A Miscellany of Christmas Pies, Puddings and Cakes

The Christmas pudding

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

WHEN LITTLE JACK HORNER, SO CLOSE IN A CORNER,

SAT EATING OF CHRISTMAS PIE,

HE PUT IN HIS THUMB, AND HE PULLED OUT A PLUM,

AND SAID – WHAT A GOOD BOY AM I!

With Christmas fast approaching, we present a miscellany of Christmas pies, puddings and cakes for your enjoyment, taken from recipe books and interesting articles in the newspapers.

Christmas pudding started out as plum porridge or pottage and this receipt (or recipe) is from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, first published in 1747.  Plum was actually another name for a raisin and does not refer to the fruit we know as a plum today.

To make Plum-Porridge for Christmas

Take a leg and shin of beef, put them into eight gallons of water, and boil them till they are very tender, and when the broth is strong strain it out:  wipe the pot and put in the broth again; then slice six penny loaves thin, cut off the top and bottom, put some of the liquor to it, cover it up and let it stand a quarter of an hour, boil it and strain it, and then put it in your pot.

Let it boil a quarter of an hour, then put in five pounds of currants, clean washed and picked; let them boil a little, and put in five pounds of raisins of the sun, stoned, and two pounds of prunes, and let them boil till they swell; then put in three quarters of an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, two nutmegs, all of them beat fine, and mix it with a little liquor cold, and put them in a very little while, and take off the pot; then put in three pounds of sugar, a little salt, a quart of sack, a quart of claret, and the juice of two or three lemons.

You may thicken with sago instead of bread, if you please; pour into earthen pans, and keep them for use.

Hampshire Chronicle, 1st January, 1776

The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland gave orders for the neighbouring poor at Windsor Lodge to be entertained three days of the holidays with beef, plum puddings, and mince pies; and likewise for one hundred guineas to be distributed among the distressed families.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 25th December 1766

An ESSAY on CHRISTMAS-PYE.

I presume I need not say any thing of the high and grateful flavour whereby the Christmas Pye recommends itself to the almost universal taste of both sexes: But I cannot forbear wondering, since we can be so well furnished with this rich and nourishing food, that there should be any such thing as a fricassée or ragoût in the kingdom; and that we should be so foolishly fond of foreign fashions, as, to the expence of our constitutions, to imitate the cookery of a fantastical nation, whose natural scarcity of provisions puts them upon tossing up the little that they have a hundred ways, to supply, as well as they can, their want of the British plenty.

There is something in the crust of this pye, too remarkable to be passed by; I mean the regularity of the figures into which it is sometimes raised; which seem to owe their original to the martial genius of our nation.  For in many of them, the rules of military architecture are observed with that exactness, that each of them would serve for the model of a fortification; and a board of well-raised pyes, look like so many castles in miniature.  From whence I conjecture, that it might have been anciently the amusement of our British Ladies, while their spouses and lovers were engaging their enemies abroad, to describe in paste, the glorious dangers they encountered; and that it might be their custom to form these pyes from the publick draughts of the towns and castles, against which they expected them to march, that so they might have the pleasure of storming and taking them, in effigy.

As to the reason why this dish is most in vogue at this time of the year, some are of the opinion, that ‘tis owing to the barrenness of the season; that there being little or no fruit remaining for any variety of tarts, and the scarcity of milk denying any affluence of cheese-cake or custard, therefore the ladies, being at a loss for a desert, invented this excellent compound.

But I rather think, from its regularly making its revolution with the present festivity, that it bears a religious kind of relation to it, and that from thence it had its name.  What confirms me in this opinion, is the opposition which it meets with from the people called Quakers; who distinguish their feasts at this time by a certain heretical sort of pudding, known by their name, inveighing against Christmas Pye, as an invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, a hodge podge of superstition, popery, the devil and all his works.

I am particularly concerned to take notice of another sort of people, who, while they indulge themselves in the free enjoyment of this excellent food, are for cutting out the clergy from having any share in it; under pretence that a sweet tooth and a liquorish palate are inconsistent with the sanctity of their character.  Against these persons, the famous Bickerstaff rose up; and with a becoming zeal, defended the chaplains of noblemen, attacked in this tender point; and asserted their ancient and undoubted right to Christmas pye.  After having exposed the injustice of such an encroachment, he rallies those who had been guilty of it, very agreeably.  The Christmas Pye, says he, is, in its own nature, a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction; and yet ‘tis often forbidden to the druid of a family.  Strange! that a sirloin of beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire, is exposed to his utmost depredations and incisions; but if minced into small pieces, and tossed up with plumbs and sugar, changes its property, and forsooth is meat for his master.

I must beg leave of the ladies, for presuming to offer them my thoughts upon a subject which they must needs understand better than myself; But if they think I have been impertinent, they may at the same time take their revenge upon me, and bring my dissertation nearer to its subject, by putting it under the next pie they raise.

