The British Middle-class Victorians loved their food. In Australia, we tend to mock English food for being stodgy and soggy and unappetising; after all, we have the largest range of seasonal vegetables in the world, and have the best fisheries on the planet, and grow top quality meat animals. In Australia, Christmas dinner at my house tends to be a bizarre mixture of tradition English dishes like roast ham and apricot-stuffed chicken, and summer foods like cold seafood and a huge selection of salads, followed by a steamed Christmas pudding, and a pavlova with fruit salad, and ice-cream for the kiddies. My family thinks we are going the whole hog … but in the Victorian era the range of meat dishes would have been tenfold, but salads wouldn’t have been featured, and the pudding selections would would have been more complicated than fruit salad.
Historically, Christmas food is always lavish and extravagant. In Victorian times, Christmas dinner might include turtle soup, a fish dish, a roasted fowl or a roasted goose, steak and kidney pudding, standing rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, a boars head, cured ham, roasted turkey, oysters, potatoes, pies like cranberry and mince, and – of course – plum pudding. The roasted goose would be served with sage and onion dressing. There would be a multitude of side dishes, pickles, jams and jellies, all with their special serving silverware. There would be a cheese board and other savouries as one of the courses of the meal. There would be nuts and a nut cracker to amuse the children.
To accompany the meals there would be hot punch, sherry, mulled wines, wines, sherbets, tea, and coffee, with brandy to accompany the cheese platter, and brandy for the men to drink with their pipes and cigars after the meal.
For the delight of the children, there would sweets and desserts. Candied citrus peel was a seasonal favourite, and peppermint candy canes became popular in the second half of the 19th century. Christmas cakes and biscuits would have abounded. For a more comprehensive discussion of Victorian lollies and sweets, please refer to my previous blog: https://cogpunksteamscribe.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/the-lollies-and-sweets-of-the-victorian-era-a-steampunk-perspective/
Neo-Victorians – and other Steampunk enthusiasts – don’t have to have quite such an elaborate banquet. However, if you want to emulate a proper Victorian Christmas dinner, rather than having one single main dish to dominate the table, aim to have a selection of dainty and delectable dishes that everyone can take a small portion from with ease. Think of the dégustation platters that you can obtain at fine restaurants, yum cha meals, or tapas in Spanish cuisine. You don’t want to fill up on a huge steak; you want ten mouthfuls of interesting textures and flavours. Don’t forget to provide side dishes and condiments, and provide a range of festive drinks.
If you don’t know your guests, take care to provide a range of dietary options for vegetarians and food allergies.
As a suggested menu:
- Start with a light but flavoursome soup, like a fish bisque or/and mushroom soup;
- the ‘fish’ dish might be prawns (an Australian tradition) or a braised whole white-fleshed fish, and for vegetarians there could be avocado sushi;
- a range of unusual and festive pies: turkey with cranberry & chilli jam, lamb with fruit mince & rosemary, chicken with pistachios and orange sauce, pear and caramelised onions;
- a selection of sliced roast meats;
- mini pizzas with a range of exotic toppings: roast sweet potato, roast onion, and lemon mayonnaise is a personal favourite (get creative);
- a selection of vegetable dishes, like roast broccoli with sesame seeds, honeyed carrots, steamed green beans, a tomato tossed salad;
- a cheese and nut platter, with a range of biscuits and pickles;
- a fruit platter
- a range of bite-sized desserts like tiny muffins, tiny steamed puddings, and Christmas cupcakes.
And may I wish all of you the very best of the season celebrations.