THE REGENCY CHRISTMAS FEAST
Christmas celebrations are as individual and personal as the family. Each family has its own favorite traditions and recipes handed down through the generations, or perhaps some begun anew by the younger set. Yet, everyone seems to fall back on the customs and heritage native to their country. The English are no different.
A family of the Regency era may have chosen to celebrate with relatives only, or perhaps elected to dine with close friends. Either way, several foods formed the staple of their Christmas Dinner.
Roast Beef and Venison were the mainstay of the dinner, supported by goose, capon, pheasant, bustard, swan and/or peacock. The goose held sway until well into the 19th century. It wasn't until mid-century that turkey overtook goose in popularity and became the standard Christmas meat with Victorians. Households with small ovens couldn't cook their own meat, however. So they had bakers cook their birds and roasts, then they picked up their dinner on the way home from church services. Vegetables such as potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots, supplemented the meal, as did stuffing for the fowl.
A second staple was the Mince or Christmas pie. Actual recipes varied by region, but ingredients usually included beef, suet, sugar, raisins, lemons, spices, orange peel, goose, tongue, fowls, eggs, apples and brandy. This was also called Twelfth Night Pie because it was originally made with the leftovers of the Christmas dinner. The pies were eaten every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas to ensure good luck for the twelve months of the new year. But the pies must be offered by friends and baked in dozens to strengthen the charm.
Finally, and perhaps the most popular of English dishes, was Christmas pudding. This was a mixture of thirteen ingredients (to represent Christ and the twelve apostles) which was boiled in a pudding cloth. Usual ingredients included suet, brown sugar, raisins, currants, citron, lemon and orange peels, spices, crumbs, flour, eggs, milk and brandy.
Gingerbread was another Christmas dessert, as were butter shortbread, trifle and syllabub (a milk, brandy and wine concoction originally drunk, but later whipped and gelled for eating.) Sugar plums and ginger nuts were favorites of the children.
Since water was not safe to drink, wine was served with the meal. For the heartier, there was the wassail bowl, a mixture of beer, sherry, sugar and spices. The actual recipe varied by region and family, individual preferences altering the recipes over the centuries.
Christmas Dinner was served about 4:00 p.m. Then, during the evening, a toast was made to the season. This often included the servants, as they received their Christmas gifts at this time. The children sang carols for entertainment.
Here is a recipe for a traditional Christmas Pudding:
The English Royal Family's Christmas Pudding
1 1/4 lb. Suet
Prepare all ingredients, well whip the eggs, add to milk, and thoroughly mix. Let stand for 12 hours in a cool place, add brandy and put into well-greased basins and boil 8 hours or longer. Sufficient for twenty to twenty-eight people.
Discovering Christmas Customs and Folklore by Margaret Baker, Buckinghamshire, Shire Publications, 1994.
Jane Austen's Town and Country Style by Susan Watkins, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1990.
Food In England, by Dorothy Hartley, London, Futura Publications, 1985.
Some of these books are available for purchase in our on-linebookstore in the non-fiction section.
Also see theResearching the Romance page of Literary Liaisons for more suggestions.
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