Want to add a Regency flavor to your Christmas dinner? I am here to help!
Then, as now, food and dining with family was the center of the day itself. For your dinner entrée try to hunt down – literally or figuratively – goose, pheasant, venison, or a beef haunch. The butcher will probably call Bedlam if you ask for peacock or swan, but you can give it a go! Turkeys were served, so you are okay there, but not as the main meat focal point. If you are so fortunate as to snag a boar’s head be sure to have fresh rosemary and basil adorning his head, and apple in his mouth, and a silver platter to carry him in on.
Accompanying the meal must be a mincemeat pie. Over time the meat declined as the main ingredient in favor of fruits in a brandied suet, but during the Regency meat would have been a prominent ingredient. Here is a traditional Medieval recipe. I haven’t cooked it myself, so can’t vouch for it!
2 pounds lean stew beef, mutton, venison, etc.
1-1/2 c suet or bacon grease
4 c apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
2-1/2 c raisins
1-1/2 c currants, chopped
2-1/2 c sugar
3 c pie cherries
1-1/2 pints strong cold coffee
1 pint cider or brandy
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
6 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 Tbsp. mace
1 Tbsp. allspice
Cook meat until tender. In large pan, add all ingredients except meat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add meat and stir well. Place in pie shell and top with pastry crust. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes to 1 hr, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling set. Serve hot or cold.
Equally essential to the meal is the Christmas pudding. Also called plum pudding, this culinary treat can be either a dessert or meaty dish depending on the ingredients, and has a history spanning hundreds of years. A true English original, the pudding began as a porridge called frumenty made from boiling meat with various fruits, spices, and wine. It really was a soup that later evolved into a thickened pudding by adding eggs and raw grains. By the 16-th century it was a Christmas dish tradition, but was banned in 1664 by the Puritans who labeled it a “lewd custom unfit for God-fearing people” due to the rich ingredients liberally including liquor! In 1714 George I reestablished the dish as part of the Christmas feast - to the verbal dismay of the Quakers. Recipes varied widely and the dish evolved continually, so there really is no such thing as a “standard” recipe. A simple Google search will yield dozens of results, but here is the recipe from Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 “The Book of Household Management” --
5 oz breadcrumbs
4 oz of plain flour
4 oz chopped suet (raw beef or mutton fat)
4 oz currants
4 oz raisins
4 oz soft brown moist sugar
2 oz candied lemon peel
2 oz raw grated carrot
1 teaspoon grated rind of lemon
half teaspoon nutmeg grated
1 teaspoon baking powder
about quarter pint of milk
Mix all the dry ingredients together except the baking powder.
Add the beaten eggs and sufficient milk to moisten the whole, then cover, and let the mixture stand for about an hour.
When ready stir in the baking powder, turn into a greased mould or basin, and boil for 6 hours or steam the plum pudding for about 7 hours. Sufficient for 9 persons.
For ambience have a trio of minstrels playing in the background, preferably on a harp, lute, and guitar. Be sure to wash your meal down with a brimming mug of wassail. Sometimes referred to as “lamb’s wool” when heavy on the apple cider and the apple pulp rises to the surface, wassail is the quintessential holiday beverage in England. Again, recipes abound since each family pridefully concocted their unique wassail and guarded the secret zealously. The only constants were liquor of some kind as the base, serving it in an enormous bowl to communally dip one’s mug into or drink directly from, toasted bread floating atop to soak up the liquid, and lifting your glass heavenward and shouting “waes hae” – meaning, be healthy. And, yes, this is the genesis of “toasting.”
8 sm. apples, cored
2 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3 qt. ale or beer
1 fifth sweet sherry (or rum, brandy, wine, etc.)
4 slices fresh ginger
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. mace
4 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
6 eggs, separated
1 c. brandy, heated
8 slices buttered toast
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place apples in baking dish and sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar. Bake 30 minutes. In large saucepan, heat ale or beer and sherry, remaining brown sugar and spices tied in a bag. Using a large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into yolks. Slowly add liquid to eggs by tablespoons until about 1 cup has been added, then add remaining liquid in slow, steady stream beating well with whisk. Place baked apples in heated punch bowl, add liquid and stir in brandy. Serve at once with buttered toast quarters to float or dip in wassail.
Bon appétit! And, Merry Christmas!