Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Feasts From our History

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.
Oysters. 1.
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
A Custard"

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
Boiled Rockfish
Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Mutton Chops
Roast Suckling Pig
Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing
Round of Boiled Beef with Horse-radish Sauce
Cold Baked Virginia Ham
Lima Beans
Baked Acorn Squash
Baked Celery with Slivered Almonds
Hominy Pudding
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Cantaloupe Pickle
Spiced Peaches in Brandy
Spiced Cranberries
Mincemeat Pie
Apple Pie
Cherry Pie
Chess Tarts
Plums in Wine Jelly
Indian Pudding
Great Cake
Ice Cream
Plum Pudding

The American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, American Heritage Magazine [American Heritage Publishing Co.:New York] 1964 (p. 420) [1790] 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:

Texas Fruitcake

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
6 eggs
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.

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

Linda LaRoque


  1. Wow, it's amazing how much food they made at Mount Vernon considering ol' George had to eat with wooden teeth.

    In northern Mexico--which included Arizona and New Mexico until 1853--the tradition of Christmas tamales was a practical way to present a treat of a minimal amount of meat with the more readily available corn. Once wrapped in corn husks and steamed, the tamales would keep for a fair amount of time even without refrigeration. The tamal, or blessing, included a whole olive for good fortune. Modern take-offs include dessert tamales of cinnamon and brown sugar which are actually lovely for holiday breakfast.

    Thanks for sharing your research, Linda!


  2. Jude, when we lived in Fort Stockton, one year we brought tamales home to Brownwood for Christmas dinner. Everyone loved them. Except me. I don't care for the texture.

    One of our Mexican teachers in Fort Stockton told me that to prove they were ready to get married they had to makes tamales while wearing a white dress and not get it dirty. Do you believe that? They could have been pulling my leg.

    I would enjoy the dessert tamales. Thanks for stopping by, Jude!

  3. The menu is staggering. Easy to see they had servants to prepare and clean up the mess, isn't it? We have tamales and other TexMex food on Christmas Eve and varying menus on Christmas. By Christmas Day, we're not very hungry.

  4. My mother's family used to make tamales for Christmas when they lived in the valley (Texas). Everyone would gather in the kitchen, including the men to make them. She tried to carry on that tradition with us one year but alas, for this Texas gal, I'm not all that fond of tamales. Bummer.

  5. I don't think you're alone, Caroline. Tamales seem to be a holiday favorite. I hear you on not being hungry, after Christmas Day. And then you have all those left overs to deal with.

  6. I'm with you, Ciara. I don't like the texture of tamales though everyone else in my family does. The problem is, finding goof tamales.

  7. Hi Linda, wow, I love those menus! Not an oyster fan at all but sure found other goodies I could chow down on. Must have taken weeks to get all of that ready. I am a fruitcake lover...would love to try your recipe. Merry Christmas!

  8. Hi Tanya. I love fruitcake too. I hope you'll try my recipe.

    Oysters—Nope, me either. I got sick on fried oysters during my first pregnancy and haven't had an oyster since.

    Last night I decided to read up on how to lard a turkey. Interesting!

  9. Linda--I'm so pleased some of us love fruitcake. A few years ago, I wrote a post titled, "Can a Fruitcake Stop a Speeding Bullet?"
    I had a video to post about some goofy guys lining up fruitcakes along a fence, and shooting into them. None of the bullets escaped the fruitcakes.
    Me? The point of my blog was that I LOVE FRUITCAKE. I will even eat that kind from Wal-Mart that's been in a can for a long time.
    I also have a good recipe, If I have some, I like it for breakfast with my coffee. Really.

  10. Ceilia, I love it for breakfast too! And usually add a dab of whipped cream. Just think of all the fruit we're getting.

    You know Corsicana makes a pretty good fruitcake but they have gotten so expensive.


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