Ah, the magic of a Victorian Christmas dinner! Conjuring to mind a roasted goose and flaming plum pudding, it’s the stuff of storybook Christmases. Of course, it’s also the stuff of cookbook Christmases. And if you were a middle-class woman in Victorian times, you simply had to have a copy of Mrs. Beeton’s best seller, The Book of Household Management (1861).
The book was an enormous success for its 25-year-old author, selling around 60,000 copies. And, among other practical advice for running a household, it include festive recipes for a perfect Victorian Christmas dinner.
In December, the principal household duty lies in preparing for the creature comforts of those near and dear to us, so as to meet old Christmas with a happy face, a contented mind, and a full larder; and in stoning the plums, washing the currants, cutting the citron, beating the eggs, and mixing the pudding, a housewife is not unworthily greeting the genial season of all good things.
— Mrs. Beeton
Main courses for a Victorian Christmas dinner
Lamb, very spicy potted ham, and roast goose are super tasty choices, but of course the “noble dish” is turkey! In Mrs. Beeton’s words, for the Victorian middle class, “it would scarcely be a Christmas dinner” without turkey. Stuff it with meat and herbs, gradually place it near the fire and there you go! Additionally, fried sausages or “meatballs” made of stuffing make a great side dish.
And a good carver is much needed, too, because skills in carving thin slices are necessary to feed all the guests. But don’t worry about the leftovers, since you can make very nice turkey soup with them! Just add some stock and Harvey’s sauce to the pieces of meat, boil the mixture and you’ll have another nice dish.
However fancy it may be, roast turkey for a Victorian Christmas dinner sounds pretty boring, though. So, why not add some excitement to the main course? Mrs. Beeton suggests a vintage touch: the boar’s head. Not much is needed to prepare it: place the boar’s head on a silver plate, and have a procession of trumpet players and servants preceding its entrance. The plate will be carried by a very important guest.
Desserts might not be noble dishes, but they’ll surely cheer everyone up, especially the “Christmas plum pudding.” It’s the perfect dessert to offer on the big day, but it is not something you can make just moments before the guests arrive… it takes a few days for it to be ready! After boiling a mixture of dried fruit, suet, eggs (eight per pudding!) for five or six hours, hang the pudding to allow any excess water to drain until Christmas Day. And on that day, an additional two-hour boiling is required before placing the pudding on a plate, and here comes the best part: pour some brandy around the dessert and… light it up! Special effects to end a Victorian Christmas dinner in style!
Mrs. Beeton even suggests you make a few puddings, should unexpected guests show up. Imagine the amount of eggs you’ll need in that case!
Do you think you might want to give these dishes a try? I definitely would, I just need to perfect my carving skills!
Editor’s note: For more info about favorite Victorian Christmas foods, out Episode 27 of Christmas Past to learn all about fruitcake.