Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Food & Drink - Georgian English Christmas 1714-1820

Farmer Giles's Establishment Christmas Day 1800

Georgian Christmas: An 18C  Celebration
December 22, 2013 Early Modern England

Georgian Christmas dinner

"During the Georgian period (1714-1820), it was often incorrectly assumed that Christmas wasn’t celebrated with as much gusto as during the Victorian era. Although traditions, foods and celebrations differed, Christmas was actively commemorated during this period.

Georgian Food

"Christmas meals during the Georgian period differed vastly from what was common table fare in the medieval and Tudor periods. New and improved agricultural achievements signaled a change in traditional Christmas foods. By the eighteenth century, roasts and various fowl became common but were later replaced by the turkey as the most popular meat at the Christmas table.

"Prior to the Georgian period, Christmas was a twelve day feast in which the foods were prepared well in advance with the idea of using up winter stores and foods that could be well preserved over the holiday season. Typical Christmas foods during the Georgian era were cheese, soups, turkey, geese, duck, capons, minced pies, and frumetnery – a dish which contained grains, almonds, currants, sugar and was often served with meat.

Georgian mince pies

"Mince pies were eaten at Christmas in England since the sixteenth century. They were initially made of minced meat but were later replaced with dried fruit and spices. Christmas pudding was also a popular dish and dated back to the Middle Ages. It was called ‘ lum pottage’ and made of chopped meat with dried prunes or raisins. In the Georgian period, the meat was replaced by suet. Twelfth Cake, a version of present day Christmas cake, was sliced and given to all members of the household and guests. It contained dried beans and dried peas. The person whose slice contained the bean was King for the night; a slice with a pea indicated the Queen. Even servants played along and if they won, they were recognized by everyone, including their masters as the evening’s King and Queen. By the Regency period, Twelfth cake became elaborate and added frosting, trimmings, and figurines. Twelfth night remained popular until the late nineteenth century.

Georgian Christmas - 1800 Traditions

"George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, brought the first version of the present day Christmas tree in 1800 and decorated it with gifts, dolls and tapers after her German traditions. The tradition of gift giving also became popular during the eighteenth century as the wealthy gave gifts to their laborers. Ornaments included paper flowers, tinsel, wire ornaments, beads, candles, gingerbread and wax figures. Although Queen Charlotte brought the Christmas tree to England in 1800, the tree did not become popular until Queen Victoria married German Prince Albert. Homes of this time were decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe. Stockings filled with presents hanging over the fireplace were first recorded in England in the early nineteenth century.


"Christmas was banned by the Puritans in the mid-seventeenth century giving rise to the belief that Christmas fun and frivolity was not rekindled until the Victorian period. Christmas was completely abolished and shops and markets were kept open during the 25th of December. People were expected to continue going about their normal business and not partake in holiday celebrations or face fines and imprisonment. Puritans disliked Christmas because of its heathen origins and because of its association with extravagance and excess, but by the Georgian period, Christmas was again fully celebrated. Georgians enjoyed many different pastimes during the holidays such as cards, hunt the slipper, blind man’s bluff, shoe the wild mare, carol singing, story telling and dancing. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Twelfth Night parties were extremely popular and involved games, drinking and eating. British Pantomime also grew in popularity during the Georgian period, especially among the upper classes."

Christmas Food & Drink - The pricey Christmas Turkey in 16C-18C England

About the Christmas turkey in England:  In the 1570s, the price of a large turkey was 3s 4d & average weekly wage of a laborer was 2s 9d.  A Christmas turkey cost over 1 week’s wages for the working poor.  But Tomas Tusser had reported in 1557 that, “Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best, Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well drest,” was the dinner of choice for the British gentry.  By the early 1600s turkey had begun to replace the tougher meats of peacock & swan at major Tudor banquets held by the rich & powerful.  In the 1740s, a large turkey was 6s 3d & average weekly wage of a laborer was 8s 2d.  The celebrated Christmas turkey had dropped to just under a week’s wages for poorer British subjects.

Christmas Food & Drink - Christmas Pudding

From the very entertaining blog Dance's Historical Miscellany

 Presenting the plum pudding

Although the Christmas Pudding took its final form in Victorian England, the origins of Christmas pudding lie back in the middle ages, in the now-forgotten ‘plum pottage’. Pottage was a general term for a mixture of ingredients, usually meat and vegetables, boiled together in a cauldron for several hours. It was very versatile and was a staple of the English diet for many centuries. Plum pottage, the ancestor of the Christmas pudding, generally contained meat, dried fruits, a little sugar, and mixed spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger). As with mince pies, the meat was included because many livestock were slaughtered in the autumn due to a lack of fodder in the winter, and cooks had to find a good way of both preserving and serving up the meat. Plum pottage didn’t necessarily contain any plums or prunes; it got its name from the fact that in the Elizabethan era, prunes became so popular that they started to be used to refer to a wide variety of dried fruits.

