Four Old Traditions
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.