Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Taste of Traditional English Christmas Dinner

Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol
Title: Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas
Carol | Date: 1843 | Artist: John Leech | This work is in the public 
domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright
term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.” ~ A Christmas Carol', by Charles Dickens

According to biographer, Peter Ackroyd, our modern concept of a wintry snow covered Christmas is the invention of Charles Dickens*.  Perhaps that's why I've always mentally associated my fantasized version of the ideal Christmas with the traditional British Victorian template complete with caroling, parlor games, greeting cards, brightly wrapped packages, dances/parties, and spiced wines.  Of course, no vision of Christmas is complete without the quintessential Christmas Dinner.

When I think of an prototypical Christmas dinner, I picture a feast worthy of Downton Abbey, but with enough familiar dishes to make Bob Cratchit feel at home. The affair begins with drinks such as eggnog and mulled wine, with hot chocolate for the kids, served alongside a cheese platter and a smoked salmon platter while guests mingle.

Once everyone's seated, a parsnip soup with crème fraiche would be served.  The soup course would, naturally, be followed by a traditional Christmas Salad of mixed greens, toasted almonds, red onion, and crumbled blue cheese tossed in a fresh cranberry dressing.

The main course would feature either roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding or roast goose with chestnut stuffing. Either pièce de résistance would be accompanied by glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, pigs in blankets (bacon & sausage rolls), and dinner rolls dripping with butter.

Such a meal should be rounded out with plum pudding and/or figgy pudding, with hard sauce dressing either selection.  To those with room, a final dessert of Christmas mince pies and coffee would be served.

Each course would, certainly, be served with appropriate pairings of red or white wine, with milk for the kids.

As I said, this is my version of the ideal holiday feast, based upon Victorian British standards and recipes.  For readers wishing to put a meal like this together, below I've linked each dish/piece of the meal to the best recipes I could find online, except for the cheese platter, which I outlined myself.  Because the recipes are from various sources, they reflect different serving sizes, but with a bit of math they should be easy adjust to fit the same meal.
Mulled Wine

Hot Chocolate (for the kids)

Cheese Plate
Title: The French know how to construct a Cheese Plate | Date: 09/16/2007 | Photographer: Chris Buecheler from New York, USA | This image is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Smoked Salmon Platter
Cheese Platter - Feature three cheeses, each representing a different milk and level of hardness.  Thus, a plate displaying; Smoked Cheddar (semi-hard cow's milk cheese), Roquefort (semi-soft sheep's milk cheese), Goat Brie (soft goat's milk cheese), some neutrally flavored crackers/toast points, slices of green pear or apple, and some salty nuts; will keep your guests stomachs from growling until the soup is served.
Melba Toast (Serve with either platter)

Parsnip Soup with Crème Fraiche

Christmas Salad
Christmas Goose Title: Christmas Goose | Date: 12/01/2004 | Photographer: Jürgen Howaldt | This image is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Shasre Alike 2.0 Germany license.
Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding
or Roast Goose with Chestnut Stuffing
Marsala Glazed Carrots with Hazelnuts
Mashed Potatoes with Roast Beef Gravy
or Port Sauce from the Goose
Pigs in Blankets (Bacon & Sausage Rolls)
Dinner Rolls with Butter
Bottles of Red and White Wine

Christmas Pudding
Title: Christmas pudding with flaming rum | Date: 12/01/2011 | Photographer: Jay Springett from London | This image is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Shasre Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Plum Pudding 
Figgy Pudding
Hard Sauce (Can top either pudding) 

Christmas Mince Pies

Merry Christmas!

*Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990. 

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