 Hurrah for the Christmas Pudding 1909

Over the course of the 18th century, pottage and porridge became unfashionable as sophisticated cuisine increasingly took its cues from France. In 1758 Martha Bradley, the author of The British Housewife: or, The Cooke, Housekeeper’s and Gardiner’s Companion said of plum porridge that “the French laugh outrageously at this old English Dish.” Her own recipe for ‘plumb porridge’ sounds very rich; it contains a leg and a shin of beef, white bread, currants, raisins, prunes, mace, cloves, nutmegs, sherry, salt and sugar. As plum pottage died out, the plum pudding rose to take its place. Thanks to cheap sugar from the expanding West Indian slave plantations, plum puddings became sweeter and the savoury element of the dish (meat) became less important. By the Victorian period the only meat product in a Christmas pudding was suet (raw beef or mutton fat). At this point it had really become Christmas pudding as we know it, with the cannonball-shaped pudding of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices topped with a sprig of holly, doused in brandy and set alight.

How exactly plum pudding got to be associated with Christmas is the next mystery. The earlier plum pottage was apparently enjoyed at times of celebration, although it was primarily associated with harvest festivities rather than Christmas. There is an unsubstantiated story that in 1714, King George I (sometimes known as the Pudding King) requested that plum pudding be served as part of his first Christmas feast in England. Whether this actually happened or not, was can see that recipe books from the 18th century onwards did start associating plum pudding with Christmas. In 1740, a publication titled Christmas Entertainments included a recipe for plum pudding, which suggests that it was increasingly eaten in a Christmas context. The first known reference to a ‘Christmas pudding’ is, however, not to be found until 1845, in Eliza Acton’s bestselling Modern Cookery for Private Families.

Joseph Clark (1834-1926) A Christmas Dole

At the time when Acton was composing her cookbook, Christmas puddings were traditionally made four or five weeks before Christmas on ‘Stir-up Sunday’. The name, rather amusingly, comes from the collect in the Book of Common Prayer for that Sunday, which reads “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth good works, may by thee be plenteously required; through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Traditionally everyone in the household gave the pudding mixture a stir and made a wish whilst doing so. It was a common practice to include either a threepence or a sixpence in the pudding mixture which could be kept by the person who found it. For children this was a welcome piece of pocket money and for adults it was supposed to bring wealth in the coming year. Other common tokens included a tiny wishbone to bring good luck, a silver thimble for thrift, and an anchor to symbolize safe harbor.

Christmas Food & Drink - Christmas Dinner 1836

Christmas Dinner  Thomas Kibble Hervey's (1799-1859) Christmas Book with illustrations by Robert Seymour (1798-1836) 

Christmas Food & Drink - Unwanted Wassailing in Early British America

The tradition arrived in the New World with the English settlers.  Sometimes demands of wassailers were unwelcome in the colonies.  

On Christmas Day in 1679 in Salem, Massachusetts. Joseph Foster, Benjamin Fuller, Samuel Brayebrooke & Joseph Flint decided they wanted some booze for the holiday.  On Christmas night of 1679, four young men of the village of Salem entered the house of septuagenarian John Rowden, who was known to make pear wine, called "perry," from trees in his orchard. The men made themselves at home in front of the fire & began to sing. After a couple of songs they tried to cajole Rowden & his wife into bringing them some of the new wine. Rowden refused & asked the intruders to leave, to which they responded that "it was Christmas Day at night & they came to be merry & to drink perry, which was not to be had anywhere else but here, & perry they would have before they went."   

When the visitors promised to return later & pay for the drink, Mrs. Rowden said, "We keep no ordinary to call for pots." By "ordinary" she meant tavern, & by "pots" she meant alcohol. The four men left, but three returned a quarter-hour later & tried to pass a piece of lead as payment in coin. The Rowdens & their adopted son, Daniel Poole, got the men out the front door, but they wouldn't leave & called sarcastic taunts from the street. 

John Rowden later testified to the violence that broke out next.  They threw stones, bones, & other things at Poole in the doorway & against the house. They beat down much of the daubing in several places & continued to throw stones for an hour & a half with little intermission. They also broke down about a pole & a half of fence, being stone wall, & a cellar, without the house, distant about 4 or 5 rods, was broken open through the door, & 5 or 6 pecks of apples were stolen.

The New England Historical Society tells us that, , "Drinking was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Christmas debauchery. Wassailing, mumming, gambling & feasting were all popular Christmas pastimes. And it was a constant struggle for the Puritans to keep Christmas under control because Christmas was embraced by some of the hoi polloi, who thought it was quite a good time."  

In 1794 in Deerfield, Massachusetts, shopkeeper John Birge noted in his account book the arrival of "Nightwalkers—or rather blockheads" at his establishment about 2 o'clock in the morning on December 22, 1794. Birge refused to open up. The "wassailers" seem to have gained entry by breaking a windowpane & perhaps carried away food & clothing. Birge said, "I cannot see why it was much better than Burglary."

Christmas Food & Drink - Wassailing as Social Protest

Not so innocent Wassailing from house to house

By about 1600, it had become a custom for commoners to take a wassail bowl about the streets and probably from house to house, offering drink from it and sometimes expecting money in return.  A song, first recorded in 1550, runs:

     Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail, 
     Wassail, wassail as white as my nail, 
     Wassail, wassail, in snow, frost and hail, 
     Wassail, wassail, that much doth avail, 
     Wassail, wassail, that never will fail.