Xmas day 1800
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Morning Post, 26th December 1805

It is estimated that the quantity of plum pudding devoured yesterday, in the United Kingdom, if collected in a heap would in size be about equal to Primrose-hill.

Stamford Mercury, 15th January 1808

At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant, there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs.!

Once again we turn to Hannah Glasse, and her receipt for a Yorkshire Christmas-pie, which bears a resemblance to that served by Earl Grosvenor.

To make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie

FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon.

Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together.

Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge, cover them; then the fowl, then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth.

Cut it to pieces; that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild fowl you can get.  Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked.  It must have a very hot oven, and will take at least four hours.

The crust will take a bushel of flour.  These pies are often sent to London in a box as presents; therefore the walls must be well built.

(c) Chester Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Earl Grosvenor (c) Chester Town Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Now, a cautionary tale of a Christmas cake with an added deadly ingredient!

Bury and Norwich Post, 9th January 1811

Another instance of the melancholy effect of want of caution in the disposition of poison, for the purpose of destroying vermin. – John Vellum, shepherd to Mr. Calthorpe, of Gosberton, in Lincolnshire, having invited a party of friends to keep a Christmas feast with him, on Thursday se’nnight, his wife prepared a cake for their entertainment, but the flour running short in the composition of the cake, she unadvisedly added to it a quantity of flour which stood in a jar, already mingled with mercury for the destruction of rats.

A deadly sickness soon pervaded the frames of 13 persons, the unfortunate partakers of this unfriendly benevolence.  It was not long however before the cause was discovered, and the skill and activity of Mr. Brocklesby and Mr. Pickworth were exerted in sufficient time to save the lives of 12 out of the 13 persons.  It is hoped by this timely interposition the 12 may recover, but before the surgeons arrived, Matthew Slater was dead, having left a wife and daughter to mourn his fate.

matthew slater 1810
Matthew Slater, burial register (Click on image to enlarge)

Matthew Slater, of Quadring, was buried at Billingborough in Lincolnshire on the 29th December 1810, two days after the fatal Christmas feast.

We move on to a couple of early 19th century recipes for mince pies and offer one traditional meat based mince pie and one without meat, both taken from A New System of Domestic Cookery, formed upon Principles of Economy, and adapted to the use of Private Families, by ‘A Lady’ (Maria Eliza Rundell), 1808.

Mince Pie

Of scraped beef free from skin and strings, weigh 2lb., 4lb. of suet picked and chopped, then add 6lb. of currants nicely cleaned and perfectly dry, 3lb. of chopped apples, the peel and juice of two lemons, a pint of sweet wine, a nutmeg, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, ditto mace, ditto pimento, in finest powder; press the whole into a deep pan when well mixed, and keep it covered in a dry place.

Half the quantity is enough, unless for a very large family.

Have citron, orange, and lemon-peel ready, and put some of each in the pies when made.

Mince Pie without Meat

Of the best apples six pounds, pared, cored, and minced; of fresh suet, and raisins stoned, each three pounds, likewise minced: to these add of mace and cinnamon a quarter of an ounce each, and eight cloves, in finest powder, three pounds of the finest powder sugar, three quarters of an ounce of salt, the rinds of four and juice of two lemons, half a pint of port, the same of brandy.  Mix well and put into a deep pan.

Have ready washed and dried four pounds of currants, and add as you make the pies, with candied fruit.

And finally, a couple of references to that age-old gastronomical battle between the French and the English.

Hampshire Telegraph, 20th January 1823

Dr. Schomberg of Reading, in the early part of his life, spent a Christmas at Paris with some English friends.  They were desirous to celebrate the season, in the manner of their own country, by having as one dish at their table, an English plum-pudding, but no cook was found equal to the task of compounding it.  A clergyman of the party had, indeed, an old receipt-book; but this did not sufficiently explain the process.  Dr. Schomberg, however, supplied all that was wanting, by throwing the recipe into the form of a prescription, and sending it to the apothecary to be made up.  To prevent all possibility of error, he directed that it should be boiled in a cloth, and sent in the same cloth, to be applied at an hour specified.

At this hour it arrived, borne by the apothecary’s assistant, and preceded by the apothecary himself, drest, according to the professional formality of the time, with a sword.  Seeing when he entered the apartment, instead of signs of sickness, a table well-filled and surrounded by very merry faces, he perceived that he was made a party in a joke that turned on himself, and indignantly laid his hand on his sword; but an invitation to taste his own cookery appeased him, and all was well.  – Hawkin’s Anecdotes, just published. 

Hampshire Chronicle, 27th June 1825

A French author, who has recently published a “Tour through England,” calls plum pudding poudin de plomb (lead pudding).

Plumb pudding in danger
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
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