was growing up in Ireland in the seventies we always had pigs head for dinner on Saturdays. It was a very cheap cut of meat and money was very scarce. We also ate pig’s trotters or as they’re called here ‘crubeens’. I loved all this type of food. My husband shudders when I tell him these things even though he was brought up much like me. He says I have a stomach like an old horse because I’d eat anything 🙂
    However, reading about the syllabub I wonder how I would have managed now on that. I became intolerant of cow’s milk about four years ago (having been reared on it and using it for fifty one years) and I also now suffer badly from sinusitis and the cream would drive it insane. No lovely things for me anymore at Christmas. I’ve always been more of a savory person anyway so that helps.
    Brilliant post. Really enjoyed it.

    1. A lot of those ‘poor foods’ really do taste good. I love polenta, which is peasant food, although modern chefs have gotten a hold of it. Food intolerances are always tough and must have been something else back in the day.

    • J. W. Garrett on November 30, 2017 at 6:10 pm
    • Reply

    Until I started reading Regency and historical books, I had only heard of a few of these dishes and beverages. I think I will pass on something that has to store for several months before it is eaten… with no refrigeration. Nope… I’ll pass. I do appreciate you sharing with us. This was so interesting.

    1. I would too. The food poisoning potential boggles the mind!

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