During this period, one day a year the Lord of the Manor would be expected to open the doors of the manor and ‘trade places’ with the peasantry.  He’d be expected to let anyone in who asked and provide them with none but the finest of his food and drink.  The master became the servant, and the servant the master.  And while some did so generously, others did so begrudgingly, which was considered poor form.  Should the rabble feel they were being stiffed on the good stuff, such as being served wine that was less than the best vintage, they might do a little damage as repayment.

Instead of consuming the intoxicating punch at home, wassailers went house to house offering a warm drink, sometimes expecting payment. A late 17C journalist wrote, "Wenches their Wassels at New-years-tide ...present you with a Cup, and you must drink of the slabby stuff; but the meaning is, you must give them Moneys." 

A report as early as 1631, associated wassailing with anti-enclosure protesters.  The account noted that the wassailers "did with two rummes, two coulers, and one fife in a warlike and outrageoud manner assemble themselves, together armed with gunnes, pykes, halberds, and other weapons."

In some places young women trimmed their wassail bowls with ribbons and sprigs of rosemary and carried them from home to home singing carols. A song of the period runs:

Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail, 
Wassail, wassail, as white as my nail, 
Wassail, wassail, in snow, frost and hail, 
Wassail, wassail, that much doth avail, 
Wassail, wassail, that never will fail.

Soon wassailing in expectation of money or access began to reflect other manifestations of holiday "misrule" that characterized old English Christmas—an holdover from the ancient Romans. At the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia, & at Christmastide the Anglo-Saxons turned normal social relationships symbolically and temporarily upside down. Men and women might cross-dress and act the part of the opposite sex; school boys might bar their teachers from the schoolhouse; or a peasant might be named "Lord of Misrule." The wealthy were expected to share their bounty with poorer villagers and servants. 

At Christmastide, the poor expected privileges denied them at other times, including the right to enter the homes of the wealthy, who feasted them from the best of their provisions. In exchange, the lord of the manor expected the goodwill of his people for another year. At these gatherings, the bands of roving wassailers often performed songs for the master while drinking his beer, toasting him, his family, his livestock, wishing continued health and wealth:

Again we assemble, a merry New Year 
To wish each one of the family here.... 
May they of potatoes and herrings have plenty, 
With butter and cheese, and each other dainty.

Not every song, however, expressed unreserved goodwill. Some conveyed threats of reprisals for bad treatment, a sentiment like the trick-or-treat of Halloween:

We have come to claim our right.... 
And if you don't open up your door, 
We'll lay you flat upon the floor.

By the 18C, British folk Christmas alms-seeking rituals of mumming & wassailing involved a sanctioned reversal of social roles.  These were sometimes accompanied by an air of suppressed menace, or led to open disorders.  Earlier mummer and wassail undercurrents caused them to be regulated (masks were prohibited under Queen Elizabeth) or even banned at various times, as under Cromwell.

In December of 1742, this poem with advice for the gentry appeared in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard Improved, 

Open to all his hospitable Door,
His Tennent’s Patron, Parent to the Poor:
In Friendships dear, discording Neighbours bind,
Aid the distress’d, and humanise Mankind:
Wipe off the sorrowing Tear from Virtue’s Eyes,
Bid Honesty oppress’d, again arise:
Protect the Widow, give the Aged Rest,
And blessing live, and die for ever blest.
In Christmas feasting pray take care;
Let not your table be a Snare;
But with the Poor God’s Bounty share.

And in 1754, Franklin's Poor Richard Improved almanac offered this advice, 

Learning to the Studious; Riches to the Careful; Power to the Bold; Heaven to the Virtuous.
Now glad the Poor with Christmas Cheer; Thank God you’re able so to end the Year.

In 1757, Franklin's almanac advised

When other Sins grow old by Time,
Then Avarice is in its prime,
Yet feed the Poor at Christmas time.

Over time, Christmas developed into a night of carousing.  In colonial America, servants and male children would go out and about on Christmas Eve, knocking on doors of the gentry and demanding good food and drink.  Before long they’d be very drunk, and the carousing would continue all night, waking families from their sleep.  Should these rowdies be refused, they might tear up an outbuilding, or vandalize a fence or other property.  This behavior led to the celebration of Christmas being discouraged in many places, with some areas having penalties for not working on Christmas Day.

By 1772, misrule & social protests at Christmas hit New York City. A newspaper complained that the absence of "decency, temperance, and sobriety" at Christmas was so serious a matter that it belonged in the courts.  The problem was caused by the "assembling of Negroes, servants, boys and other disorderly persons, in noisy companies in the streets, where they spend time in gaming, drunkenness, quarreling, swearing, etc. to the great disturbance of the neighborhood." Their behavior was "so highly scandalous both to religion and civil government, that it is hoped the Magistrates will interpose to suppress the enormity." 

William Hone wrote in his Every Day Book:

 January 5 – Eve of Epiphany.

At times, however, the practice of wassailing has degenerated into nothing short of armed home invasions. The banning of Christmas altogether in both England and the American colonies by the Puritans and Pilgrims were, in small part, a reaction to these and other excesses (certainly larger theological issues were at work which led to the English Civil War).

In the early 1800s in New York, prominent citizens were very concerned about such practices (which also featured such actions as gunfire, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, excessive gambling, and riots.  It was their desire to take Christmas off the streets and into the homes. The evolution of Christmas practices in those years was a direct result. One change was from "wassailing" (and a wassail bowl containing alcoholic beverages) to "caroling" (which was more likely rewarded with hot chocolate, cookies, and the like).

