Saturday 5 December 2009

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat ...Christmas through the ages ....

Some more fascinating facts as we roam around the world and wonder which century we are in? Turkey’s are American, the Spanish, in the early 1500s, brought turkeys with them on their return across the Ocean, established them in farms, from where they quickly spread across Europe, but it took a few centuries before our Christmas dinner was usurped by the American invader!

Medieval Christmas centred around the lord of the manor and his tenants and had different customs dependent upon the specifics for that lordship. The peasants would have bread, cheese, pottage, two meats, but would have to provide their own plate, mug and napkin, if they wished a cover to be on the table; then the peasant would have to bring a faggot of brushwood to cook his food, unless he wanted it raw!

Spring planting on a French ducal manor in March - from the illuminated manuscript: Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1410s

The manorial barons feasted when it suited them, not necessarily related to the Church festivals, though these merged over times, but the feasting could last for days. The quantity of food consumed appears to be huge, but the entourages of their guests needed to be fed too. The platters offered would have included a boar, beef, deer, pigs, fowls, partridges and geese, bread and cheese, gallons of ale and mainly red wine, though some white – and this was in the 1200s.

Early Medieval literature flourishes with descriptions of Arthurian Christmas feasts lasting over a fortnight – festivities over a period of days was quite common - clarion trumpets would marshal the guests to table, hands were rinsed in spiced scented warm water, while a Latin Grace was chanted. Then the servers would appear with steaming platters of spit-roasts, baked dishes, roasts and boiled dishes, and finally an elaborate “sotelty” – which is an entremet: ‘between the courses’ .. to allow time for digestive settlement, without stopping the festivities and may have depicted a successive phase of the Christmas story.

So I think you can see as England became more settled and more established into the manorial system, which over time has been phased out (though was still apparent in parts of east Germany even after the 2nd World War), food was the preserve of those who could earn or barter. As more and more produce became available either by cultivation of the lands, or through imports as the world became more connected our tastes grew. A sauce, similar to Worcester sauce, honey, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, mustard, dried fruits and nuts had all been available and would have been used by cooks even in Roman times.

However as with all good things, and all development, a spanner was thrown into the works in England as Christmas was banned by Oliver Cromwell (the Protector ruled 1653 – 1658); he banned carols and anyone cooking a goose, baking a cake or boiling a pudding was in danger of a fine, confiscation or worse! Charles II reinstated the holiday albeit in a subdued manner.

A tremendous amount of food had to be kept on hand, for the guests and family of the large houses, remembering as well as the servants, gardeners, coachmen, stable-hands etc. Recipes made in advance and served cold became popular – cold meats, pickles, jellies and puddings. There was always a turkey (picture above), this was the late1700s, goose or mutton, though venison held pride of place, while afterwards the Christmas or plum pudding was served ablaze with brandy sauce.

As the years passed people remembered the rituals of their ancestors or added new ones and by the 1800s it was once again a highly celebrated and significant time, though it would not reach its zenith until the Victorian era.

Did you know that Charles Dickens, in October 1843, was happily (I presume) writing Martin Chuzzlewitt, when he had an inspiration to write a “little carol” finishing it by the end of November, self-publishing it in time for Christmas .. and the rest is history for “A Christmas Carol”.

First edition frontispiece and title page: as published and approved by Charles Dickens

The impoverished Cratchits as described by Dickens in “A Christmas Carol” took their Christmas goose to the local bakers to be cooked for a small fee, as the homes of the poor in Victorian times were equipped with open fireplaces for heat and cooking, but not ovens.

The Victorian poor may have saved over several months, by paying a local public house landlord a small fee, in exchange for the goose at Christmas time – these were known as Goose Clubs. The bird may well then have been stuffed with various force meats, including chestnuts (free), herbs from the fields, vegetables, mixed in with rusky bread. It was those Romans again and the Arabs, who started filling the birds’ cavities before cooking to give extra flavour.

Now for our Christmas, we will have on Christmas Eve glazed roast ham with good fresh vegetables, and a light fruit dessert, like spiced oranges – before we go to midnight mass at our local Church of England church; Christmas Day is usually smoked salmon, fresh salad vegetables, mince pies, breads and cheese before a good walk across the Downs with the dogs.

A deserving slice of Christmas cake with tea next, followed later on by dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings – ham, chipolata sausages (thin ones!), prunes wrapped in bacon, two sorts of stuffing, roast potatoes, carrots and brussel sprouts, with lashings of gravy, bread sauce and red currant jelly; then a flamed Christmas pudding dotted with silver good luck coins (we have to return them for next year! and we, being Cornish, have Cornish clotted cream with ours, as well as brandy butter.

My taste buds are salivating at the thought .. this is all laid out and served on a table well decorated with – flowers from the garden, probably autumn crocuses, linen table cloth, with napkins made into water lilies, wonderful crockery and glass, candles, crackers .. what else could one want – a pleasure to behold – watched over by a decorated Christmas tree bursting with birds, baubles, tinsel and glittering lights. We are blessed by my sister-in-law who puts all this together for us.

