Four Old Tra­di­tions

This England - - Editors Letter -

AS the Christ­mas din­ner looms and you look for­ward to turkey, ham, goose and roast pota­toes, along with pigs in blan­kets, parsnips and Brus­sels sprouts, you’d be for­given for think­ing that you were a tra­di­tion­al­ist. But the Christ­mas din­ner you’re eat­ing is not as tra­di­tional as you think, and is cer­tainly not what was grac­ing the ta­bles of the rich and in­flu­en­tial through­out our rich culi­nary past. Sadly, many dishes peo­ple used to eat at Christ­mas have long been for­got­ten. Here are four dishes that would have been rel­ished in the Bri­tain of old.

Mince pies with real meat – 1200s

Mince pies are con­sid­ered a clas­sic at Christ­mas­time, but the recipe has changed con­sid­er­ably. The name mince pie, and in­deed the fill­ing mince­meat, now seems a lit­tle ob­scure as it is sim­ply a dish of spices, al­co­hol and dried fruits, but the name is per­fectly fit­ting when you con­sider the dish orig­i­nally con­tained minced meat.

The con­cept of a mince pie dates back as far as the 12th cen­tury, with some claim­ing that they orig­i­nate from the tra­di­tional Ro­man fes­ti­val Satur­na­lia, in which sweet­bread dishes were pre­sented to Ro­man fa­thers of the Vat­i­can.

To­day’s pies no longer con­tain meat, but the orig­i­nal recipes from which they de­rive are linked with the cru­saders of the 12th cen­tury, who re­turned from the Mid­dle East with new in­gre­di­ents and tales of dishes con­tain­ing meats with fruits and spices. Through time, meat has been phased out of most mod­ern min­cepie pro­duc­tion, but there are still many peo­ple who pre­fer to cre­ate the orig­i­nal pies us­ing suet and real meat.

Fru­menty – 1300s

Made in a num­ber a ways and in­clud­ing in­gre­di­ents such as al­monds, milk, eggs, dried fruits and of­ten us­ing fish and meat, fru­menty is a dish that dates back to me­dieval times and has fallen from the grace of our mod­ern Christ­mas ta­ble.

The recipe in­volves tak­ing cracked wheat and adding it to boiled liq­uid. This mix­ture is then cov­ered un­til all the wa­ter is ab­sorbed and the wheat is ten­der. Eggs and milk are then mixed be­fore be­ing added and stirred into the now soft­ened wheat. Dried fruit and spices would then be added, and whilst we may think this is a strange tra­di­tional Christ­mas dish, it is worth not­ing that fru­menty is be­lieved to be the pre­cur­sor of plum pud­ding.

Wild boar’s head – 1500s

The hunt­ing of wild boar goes back as far as Ro­man times and was pop­u­lar through­out his­tory as a sta­tus sym­bol as much as a del­i­cacy. The dish would take cen­tre stage on grand ban­quet­ing ta­bles and was of­ten served with a black sauce con­tain­ing wine, cherry syrup, su­gar, gin­ger, pep­per, cloves, raisins, al­monds and cin­na­mon, fur­ther en­hanc­ing flavour and in­di­cat­ing wealth.

A York­shire pie – 1700s

Found in Han­nah Glasse’s “The Art Of Cook­ery Made Plain And Easy”, which was first pub­lished in 1747, the York­shire pie is not for the faint hearted. The recipe calls for the cook to skin and bone a goose, a turkey, a fowl, a par­tridge and a pi­geon, then lib­er­ally sea­son each bird with mace, nut­meg, cloves, black pep­per and salt.

The birds are then opened down the back and placed in­side a thick pie crust, but be­fore the cook could set­tle down with a well-earned cup of tea, the recipe called for some hare, wood­cocks, game and any ex­tra wild fowl avail­able to be added to the pie.

Then at least four pounds of but­ter must be added be­fore lay­ing over a very thick pie lid and bak­ing in a very hot oven for at least four hours.

The dish re­quired a lot of meat and prepa­ra­tion, which is why it is rarely served to­day, but the sheer deca­dence of the dish makes it a sad loss to the Christ­mas ta­ble.

The serv­ing of a wild boar’s head has been pop­u­lar through­out his­tory.

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