One manifestation of this, the tipping of servants—called "boxing" after the clay boxes with money slits English servants once used or their collections—also found its way to colonial America. English and Canadian calendars still mark Boxing Day as December 26, the traditional feast day of St. Stephen, and the concept survives wherever an employer gives a Christmas bonus or when we tip at the holiday those who render us services throughout the year.

Mummers Robert Seymour’s “Book of Christmas” illustrations (1836)

1857 Wassail London Illustrated Times

The Wassail Bowl' by John Gilbert, 1860.

1856 Twelfth Night Wassail Bowl 

1860 Wassail Bowl Sir John Gilbert

Christmas Food & Drink - Wassail for the trees & crops & animals

Wassailing Orchards & Crops & Livestock

It is difficult to tell when "wassailing" orchards in the Christmas season first began, wishing the trees health and abundant crops in the coming year.  Soon hopeful farmers wassailed both crops and animals to encourage fertility. An observer recorded, "They go into the Ox-house to the oxen with the Wassell-bowle and drink to their health." 

In the 18C, farmers in the west of Britain toasted the good health of apple trees to promote an abundant crop the next year. Some placed cider-soaked bread in the branches to ward off evil spirits. Others splashed the trees with cider while firing guns or beating pots and pans. Sometimes they sang special songs:
Let every man take off his hat 
And shout out to th'old apple tree 
Old apple tree we wassail thee 
And hoping thou will bear.

It was recorded at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, and appears in Devon in the 1630s, according to the poem by Robert Herrick:
       Wassail the Trees, that they may bear 
       You many a plum, and many a pear...

1861  'Wassailing apple-trees with hot cider in Devonshire on twelfth eve'

In the west of Britain the good health of the apple trees was toasted on Twelfth Night. The luck of next year's crop of cider apples was wished.  Bread soaked in cider was put into the branches of trees to keep evil spirits away. Ritual songs were sung. It was reported that celebrants poured the remains of the cider kegs around trees in an orchard, dancing and singing the Wassailing song to ensure a good crop of apples for the following year.

It appears to feature again in the diary of a Sussex parson in 1670 and is quite frequently recorded thereafter.  The fact that traces of it are found in fruit-growing areas of England under Elizabeth and the Stuarts argues for an origin at latest in the early Tudor or medieval periods.  Modern guides to English folk-customs have frequently described it as a relic of pre-Christian ritual, and so indeed it may be.  It may , nevertheless, also be an extension of the custom of the household wassail, made after the end of the Middle Ages.

In The Book of Days, Chambers describes a celebration on the eve of Epiphany, January 12: "In Herefordshire, at the approach of the evening, the farmers with their friends and servants meet together, and about six o’ clock walk out to a field where wheat is growing. In the highest part of the ground, twelve small fires, and one large one, are lighted up. The attendants, headed by the master of the family, pledge the company in old cider, which circulates freely on these occasions. A circle is formed round the large fire, when a general shout and hallooing takes place, which you hear answered from all the adjacent villages and fields. Sometimes fifty or sixty of these fires may be seen all at once. This being finished, the company return home, where the good housewife and her maids are preparing a good supper. A large cake is always provided, with a hole, in the middle. After supper, the company all attend the bailiff (or head of the oxen) to the wain-house, where the following particulars are observe: The master at the head of his friends, fills the cup (generally of strong ale), and stands opposite the first or finest of the oxen. He then pledges him in a curious toast: the company follow his example, with all the other oxen, and addressing each by his name. This being finished, the large cake is produced, and, with much ceremony, put on the horn of the first ox, through the hole above mentioned. The ox is then tickled, to make him toss his head: if he throw the cake behind, then it is the mistress’s prerequisite; if before (in what is termed the boosy), the bailiff himself claims the prize. The company then return to the house, the doors of which they find locked, nor will they be opened till some joyous songs are sung. On their gaining admittance, a scene of mirth, and jollity ensues, which lasts the greatest part of the night."

The custom is called in Herefordshire Wassailing. The fires are designed to represent the Saviour and his apostles, and it was customary as to one of them, held as representing Juas Iscariot, to allow it go burn a while and then put it out and kick about the materials. Gentleman’s Magazine, February, 1791. 

At Pauntley, in Gloucestershire, the custom has in view of the prevention of the smut in wheat "all the servants of every farmer assemble in one of the fields that has been sown with wheat. At the end of twelve lands, they make twelve fires in a row with straw: around one of which, made larger than the rest, they drink a cheerful glass of cider to their master’s health, and success to the future harvest; then returning home they feast on cakes made with carraways, soaked in cider which they claim as a reward for their past labour in sowing the grain"- Rudge’s Gloucester.

Wassail Song

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggers

That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Good master and good mistress,

As you sit beside the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who wander in the mire.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year

We have a little purse

Made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Bring us out a table

And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a cheese,
And of your Christmas loaf.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

God bless the master of this house,

Likewise the mistress too;
And all the little children
That round the table go.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Christmas Food & Drink - Washington Irving & the Wassail Bowl

Washington Irving, Old Christmas – From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving (London: Macmillan & Co., Fifth Edition, 1886), pp. 132-5

 Washington Irving (1783-1859) by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)

Old Christmas – Christmas Dinner
The Wassail Bowl

When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation ; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself; alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him ; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.