Norfolk geese

I have to finish with a poem .. and just a reminder of those days .. the animals and birds were walked to the fair before being sold! Tough times ....

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

We can all give this Christmas according to our means ... even if we can only give our blessing and peaceful thoughts.

Dear Mr Postman – we will continue to visit my mother during this period, even though she cannot participate with the food or drink. Interestingly this year she has said she’d like some Christmas decorations .. so I shall have to put some up – the room is not really designed for things like this .. still I’ll make a plan – I decorated my uncle’s room when he was in over Christmas two years ago.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


patricia said...

Oh I loved this post and my mouth is salavating too. As a child we always went to Vancouver BC for my Aunt Betty's Christmas feast - always goose and lots of cake...
My Uncles were all United Church of Canada minister and worked all day Christmas...we helped my Aunt set the table and cook
Good memories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. thanks so much. Good to know you went to Vancouver and it was always goose - interesting. Ministers of all religions work so hard over Christmas, let alone before .. I know - Mum's vicar in Cornwall says he's so tired at certain times of the year .. he has two parishes. I think last year he went to bed - poor chap and got up after Boxing Day .. the family had their Christmas feast quietly!

so pleased to hear about your roots .. and sharing with the cooking and table setting is such fun, when you're kids .. and that sharing.

Glad you enjoyed the memories ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jannie Funster said...

The song brings tears to my eyes, as my brother sang it, one of the only people I've ever known to sing it. And he was only 15 or 16! He died just a couple months short of turning 17. (I was 18 at the time.)

Anyhoo! Could I be a fly on the wall for a few hours back in some of those olden times, well make that an invisible fly as getting swatted would not be optimal. And I'd actually prefer being a peasant to the King.

Your sister-in-law's tree trimming sounds divine. Ours is already up, with a young child it seems fitting to make the season bright early

Good on Chaarles II for overturning the Cromwell decree, wonder why old Olllie banned Christmas in the first place?

God bless you, Gentlemen.
God bless you.
If you haven't got a nickel,
then a half a pence will do.

Blue Bunny said...

yor bloging is very nise.

i iz a vegitarian but i not juddjing peeple whoo eet meets. my jannie eets mutch meets.

i alweys hops i dont end up in a cristmis soop. so far so goods!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. great to see you - little ones deserve the best .. so I'm glad Kelly is enjoying her tree and can lie under it and watch the lights twinkle, the tinsel glisten and the baubles slowly rotating as the pine twigs bend .. I wonder what she's dreaming about .. a time for dreaming - I remember hours of reading fairy stories at that age - completely immersed in them.

Yes - we are lucky having such a wonderful setting for our Christmas time ..

I'm pleased, though sad, to feel that you could remember your brother through this post - and glad I've perhaps brought back new memories. A very difficult time for you - but over time we can take the benefits from that experience ..

Oliver Cromwell was a puritan .. brought to power by the people .. this was the time when the King, nobility and church started to become more democratised and include the peasants and professionals - giving up some power .. until today's present system has evolved - Houses of Parliament - the Upper House for the Lords, and appointed lords, and the House of Commons for the elected Members of Parliament.

Your poem is great .. so thank you for that contribution .. now I must deal with Blue Bunny .. she seems quite a sensible bunny ..

Happy days with the family and friends .. lots of singing and joy tinged with memories of a beloved brother ...
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Squeak squeak Blue Bunny .. I don't think blue is a good colour in our homes - you stand out too much: on the other hand perhaps bright blue is good - it is the antisethis colour for food. (I hop blue bunny cn understand this!)

Our large black poodles love chasing the grey bunnies on the Downs .. first thing they do .. run around chasing them out of the undergrowth .. well they have to eat too! They remind me of The Hounds of the Baskervilles - their silhouettes as they gallop the fields.

The grasses on the Downs are good now .. we've had lots of rain and warmth .. so we're well nourished - but a bit slow as we're a bit overweight.

Blue bunny I'll try and make sure you don't end up in the chrstmis soop .. good tasty bones though .. You stay in Txis .. and you be safe from us hungry canivores over here .. four legged ones and two legged greedy peeples ..

Hop along and keep safe .. bye from the barking dogs and wet england ...

Tks fr cmplment re blg .. I's enjoys writtng it

Unknown said...

Hello Hilary,

Nice article as always with regard to Christmas. Some times I find myself do not know much about Christmas which I have enjoyed decads. My wife regard me as her English house tutor besides I am her husband. She asked me questions on Christmas which I could not well answer. Why do people put up Christmas trees and decorate them? What does 12 days of Christmas mean?

Your articles are good information source of mine.

Thank you for your sharing.

Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Wilma Ham said...

