With the Christmas season fast approaching, I thought I'd look into some of our early holiday customs in different areas of the country—mainly the food. Settlers coming from Europe brought their customs and food likes with them. Some stayed and others were discarded.
Reference: The Food Timeline--Historic Christmas dinner menus. The Accomplisht Cook, Robert May, facsimile 1685 edition [Prospect Books:Devon] 2000 (pages unnumbered)
In early American, it's important to remember, that in Plymouth, the pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas. But, it's nice to use this menu to compare with the food served later in our history.
The menu below might have been served in 1685 Europe in a noble man's home.
"A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the Meat in Order.
A collar of brawn. 2.
Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones. 3.
A grand Sallet. 4.
A pottage of caponets. 5
A breast of veal in stoffado. 6
A boiled partridge. 7
A chine of beef, or sirloin roast. 8
Minced pies. 9
A Jegote of mutton with anchovy sauce. 10
A made dish of sweet-bread. 11
A swan roast. 12
A pasty of venison. 13
A kid with a pudding in his belly. 14
A steak pie. 15
A hanch of venison roasted. 16
A turkey roast and stuck with cloves. 17
A made dish of chickens in puff paste. 18
Two bran geese roasted, one larded. 19
Two large capons, one larded. 20
In 1790, over 100 years later, at the , we see more of the traditional foods we're familiar with appear on the menu.
"Christmas Dinner at Mount Vernon: Onion Soup Call'd the King's Soup
Oysters on the Half Shell
Broiled Salt Roe Hering
Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Roast Suckling Pig
Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing
Round of Boiled Beef with Horse-radish Sauce
Cold Baked Virginia Ham
Baked Acorn Squash
Baked Celery with Slivered Almonds
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Spiced Peaches in Brandy
Plums in Wine Jelly
The American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, American Heritage Magazine [American Heritage Publishing Co.:New York] 1964 (p. 420)  Christmas at Mount Vernon/George Washington
19th Century Pioneers
The food served by the pioneers reflected the foods of their culture (people cook what they know) but they also reflected the area in which they lived (cities vs rural outposts), their economic status (wealthier families were able to afford better quality goods, for ex. fine white flour vs coarse brown), and their situation (those in homes/villages vs those in camp-like quarters).
Popular Christmas foods were roast beef, turkey, ham, potatoes, fine white break, pickles, fruitcakes, cookies and pies. Those who could afford them, served tinned oysters. Chocolate and tea were imported and valued commodities which weren't always available.
Much of the information found about the pioneer meals was gleaned from journals, old letters and household inventories.
I thought the Plum Pudding was interesting. The ingredients are very similar to fruitcake, are baked in small tins before Christmas (just after Thanksgiving or possibly sooner), removed from their pans, wrapped in cheese cloth and placed in a large jar. Then brandy is poured over the top and the cakes are stored until Christmas.
Many cooks prepare fruitcake in the same manner—storing them wrapped in brandy soaked gauze until Christmas. Personally, I don't like fruitcake as moist as the brandy soaked cakes. I like mine with an even amount cake vs the citron. I have an excellent recipe listed on my personal blog at
Here is my recipe:
1/2 lb. candied pineapple
1/2 lb. candied cherries
1/2 lb. raisins1/2 lb. chopped dates
4 to 5 oz. candied orange peel or sliced candied orange slices
2 lbs. shelled pecans
1/2 lb. shelled walnuts
5 C. flour
1 & 1/4 lb. oleo
2 C. white sugar
1 C. brown sugar
3/4 t. soda
1/2 C. molasses
3/4 C. apricot preserves
3/4 t. cloves
3/4 t. allspice
3/4 t. nutmeg
3/4 t. cinnamon
Cut fruit; dredge fruit and nuts in 1/2 C. flour. Cream oleo & sugars; add eggs, and beat. Mix soda and molasses; stir into sugar mixture with preserves. Add flour and spices (sifted together); add nuts and fruit. Grease two tube pans; line with waxed paper. Grease paper. Turn batter into pans; put pan of water on bottom shelf of oven. Bake 4 hours at 250 degrees.
I use my turkey roaster to mix this all together as it's the largest thing I have. Nothing else seems big enough.
Note: Once I tried replacing the oleo with butter. It was too greasy so I’ll not use butter again.
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