The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of indwelling delight, as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised it to his lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to all present, he sent it brimming round the board, for every one to follow his example, according to the primitive style; pronouncing it “the ancient fountain of good feeling, where all hearts met together.” 

There was much laughing and rallying as the honest emblem of Christmas joviality circulated, and was kissed rather coyly by the ladies. When it reached Master Simon he raised it in both hands, and with the air of a boon companion struck up an old Wassail chanson : The Squire's Toast
The browne bowle,
The merry browne bowle,
As it goes round about-a,
Let the world say what it will,
And drink your fill all out-a.
The deep canne,
The merry deep canne,
As thou dost freely quaff-a,
Be as merry as a king,
And sound a lusty laugh-a.

(From “Poor Robin's Almanack.”)

Christmas Food & Drink - Wassail as a Punch

The word Wassail expanded from being a greeting to be a term used to refer to the punch drink related to the toast.  The punch which was usually spiced ale or a form of mulled wine made throughout the Christmas season & especially for Christmas Eve or Twelfth Night.  

Early Wassail reportedly resembled the ancient Roman drink hypocras, which survived into the early Middle Ages as a libation for the wealthy. The necessity of importing the wine plus ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg from outside England made it costly. 

When ales & cider replaced the wine, more people could afford it, and recipes varied according to the means of each family. Though usually prepared for immediate consumption, wassail sometimes was bottled to ferment.

The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine - with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs ; in this way the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families, and round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas. It is also called Lambs Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his “Twelfth Night:”

    “Next crowne the bowle full
    With gentle Lambs Wool,
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
    With store of ale too ;
    And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swinger.”

In Lamb's Wool, ale or dark beer was whipped to form a surface froth in which floated roasted crab apples. The hissing pulp bursting from them resembled wool. Shakespeare alluded to Lamb's Wool in Midsummer Night's Dream:
Sometimes lurk I in the gossip's bowl 
In very likeness of a roasted crab 
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob, 
And down her withered dewlap pours the ale. 
Likewise in Love's Labour's Lost:
When all aloud the wind doth blow 
And coughing drowns the parson's saw 
And birds sit brooding in the snow 
And Marian's nose looks red and raw, 
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl, 
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit, 
Tu-who—a merry note, 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Some report that at the bottom of some Wassail bowls was a crust of bread, that particular drink was offered to the most important person in the room & then passed around. This was the origin of a ‘toast’ which survives to this day as part of the drinking ritual. 

In the British American colonies, even Benjamin Franklin had a favorite punch recipe.  Franklin included a punch recipe in a letter to his friend James Bowdoin, on October 11, 1763.  "To make Milk Punch.  Take 6 quarts of Brandy, and the Rinds of 44 Lemons pared very thin; Steep the Rinds in Brandy 24 Hours, then strain it off. Put to it 4 Quarts of Water, 4 Large Nutmegs grated, 2 Quarts of Lemon Juice, 2 pounds of double refined Sugar. When the Sugar is dissolv’d boil 3 Quarts of Milk and put to the rest hot as you take it off the Fire, and stir it about. Let it stand 2 Hours; then run it thro’ a Jelly-bag til it is clear; then bottle it off."

Christmas Food & Drink - England's Traditional Plum Pudding

There is a popular myth that plum pudding's association with Christmas goes back to a custom in medieval England, & that the "pudding should be made on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, that it be prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles, and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction."

  In England - Stirring the Christmas pudding.

However, actual recipes for plum puddings begin to appear in the 18C.  In 1747, London food writer Hannah Glasse had given a recipe for Christmas plum porridge, but it appears that East Sussex cook Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her cookbook.

 In England - Family Stirring Christmas Pudding 1876

There is a popular but unsubstantiated myth that in 1714, King George I requested that plum pudding be served as part of his royal feast in his first Christmas in England. A recipe for "plum porridge" appeared in Christmas Entertainments in 1740. 

 In England - Christmas Pudding

As techniques for meat preserving improved in the 18C, the actual meat of both mince pie & plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. The mince pie kept its name, though the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding.

 In England - Taking up the Christmas pudding

Although plum pudding was always a celebratory dish, it was originally eaten at the Harvest Festival, not Christmas. It was not until the 1830s, that the pudding of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly & looking like a cannonball, made a definite appearance, becoming more & more associated with Christmas. 

 In England - Taking up the Christmas pudding

  In England - Presenting the plum pudding

1806 The Christmas pudding, or, Grandspas darling Williams, Charles, fl. 1797-1830, printmaker.

Christmas Food & Drink - A Brief History of the tradition Wassail

William Hogarth (1697-1764) 'The Midnight Conversation', Detail. c 1732

"Wassail" appears in English literature as a salute as early as the 8C poem Beowulf, in references such as "warriors' wassail and words of power" and: 

The rider sleepeth, 
the hero, far-hidden; no harp resounds, 
in the courts no wassail, as once was heard.

An anonymous Anglo-Norman Poet, who witnessed the Saxon toasting cry before the Battle of Hastings in 1066, wrote:

Rejoice and wassail 
Pass the bottle and drink healthy 
Drink backwards and drink to me
Drink half and drink empty.