Funny how food gets to become part of certain celebrations and what a good idea to outsource the cooking, even if it was out of necessity!
I first tasted the brandy butter here in New Zealand, what a treat.
Oh now I am salavating too, THANKS Hilary.
Tell your mother you are teasing us all with your yummy food descriptions and good luck with the decorations.
As always, love to you both, Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. thanks for visiting: seems funny to me that you, a Japanese, are explaining how our English (not even American) customs occur to your Chinese wife! Life is a wonder.

I'll answer your questions in the next few posts.

Glad my articles are informative for you both .. and please let me know of other questions and I'll try and answer!

Good to see you here .. Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. yes the importance of sitting down as a family, sharing and enjoying the celebrations in harmony with gratitude is so central.

Brandy butter is one of those things I look forward to - but I can't resist the Cornish cream!

It's a bit early to feel hungry .. but still do .. roasting smells up the stairs .. No! there aren't I promise!!

Poor Mum not being able to eat or drink .. we do talk sometimes about the celebratory foods, I try and steer clear otherwise - it's unfair on her.

Thank you re the decorations .. I'll get there: she's enjoying her little tree for now, with a bowl of anemones (bright jewels) and narscissi scenting the room.

Enjoy your preparations in better weather than we are having! Now I crave South Africa!! ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Hilary,

I was getting hungry reading your post. Your menu sounds absolutely yummy.

That's sweet your mom wants some Christmas decorations. You'll have to post about what you did, and maybe even share a picture or two.

Blessings to you and yours.

P.S. What kind of cake is that (in the photo)? It reminds me of the carrot cake I make during the holiday season.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. thanks .. me too always good to eat and look forward to & enjoying the preparation.

Mum's wall is covered with pictures - cards people have sent us .. so there's plenty to look at - but I think Mum's got a little bored .. as I find it quite time consuming swapping them all over .. especially as she wants me to re-read each one .. and mostly she just wants "to be" .. ie no jumping up and down by me!!

Pictures are a challenge .. as I need to find out how to increase the size when they get onto the pc - before I move them across to the blog ..otherwise we'll have tiny pics .. and that's not what I want. Learning curve.

The cake is just one I found .. not quite what I wanted to portray .. did you spot the other deliberate error? the geese are not Norfolk geese the ones we eat here!

Oh well - the picture is nice!!

Thanks for your thoughts - you too enjoy the preparation week .. Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - Great facts about Christmas. Dickens sure had a great way with character names, didn't he? Fezziwig and Chuzzlewitt!

Your Christmas dinner sounds divine. If I weren't going to my brother's in Michigan this year (where we are having turkey AND roast sirloin), I would wrangle an invitation to yours! Thank you.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy .. yes and his pen name was "Boz" .. oh well we all have our problems!

Dinner sounds deliciosa doesn't it .. but I might come to Michigan for the sirloin - especially if it's of Tudor proportions! .. and you may come with pleasure - could just make it if I leave early enough for the airport and fit both in!

Go well - and enjoy your family Christmas ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Cath Lawson said...

Hi Hilary - I wish I could sit down to write a "short carol" and churn out a famous book.

I love the idea of the goose clubs. I'd wondered how folk managed to cook christmas dinner without ovens - now I know.

@Jannie - sorry about your brother. It must have been so painful for you losing him when he was so young.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Cath .. lovely thought .. I'm sure we all can - we just need a little time and space to think, as you say Dickens was pretty amazing - but he didn't find it that easy ... he had to self publish.

It is interesting to realise how things happened in the past.

It must be so difficult to lose a brother or sister so early in life - as Jannie experienced.

Thanks for the visit - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Unknown said...

Can I please come over for the feast on Christmas eve?!? Happy Holidays!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Roger .. glad you liked the feast we'll be having - you too enjoy Christmas and the season.

Thanks for visiting - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

It is good to remember how things where done, how they have changed. What a great time we have had in our past, when we were young. The traditions that we pass on to the next generation. What a fun time of year.

Thank you for the great post.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. so true - if we don't pass on the traditions .. then they will be lost forever. So many stories at Christmas, and so many parts of the world they start from ..

It is a great time - thanks for coming by
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Daphne @ Joyful Days said...


Your post puts me in a wonderful mood for Christmas, especially as I just watched the latest release of A Christmas Carol in the cinema! Thank you for researching all the facts in one easy-to-swallow bite here.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Daphne .. glad you went to see A Christmas Carol and I'm sure it was good. Thanks and am glad to hear you enjoyed all the pieces of information here - carry on enjoying your wonderful mood in the lead up to Christmas and have happy times.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Liara Covert said...

Easy 4 time travellers to forget which century they have stopped in most recently. To move beyond linear time is to sense the world differently. You feel what time it is based on your tummy, bladder and other physiological functions as well as the heart. Some humans only thnk with the mind. Other humans revert to a different way of being.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara ..

Yes - some people are looking beyond themselves, and we seem to be unravelling another strand of who we are. This realisation process is spreading, with leadership and guidance coming from enlightened souls, such as yourself .. it's good to be around you.

Have a happy peaceful time
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories