June 15, 2021

Zaika

Livingston

From boar’s head to sherry-soaked chestnuts: Christmas dishes well worth reviving

7 min read

We have the Victorians, in substantial measure, to thank for Xmas. Or at the very least the variation of it that we rejoice now. Right after all, they ended up the types who, inspired by the Xmas-crazy royal family members, religious fervour and financial expansion, normalised present-offering, Xmas trees, crackers, Father Xmas, chocolate boxes and Xmas playing cards. And, crucially, “traditional” Christmas supper.

Seasonal feasting and celebration existed extensive before the Victorians, on the other hand, and I have come to feel there are foodstuff traditions worth resuscitating from previously generations. Some of the dishes encouraged for revival listed here might problem individuals of us with no servants, but if you are traditionally curious and have time on your hands, I invite you to embrace a forgotten Xmas recipe from throughout the centuries.

A medieval Christmas. Undoubtedly, right after a calendar year of imposed restraint and repetition, we really should go the whole hog on extra and drama and embrace the medieval custom of serving a roasted boar’s head?

Medieval festivities had been celebrated around 12 days, with feasts and online games. In wealthy households, a boar’s head would be gilded with gold leaf and served surrounded by colored jellies. People of lesser means organized the head by pickling it in ale and spices, then chopping the flesh to generate possibly a thick liquid or a reliable, pâté-like brawn.

Bringing in the boar’s head on Xmas Working day. Illustration by George C Leighton c1850 © Hulton Archive/Getty Photos

Historically served with salt and mustard, brawn is almost unheard of now, but it was a mainstay of English cookery right up until the early Victorian time period. Domestic goddess Eliza Acton involves two recipes for it in her 1845 Fashionable Cookery for Private Family members.

Finding keep of a wild boar’s head is not as straightforward now as it was in medieval times, but a pig’s head will get the job done just as effectively and need to only set you back about £5. This is plainly not a single for the squeamish but, if you have the belly to shave a pig’s encounter and the persistence to bone out its abundant flesh, then it could very well become a festive staple.


The Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. There are two recipes I propose we recover from Elizabethan and Jacobean Christmas. As befits the period of time, the two are laden with sugar. This was, don’t forget, the time of European expansion to the New Planet, making misery and genocide for indigenous and enslaved populations — and bringing untold wealth and a sweet tooth to the English.

Sugar was both fantastically high priced and considered to have medicinal homes. Building sweet foods therefore served the double functionality of promising good health although also displaying wealth and position.

1st up for revival is Elizabethan “quidany”, a jelly built from boiled quince and sugar, rather like Spanish membrillo. In year from Oct to December, quince features regularly in 17th-century recipe publications. Deep, ruby-crimson quidany was set in elaborate picket moulds or shaped into small rounds like edible jewels. It could happily swap today’s High quality Street or Chocolate Orange.

Made from boiled quince and sugar, Elizabethan ‘quidany’ ‘could happily replace today’s Quality Street or Chocolate Orange’
Elizabethan ‘quidany’, manufactured from boiled quince and sugar: ‘It could happily exchange today’s Good quality Avenue or Chocolate Orange’ © DeAgostini/Getty Pictures

The other recipe is a Jacobean variation of the mince pie. Like their near cousin the Xmas pudding, mince pies date back to the early 1400s, when “pyes” or “coffyns” of tough flour paste that contains meat or fish, body fat and dried fruit doubled up as cooking and storage vessels. The suet discovered in present day mince pies is what remains of the meat in more mature variations.

Gervase Markham’s 1615 “minc’d pie” recipe in his cookery e book The English Housewife calls for a “legge of mutton” with “some Orenge-pils [orange peel] sliced” and “great Raisins and Prunes”. What passes for a mince pie now would seem positively parsimonious by comparison.


The Georgian time period. Relatively than the regular Xmas cake, think about as a substitute a Twelfth Evening Cake, which is a cake and a recreation rolled into one particular. Twelfth Night time Cake is a Georgian leavened fruitcake, so much less dense and stodgy than a Christmas cake but not as fluffy and insubstantial as a panettone. Symbolising excellent fortune, Twelfth Night time Cakes were a feature of celebrations from the 1500s, supposed to serve a significant group and integral to festive online games.

Right before the 1800s these cakes were being baked with a bean inside of. The human being who ended up with it in their slice of cake turned “King of the Bean”, allowed to rule over absolutely everyone for a night time and make their “subjects” perform pranks and tasks.

By the late 1700s, bakers and confectioners were promoting cakes together with colourful sheets of paper with satirical figures this sort of as “Gouty Roger”, “Mrs Flash-Along”, “Lady Tulip” and “Miss Gillyflower”. Partygoers would act the character on their card, in what was alternatively like a Georgian version of charades.