In Saxon times the original Wassail was was a greeting meaning: "be in good health."  In 12C, it became  a toast, the response to the toast became drink hail, or "drink good health."  Norman conquerors who arrived in the 11C regarded the toast as distinctive of the English natives.  

A story told in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, written in 1135, purports to explain the origin of the toast:
The story of toasting 'wassail' begins when Renwein presented King Vortigern with a cup of wine and the salute 'Was hail.'
The story of toasting "wassail" begins when Renwein presented King Vortigern with a cup of wine and the salute "Was hail."
While Vortigern was being entertained at a royal banquet, the girl Renwein came out of an inner room carrying a golden goblet full of wine. She walked up to the King, curtsied low, and said "Lavert King, was hail!" When he saw the girl's face, Vortigern was greatly struck by her beauty and was filled with desire for her. He asked his interpreter what it was that the girl had said and what he ought to reply to her. "She called you Lord King and did you honour by drinking your health. What you should reply is 'drinc hail.'" Vortigern immediately said the words "drinc hail" and ordered Renwein to drink. Then he took the goblet from her hand, kissed her and drank in his turn. 

Ronald Hutton in his The Rise and Fall of Merry England.  Oxford, 1996, reports: "A 14C text by Peterd e Langtoft describes in detail the custom involving this vessel, to which the Tudor sources only refer in passing: the leader of a gathering took it and cried "Wassail" Old English for "your health". He was answered "Drink hail," and then passed it to another person with a kiss, so that these actions could be repeated by each.  At the early Tudor court it was accompanied into the king's presence by the chief officers of the household, bearing staves.  In great families it was made of precious metal- Edmund earl of March, leaving a silver one upon his death in 1382."  

Wooden Lignum Vitae Wassail Bowl Owned by Arthur Chichester, Brought from Devon to Ulster in 1599

"The bowl is first mentioned by Matthew Paris in the 13C, as one in which cakes and fine white bread were communally dipped."  

"Near the end of the 13C, Robert of Gloucester retold the legend of the marriage of the British king Vortigern with the Saxon princess Rowena, making the latter drink to the former with the words "waes heal." 

"When Peter de Lantoft repeated the story in the 1320s, he portrayed people drinking alternately from the same cup with the exchange "wassaille" and "drinkhaille", exactly as in Tudor England. This sequence raises the possibility that the exchange became customary around 1300, but this, again cannot be proved."

English Lead Glazed Earthenware Wassail Bowl from Wilshire Dated 14-12-1682

On the introduction of Christianity, the custom of wassailing was not abolished, but it assumed a religious aspect. The monks called the wassail bowl the poculum caritatis (loving cup), a term still retained in the London companies, but in the universities the term Grace Cup is more general. Immediately after grace the silver cup, filled with sack (spiced wine) is passed round. The master and wardens drink welcome to their guests; the cup is then passed round to all the guests.  A loving or grace cup should always have two handles, and some have as many as four. Loving Cup. This ceremony, of drinking from one cup and passing it round, was observed in the Jewish paschal supper, and our Lord refers to the custom in the words, “Drink ye all of it.”“He [the master of the house] laid hold of the yesset with both hands, lifted it up, and said- Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, thou king of the world, who hast given us the fruit of the vine; and the whole assembly said `Amen.' Then drinking first himself from the cup, he passed it round to the rest."  From Eldad the Pilgrim, chap. ix."

English Wooden Lignum Vitae Wassail Bowl and Cover Late 17C

On the Twelfth Day, January 8, & Wassail from Le Neve, The Royalle Book, Henry VII:  "As for the void on the Twelfth Night, the king and the queen ought to have it in the hall.  And as for the wassail, the steward, the treasurer, and the controller, shall come for it with their staves in their hands; the king's server and the queen's having fair towels about their necks, and dishes in their hands, such as the king and queen shall eat of; the king's carvers and the queen's shall come after with chargers or dishes, such as the king or queen shall eat of, and with towels about their necks. And no man shall bear anything unless sworn for three months.  And the steward, treasurer, comptroller, and marshall of the hall shall ordain for all the hall.  And, if it be in the great chamber, then shall the chamberlain and ushers ordain, after the above form;  and if there be a bishop, his own squire, or else the king's such as the officers choose to assign shall serve him; and so of all the other estates, if they be dukes or earls; and so of duchesses and countesses.   And then there must come in the ushers of the chamber, with the pile of cups, the king's cups and the queen's and the bishop's with the butlers and wine to the cupboard, and then a squire for the body to bear the cup, and another for the queen's cup such as is sworn for hire.  The singers (of the chapel) may stand at one side of the hall, and when the steward cometh in at the hall-door, with the wassail, he must cry thrice "Wassail," &c, and then shall the chapel answer it aon with a good song, and thus in likewise, if it pleased the king to keep the great chamber.  And when the king and queen have done, they will go into the chamber.  And there belongeth for the king, two lights with the void, and two lights with the cup; and for the queen as many."

