|Some 19th century Christmas foods|
Whether you are cooking dinner yourself, visiting others, or dining out, food plays an important role in our modern celebration of Christmas. Christmases past were no exception. Having a huge meal was a way of celebrating not only the holiday, but also the bounty that had been put away for winter eating. A truly sumptuous feast would be placed on the table for family and guests. In addition to several main courses and fancy desserts, strong beverages were plentiful. Meats, game, fowl, seafood (near the coast), preserved vegetables, fruits and various baked goodies all loaded down the holiday table. A traditional Christmas dinner may have included turkey, Virginia ham, roast beef, roast goose, partridges, venison and other wild game and mince pies. Oranges, lemons, apples, pears, figs, pineapples, sugared nuts, and candied fruit were available in abundance.
Much drinking took place during the holiday season. Age, sex, race, and social standing did not affect this component of holiday celebrating. Hard cider, wine, rum, whiskey and various imported and homemade alcoholic beverages would have been consumed. Nothing said "welcome" like a big bowl of punch! It is believed that the word "punch" originally meant that it contained five ingredients (rum, sugar, water, citrus, and spices.) Eggnog was also a popular drink and unlike some of the "harder" drinks, it was deemed suitable for ladies. They would often start serving eggnog before breakfast and continue throughout the day. To say that folks got a wee bit tipsy is probably an understatement! Here is my favorite quote taken from a young lady's diary about overindulgence during the holiday season: "Ches, Bettie and I have a joyful eggnog drink--I really got tight." **
I have quite a collection of 19th century cookbooks and there are many recipes for various alcoholic drinks. In almost every one that I own, a recipe for "Roman Punch" is included. Here is a version from a cookbook originally published in 1839:
Roman Punch"Take twelve fine lemons, and two oranges, roll them on a table under your hand, to increase the juice, and pare off the yellow rinds. Put them into four quarts of water, and boil them till the liquid is reduced to three quarts; then take out the parings, dissolve in the water three pounds of loaf sugar, and set it by to cool. Mix in the whites of two eggs, boil it up again, simmer it well, and strain it, and cool it; then mix in the juice of the lemons and oranges, and stir in gradually one quart of rum or rectified whisky." (from: Bryan, Lettice, The Kentucky Housewife. Cincinnati: Stereotyped by Shepard & Stearns, 1839, p. 406).
Other popular punch recipes include eggnog and wassail. There are also numerous recipes for cordials, beers, and wines. If you have the opportunity, please browse through any 19th century cookbooks that you encounter. The food is decadent and absolutely delicious! (Many 19th century cookbooks have been reprinted, so they are available in bookstores and libraries.)
I hope that everyone has a wonderful, tasty Christmas dinner!
**the above quote is from: Baird, Nancy Chappelear, ed. Journals of Amanda Virgina Edmonds, p. 64. (as quoted in Four Centuries of Virginia Christmas.) Ms. Edmonds was from Fauquier County, Virginia and was born in 1839.