A Twelfth Night Cake prepared by her confectioner, Mr. Mawditt, for the Twelfth Night dinner. Printed in Illustrated London News, 13 January 1849.
Twelfth Evening Cakes have been elaborate, highly-priced — and enormous. This one, manufactured for Queen Victoria in 1849, depicted in the Illustrated London Information, was 80cm in diameter © Universal Visuals Team/Getty Illustrations or photos

Twelfth Night Cakes were being customarily tremendous, elaborate and highly-priced — Queen Victoria’s cake in 1849 was 80cm in diameter, and even the recipe in John Mollard’s 1802 The Artwork of Cookery Manufactured Quick and Refined calls for 7 lbs . of flour. About time, the Twelfth Evening Cake was outdated by Xmas cake, which could be produced in a domestic oven. Even so, a gentle, big fruity cake like a recreation sounds like a tradition value resuscitating and begs the concern: who is the present day-working day equal of Gouty Roger?


Victorian Xmas. Inspite of our devotion to Victoriana, there are at the very least two 19th-century traditions we have neglected — the cold sideboard and the Xmas pie. In substantial houses, through the festive interval, the eating-area sideboard would be retained stocked with pickles, hams, pressed tongue, brawn, spiced beef and cheese. It was a seasonal indication of welcome and hospitality. Devoid of central heating, rooms were being cold sufficient for meals to sit out without having spoiling, so these delectable treats were being on hand for grazing and could be applied to feed any unpredicted people.

The centrepiece of the sideboard would be a Christmas pie, occasionally identified as Yorkshire pie. This beast of a pasty was meant to be eaten step by step over the duration of festivities and was invariably sumptuous and ornate.

Charles Elme Francatelli, a person-time chef to Queen Victoria, has a recipe from 1846 for just one that necessitates a turkey, a goose, a brace of young pheasants, four partridges, 4 woodcocks, a dozen snipes, 4 grouse and four widgeons, a compact York ham and two tongues baked with forcemeat in a sizzling-crust pastry. Your butcher might require advance warning.

Yorkshire pie with aspic jelly. Chromolithograph from Cassell’s Book of the Household (London, c1895).
The Yorkshire pie was ‘a beast of a pastry’ meant to previous the length of the festivities © Universal Historical past Archive/Getty Photos

The early 20th century. Today, chestnuts attribute together with sprouts and stuffing, but cookery textbooks from the early 1920s and 1930s counsel how this winter season nut should add a lot more to the festive menu.

While the Victorian fashion for lavish, official entertaining amongst rich circles lasted properly into the 20th century, by the 1920s cooking experienced come to be noticeably fewer extravagant. Complex French dishes demanding times of labour fell out of favour. A new era of cookery writers appeared to regional British foods for inspiration, with recipes that prioritised flavour, simplicity and seasonality.

The Light Art of Cookery (1925) by hostess, herbalist and cookery author Hilda Leyel, is a case in position. She features no less than 26 recipes for chestnuts. “Chicken liver and chestnut sandwich” and “chestnut salad” sound perfect for a Boxing Day buffet.

And how about “hot chestnuts and prunes” soon after Xmas evening meal? Cooked chestnuts soaked with prunes, cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice and a “wineglassful of sherry” and served warm “in a silver dish”? It appears like a more digestible way to stop a intestine-busting retro feast than stodgy Xmas pudding.


The kitsch 1960s. There was a quick window in the second 50 % of the 20th century when the housewife dominated supreme in the domestic kitchen area. Just before then, she’d experienced to cede command of her larder to the federal government, thanks to rationing and war-induced austerity.

A festive buffet from the 1960s, Smorgasbord hors d’oeuvres with Christmas apple tree and penguins made from hard-boiled eggs
A festive buffet from the 1960s, with Christmas apple tree and penguins built from really hard-boiled eggs © ClassicStock/Getty Photos

But when the Ministry of Food items eventually departed and 1960s prosperity kicked in, the nation was gripped by a cult of domesticity.

In homage to this instant, why not embrace 1960s kitsch and crack out the piping bag and gelatin? Why not, for occasion, vogue penguins out of boiled eggs and black olives? Or how about Ham Cornets, as advised for a Boxing Day buffet by the 1967 Cordon Bleu Cookery Training course, an important monthly publication for aspirational housewives? These are slices of ham rolled into cones piped with pâté de foie, béchamel sauce, sherry and product.

Or why not attempt the Cordon Bleu Boxing Working day Egg Mousse, produced with béchamel, 12 tricky-boiled eggs, cream and gelatin and decorated with ribbons of cucumber? In accordance to the Cordon Bleu, this kinds section of a “light” and “quick” menu, which indicates the terms have changed this means in the intervening a long time. What has not altered is the simple fact that a pâté-stuffed cornet of ham or cake-sized chilly mousse would seem superior in any Boxing Working day buffet.

Polly Russell is a curator at the British Library @PollyRussell1 Instagram: the_record_cook dinner

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