English Lead Glazed Earthenware Wassail Bowl from Wilshire Dated 14-12-1682

Lead Glazed Earthenware Wassail Bowl & Cover from WiltshireDated 1702

The Wassail Cup Scottish 1871

Wooden Lignum Vitae Wassail Bowl Dated 1685

English Silver Mounted Lignum Vitae Wassail Bowl c. 1720

Christmas Food & Drink - 1660 English Christmas Day Bill of Fare

"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 boil'd partridge. 7. A chine of beef, or surloin roast. 8. Minced pies. 9. A Jegote of mutton with anchove 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.

"The second course for the same Mess. Oranges and Lemons. 1. A Young lamb or kid. 2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded. 3. A pig souc't with tongues. 4. Three ducks, one larded. 5. Three pheasants, 1 larded. 6. A Swan Pye. 7. Three brace of partridge, three larded. 8. Made dish in puff paste. 9. Bolonia sausages, and anChoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish. 10. Six teels, three larded. 11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon. 12. Ten plovers, five larded. 13. A quince Pye, or warden pye. 14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded. 15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins &c. 16. A dish of Larks. 17. Six dried neats tongues. 18. Sturgeon. 19. Powdered Geese. Jellies."
---The Accomplisht Cook, Robert May

Robert May (1588–c 1664) was an English professional chef who trained in France & worked in England. He is best known for writing & publishing the 1660 cookbook The Accomplisht Cook. May was born in Wing, Buckinghamshire to Edwarde & Joan Mayes in 1588. His father worked at Ascott Park as the chief cook to the Dormer family.

At age 10, May was sent to Paris by Lady Dormer—where he trained for 5 years to become a chef. Following his training, he served his apprenticeship in London, working for Arthur Hollinsworth (cook to the Grocer's Hall & Star Chamber). After his apprenticeship, May returned to Wing & became one of the 5 cooks reporting to his father at Ascott Park. 

In the mid-1630s Sir Anthony Browne employed May to be the chef at his country estate (Cowdray House) in west Sussex. May was Catholic & worked for a total of 13 households of minor English nobility (including many aristocratic Catholic families) until the English Civil War (1642–1651).

Following the English Civil War, May wrote & published The Accomplisht Cook which he subtitled Or the Art & Mystery of Cooking. The work was 1st published in 1660, & the last revision made during the author's lifetime was published in 1665. The 1685 edition of the work (at least its 5th) contains about 300 pages. May's work is considered to be the 1st major recipe book to be published in England. Prior to this, most cooks carefully guarded the secrets of their profession.

Christmas Food & Drink - Robert Herrick 1591-1674 The Wassail Bowl

The Wassail Bowl an excerpt from "Ah, Posthumus!"
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Next I'll cause my hopeful lad,
If a wild apple can be had,
To crown the hearth;
Lar thus conspiring with our mirth;
Then to infuse
Our browner ale into the cruse;
Which, sweetly spiced, we'll first carouse
Unto the Genius of the house.

Then the next health to friends of mine.
Loving the brave Burgundian wine,
High sons of pith,
Whose fortunes I have frolick'd with;
Such as could well
Bear up the magic bough and spell;
And dancing 'bout the mystic Thyrse,
Give up the just applause to verse;

To those, and then again to thee,
We'll drink, my Wickes, until we be
Plump as the cherry,
Though not so fresh, yet full as merry
As the cricket,
The untamed heifer, or the pricket,1
Until our tongues shall tell our ears,
We're younger by a score of years.

Thus, till we see the fire less shine
From th' embers than the kitling's eyne,
We'll still sit up,
Sphering about the wassail cup,
To all those times
Which gave me honour for my rhymes;
The coal once spent, we'll then to bed,
Far more than night bewearied.

Christmas Food & Drink- Englishman Thomas Tusser (1520-1580) on Christmas Food

At Christmas play and make cheer
For Christmas comes but once a year
Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall
Brawn, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall:
Beef, mutton and pork, shred pies of the best:
Pig, veal, goose and capon and turkey well drest:
Cheese, apples and nuts, jolly carols to hear,
As then in the country is counted good cheer.
       Thomas Tusser (c. 1520-1580)

A 1614 Edition of Tusser's 1573 enlarged version.

Thomas Tusser was an East Anglian writer on agriculture, whose metrical Five Hundrethe Pointes of Good Husbandrie (1573), an enlarged version of his A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie (1557), went into numerous editions.

Christmas Food & Drink- A Tudor Christmas

Paragraphs enclosed in quotations are from Tudor Christmas from the History Learning Site

"A Tudor Christmas was starting to resemble something we in the 21C might recognize, even if there were some parts to a Christmas we would not!

"The first record of a turkey being brought to Europe was in 1519. It was to be many years before this bird had reason to fear the Festive season. For the rich, the traditional meat on Christmas Day remained swan, goose etc as in a Medieval Christmas feast. 

Woodcut by Michael Wolgemut Nuremburg, 1491.

"In fact, in 1588, Elizabeth I ordered that everybody should have goose for their Christmas dinner as it was the first meal she had after the victory of the Spanish Armada and she believed that this gesture would be a fitting tribute to the English sailors who fought off the Spanish. However, it is not known how many of the poor of the land could carry out this order as goose remained an expensive luxury - though Christmas was seen as a special celebration.

"Peacocks were also on the menu for the rich. However, it became a Christmas tradition to skin the bird first, then cook it and then place the roast bird back into its skin as a main table presentation. 

