Today, we’re going to take a step back in time and explore the history of… The Christmas dinner. Yes, really. Turkey, trimmings, pudding – the lot. Read on…
Prior to the Victoria era, wealthy families would tuck into joints of beef, rabbit or goose on Christmas Day (remember Scrooge sending the Cratchitt family a goose in A Christmas Carol?). However, Queen Victoria and her family introduced turkey to the Christmas menu, and families across the UK were quick to copy the royal eating habits. Around 150 years later, 90% of us tuck into turkey on Christmas Day.
You either love ’em or hate ’em – but either way, the sprout is here to stay. Having been in favour for around 400 years, the green veg first became popular in the Netherlands before being exported overseas. The Victorians were also – shudder – prone to the odd sprout sandwich, too; in her Modern Cookery For Private Families (1845), Eliza Acton recommended people to ‘throw [the sprouts] into a pan of water properly salted, and boil them quickly from eight to ten minutes; drain them well, and serve them upon a rather thick round of toasted bread buttered on both sides’. Yum…
Ever since the Romans crammed dead dormice with herbs and spices, we’ve all been a little obsessed with stuffing. The genteel Victorians renamed it ‘dressing’, although it was basically the same then as it is now: a mix of vegetables, herbs and spices, enticingly cooked together until crispy.
This originated in the Medieval Age, when the RC Church decreed that households should make a pudding containing precisely 13 ingredients (so as to represent Jesus and his 12 apostles). The tradition stated that each person in each home should take it in turns to stir the pudding from east to west, so as to honour the wisemen. After going through a mushy, porridge-like phase in the 18th century, the Christmas pud then upgraded to its current guise: harder, rounder and fruitier than its fore-puddings. Some people still hide silver tokens inside their puddings: traditionally, these were used to represent what the recipient could expect throughout the year.
The mince pie is, perhaps, the most controversial of the Christmas dishes. Dating back to the Medieval crusades, these pastry-covered delicacies originally contained mutton mixed with spices. They were banned by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans during the 17th century, who imposed a law against festive gluttony. However, they were brought back by popular demand, and by the Victorian age had been transformed into the sweet, crumbly treat that we know today.