After attending church the featured event was Christmas dinner. Evergreens, flowers, and the best china and linens graced the dining room table.. Christmas wasn't the mercantile occasion that would cause merchants to stock up goods. It was more about food than gifts, because what you gave to one another or to your friends was a feast.
The Christmas dinner was one of the high points of the day. A large meal, was served and after dinner there might be fireworks, and most certainly singing and games. When the Victorians sat down to Christmas dinner, what did they eat? Victorian feasts were sumptuous. There would certainly have been a fowl of some kind, maybe a goose. There would have been a pudding. In a more affluent home, there might have been a clear turtle soup. Menus varied according to country and region. Some of the menu items the Victorians dined upon included roasted goose, standing rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, a boar's head, turkey, ham, oysters, dressing, potatoes, cranberry pie, mince pie, and plum pudding. When Victoria came to the throne, the center piece of the Christmas feast, in the North, was most likely to be roast beef while the goose was the traditional fare of the South.
The serving of the pudding was one of the great rituals of the Victorian Christmas dinner; indeed it was almost as much a ceremony as the creation of the pudding. The plum pudding, made up of suet, bread crumbs, raisins, and spices, was a family effort. On Stir-Up Sunday at the beginning of Advent, each family member took a turn a beating the pudding, making a wish, and stirring clockwise for good luck. Then a ring, coin, or thimble was tossed into the batter.
Until Christmas Day the pudding hung from a sack, then it was boiled in beef broth for eight hours. After dinner it was turned out on a platter, topped with a sprig of holly, set alight, and carried into the dining room.
The head of the household sliced and served it, asking a blessing on all who prepared it. Biting into the portion with the ring meant marriage; the coin, wealth; and the thimble, a happy but single life.
Could there ever be a "bad" Christmas pudding? It seems most unlikely; for the ritual surrounding it and the joy of the occasion was such as to guarantee its success, no matter how poor the household in which it was served. In addition to the plum pudding, of course, Christmas cake and mince pies were also popular.
Here are some modern recipes for traditional Victorian fare.
Note: You will need an 8 C pudding container i.e. a Round metal bowl,a cover, Steamer basket trivet or Rack and a roomy soup kettle Count on steaming pudding For at least 6 hours
3 cups Crumbs from good quality White bread lightly packed (about 1/2 loaf)
1 cup Each of raisins,yellow raisins Currants chopped
1 1/3 cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Each of mace cinnamom & nutmeg
8 oz Butter melted
4 large Eggs lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon Almond extract
1/2 cup Bitter orange marmelade
1/2 cup Rum or bourbon heated Slighlty before serving
2 cups Zabaione Sauce **
Holly sprigs to garnish (optional)
Toss the crumbs in a large mixing bowl along with the two types of raisins, currants,sugar and spices. Then toss with the melted butter and all remaining ingredients except for the holly,rum/bourbon and zabaione. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed. Pack mixture into the container and cover with roundof wax paper and lid. Set the continer on steaming device and add enough water to come up 1/3 up the sides of puding container. Cover kettle tightly bring to a simmer and let steam for 6 hours,checking water level now and then. Pudding is done when dark walnut brown in color and fairly firm to touch. Let pudding cool and then store in a wine cellar or the fridge. At least two hours before serving resteam the pudding. Unmold onto a hot flameproof serving platter and decorate with the holly. Bring to table along with the warmed booze and pour booze around pudding. Ignite and let flame.Serve with the zabaione.
Here is the recipe for Plum Pudding taken from "The American Domestic Cook Book For 1868"
Plum Pudding - Take half a pound of flour, half a pound of raisins, stoned and chopped, and some currants washed picked and dried; use milk enough to stir easily with a spoon; add half a pound of suet chopped fine, a teaspoonful of salt, and four well beaten eggs; tie it in a floured cloth, and boil four hours. The water must boil when you put it in, and continue boiling until it is done.
To have a proper Victorian Christmas feast, you must have roast goose with the classic sage and onion dressing. The onions are parboiled first, so the stuffing will be pleasantly mild, and with the addition of apples, it is milder still.
9 pound goose 2 teaspoons coarse salt
For The Stuffing:
3 medium onions, peeled
4 large apples, peeled, cored & chopped (use tart apples, Granny Smith are best)
2 tablespoons loosely packed dried sage leaves, crumbled
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, cut into tiny bits
Garnishes: sliced apples, parsley or watercress
For The Brown Gravy:
Gizzard, neck, heart, liver and wing tips of the goose, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1-2 tablespoons rendered goose fat or cooking oil
3 cups stock or beef bouillon
½ bay leaf
3 sprigs parsley
Salt & pepper to taste
For The Port Wine Sauce
½ cup port
1 teaspoon mustard
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
Rub inside of goose with salt and set aside.
Parboil onion in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and, when cool enough to handle, chop them finely.
In large bowl, combine onions, chopped apples, sage, pepper and butter. Stuff cavity of goose and Sew or skewer the openings and truss in the usual way.
Roast goose at 450 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and turn the goose onto its side. After 1 hour, turn goose onto its other side. For the final 15 minutes, roast goose on its back. Baste every 20 minutes during entire roasting time. (Allow approximately 15 minutes per pound for the total weight of the stuffed goose, or 2 ½ hours for a 9 pound stuffed goose. The internal temperature should register 180 degrees when done, the legs should move up and down freely, and the juices should run a pale yellow.)
Prepare the gravy while goose is roasting. In a large saucepan, brown the goose parts, onion and carrot in the fat. When they are nicely browned, add the stock and seasonings. Simmer, partially covered, for about 1 hour, skimming occasionally. Strain, degrease and pour into a warmed sauce-boat for serving.
For the optional port wine sauce, combine the ingredients in a small saucepan. Just before serving the goose, slit open the breast and pour the sauce on top.
Makes 1 ½ quarts or 2 ¾ pounds
It is a good idea to prepare this mincemeat at least a few days in advance to give the flavors a chance to mingle.
2 large lemons
2 small tart apples, pared, cored & grated
2 cups raisins
2 cups dried currants
Generous ¼ cup coarsely chopped citron
Generous ¼ cup coarsely chopped candied orange peel
2 cups (½ pound) loosely packed grated beef kidney suet
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon mace
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup brandy
¼ pound lean round beef, ground (optional; see note)
In a small saucepan, cover the lemons with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove lemons and cut them in half and remove pits. Chop lemons finely.
In a bowl, combine the remaining ingreadients and mix very well.
Press the mincemeat into large sterile jars with tight fitting lids and store them in a cool place until needed. Should the mincemeat at any time seem dry and crumbly, perk it up by stirring in more brandy.
Note: This recipe makes enough for 2 8-inch covered pies or about 3 dozen Mince Pies Royal (see recipe). If you plan to bake the mincemeat in pies or tarts, you will find that adding the meat at the last minute enriches the flavor. If you do this, do not plan on storing the mincemeat for more than a few days in the refrigerator.
Taken from "The American Domestic Cook Book for 1868"
New Year's Cake - Seven pounds of flour, two pounds and a half of sugar, two pounds of butter, and a pint of water, with a teaspoonful of volatile salts dissolved in it. Work the paste well; roll it thin and cut it in small cakes with a tin cutter; lay them on tin plates and bake in a quick oven for fifteen minutes.