What holiday is more joyous and exciting than Christmas? There is no other festival on earth that is celebrated by so many people for so many centuries and in so many lands! And among all the wonders of Christmas, what do most of us look forward to most? The food! All the special traditional dishes we get to enjoy only at holiday time! The time when we look into our recipe boxes and books and bring out our Favorite Christmas Recipes. Yum! Yum! We can't wait!
The kitchen is the heart of the home, and it is there that so many of our warm, loving holiday memories are formed. Food plays such an important role in creating the Christmas atmosphere! And especially, delicious dishes made from Christmas recipes that we use only during the holiday season.
Christmas Dinner in Medieval England
I have done some research on what was eaten at some of the earliest Christmas celebrations and when and how some of these traditional Christmas foods came about; foods such as roast turkey, plum pudding, mince pie, wassail, etc. Medieval England's Christmas banquets were incredible! There were often 12 or more different courses. Before the feast began, guests drank from the wassail bowl of hot spiced ale. Wassail recipes use almost any combination of fruit juices, ale, wine, spirits and spices. Sometimes egg and cream were added. Roasted apples were floated on the surface and often nuts or toast pieces. See the bottom of this page for the recipe for wassail.
“Wassail” each guest would cry out, meaning “here's to you” or “to your health”! This is how the term “toasting” came to be: It was named after real bits of toast garnishing the top of the wassail brew. They absorbed enough flavor to make them a delicacy worth a special blessing. The blessings, or “toasts” became more clever as the party went on and toasting became a popular ceremony of pleasantry and well wishing.
While the wealthy hosted lavish Christmas parties, the poor went door to door with their cups or bowls singing carols and hoping to have their cups filled with wassail or to be given some other treat. They would sing “Here We Come A-Wassailing”, a carol that is still sung today. English farmers carried the wassail bowl to the barn and drank toasts to the health of their cattle. Some even wassailed their beehives, fields and trees by pouring cider around the roots.
In the 16th Century the boar's head was established as a most important Christmas dish by King Henry VIII of England. It was roasted with a lemon in its mouth which was the symbol of plenty. A man of outstanding virtue and courage was chosen to carve it. Three birds that were very popular to serve at Medieval English feasts were: the swan, the peacock and the pheasant. Suckling pigs were also popular. Roasted peacock was served with its crested head still erect and its brilliant feather plume in place. The peacock was served by the most distinguished or the most charming lady. She was accompanied by carolers and minstrels as she carried out the dish. Knights of the court went up, one by one, to take a “Peacock Vow” which pledged brave deeds on behalf of his lord and lady.
In Europe, turkeys were unknown until the 16th Century when Spanish explorers brought some over from Mexico. Because it was so hard to transport turkeys, they were very expensive – sometimes costing what many earned all year. Consequently, the well-to-do were mainly the ones with turkey glorifying their holiday table. When roads and better storage methods had been devised, turkeys became much more affordable. In time, turkey grew to be more popular than any other type of meat or fowl. The high proportion of meat to unusable bone and fat makes it an ideal bird for a feast.
During the 17th Century, English settlers took some prime specimens of turkey when they came to America and that is why its been on our Thanksgiving and Christmas table here in America ever since. The Indians told the Pilgrims that the “red berries” in the bogs around Plymouth were good to eat. From then on, turkey was often eaten with cranberry sauce, one of the few native American Christmas foods. Most of the Christmas traditions were brought to America by those coming from other countries to settle in the “New World”. Not all of the colonists celebrated Christmas on the same date and some settlers, because of their religious beliefs, did not observe the holiday at all. (The Puritans being one of them.)
This recipe makes one (9 inch) pie. Use the same recipe for pie crust as for the pumpkin pie above. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 (9-inch) unbaked pastry shell
Combine the eggs, sugar, salt, butter, corn syrup, vanilla and flour. Beat well. Stir in the pecans. Pour filling into the pastry-lined pie pan and bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool before cutting. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.