Peacock with magnificent plumage. Aberdeen Bestiary. University of Aberdeen, MS 24, fol. 59r, 12C-13C 

Therefore, on the table would be what would appear to be a stuffed and feathered peacock, when, in fact, it had been thoroughly cooked. Sometimes, if they were feeling really extravagant, they gilded the combs. This practice had also taken place in some Medieval households.

The feast of the Peacock, from The Book of the Conquests and Deeds of Alexander (Musée du Petit-Palais L.Dut.456, fol. 86v), 15C

"The homes of the wealthy also used to cook a wild boar on Christmas Day and its head was used as a dinner table decoration. However, cooking made the head's fur go pale and so it was covered in soot and pig's grease to make the cooked head looked more natural.

"Christmas puddings were made of meat, oatmeal and spices. However, cooking this combination meant that if would fall to bits once it was ready to serve. The Tudors got over this by wrapping the mixture in the gut of a pig and cooking it in a sausage shape. It was then served by slices being carved from it and being served.......with the boar's head !!

"It was also the fashion in Tudor times for mince pies to be shaped like a crib. This creche curiosity was a mince pie baked in the shape of the manger to hold a figure of the Child. The pie was then eaten on Christmas. The rule of Oliver Cromwell in the mid 17C ended this practice (at least temporarily) as it was seen as bordering on blasphemy."  

However, the tradition persisted. One later diarist wrote, "Grandmother always excelled herself at the Christmas dinner. First, there was a hot mutton pie, with oyster patties, then a huge goose, one which had gobbled up many a tit-bit to hasten its own demise, with attendant vegetables. Ending up with a lemon pudding, plum porridge, junket, apple fritters. And should there be any room, a mince pie, baked in the old-fashioned coffin-shaped crust (learnt of her mother) to represent the cratch or manger in which the Holy Child was laid." 

"1587 is the first recorded date we have of brussel sprouts being used in cooking."

In Saxon times the original form of the word Wassail was was hail, (be whole) & as a greeting meaning: "be in good health.". In 12C, it became  a toast, you replied: drink hail, or "drink good health".  The toast originated with the Danes, & by the 12C the Normans thought it to be one of the most popular sayings of Britain.  The word Wassail later was used for the punch drink related to the toast.  The punch which was usually spiced ale or a form of mulled wine made throughout the Christmas season & especially for Christmas Eve or Twelfth Night. In the west of Britain the good health of the apple trees was toasted on Twelfth Night. The luck of next year's crop of cider apples was wished. Bread soaked in cider was put into the branches of trees to keep evil spirits away. Ritual songs were sung.  Some report that at the bottom of some Wassail bowls was a crust of bread, that particular drink was offered to the most important person in the room & then passed around. This was the origin of a ‘toast’ which survives to this day as part of the drinking ritual. 

Another punch-like brew was known as Lambswool which was made from roasted apples, beer, nutmeg, ginger & sugar.  The name came from the froth on the top. It was offered to the most important person in the household first, who would drink from the bowl and pass it on. This would not seem odd to the Tudors as drinking from a communal bowl was normal practice. 

Reportedly, some Tudors also had their Family Coat of Arms made from salads which accompanied the meal. Twelfth cake was a fruitcake eaten on twelfth night. It had a dried bean or coin hidden inside – you became the ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ for the evening and host/hostess for the nights entertainments if you were fortunate enough to find this object. The Tudor banquets were very lavish affairs – as many as 24 courses were included. 

Food at Tudor Banquets

The Taste of Medieval Food 
By Analida Braeger

the taste of medieval food
When speaking of medieval foods, most people think of one or two things: drab, tasteless foods, or the historically inaccurate meals served at medieval reenactments where patrons eat sans utensils while watching some sort of entertaining reenactment. Both conceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.  For starters, medieval foods were anything but drab and tasteless. The tables of the well-to-do were a constant display of numerous dishes, heavily spiced and often presented in visually exciting ways. 
Although utensils were not all that common, knives were widely used. Hosts were not required to provide knives for their guests, so guests brought their own. These knives were quite different from the dinner table knives of today. Medieval knives served two purposes: eating & fighting. Yes they had a pointed tip! Spoons were used to a certain extent & forks seldom, but they did make the occasional appearance at the dinner table. The notion that utensils were completely absent from the medieval dinner table is erroneous because among the aristocracy manners and cleanliness were de riguer.

The belief that medieval diners were akin to savages ripping apart meat with their teeth or bare hands, could not be more inaccurate. Dining customs were carefully observed and followed during medieval times. At the banquet table your station in life dictated where you got to sit. Washing was required and mandated either at a washing station in or near the banquet hall.

Sometimes, aquamaniles, special containers with pour spouts were provided. Washing apart from being a sign of civility, and good upbringing was a health concern as well.  The medieval palate craved flavor; it became accustomed to foods heavily accented with exotic spices.  This culinary preference was the result of the lucrative spice trade that came to dominate Europe during the Middle Ages, and the status symbol associated with them. This elevated status was often attributed to the long voyage spices made from their place of provenance to Europe. Another factor was the often embellished tales surrounding the native habitat of the spices as well as what had to be done to procure them. Because of their status symbol, spices were often publicly displayed. Salt cellars (often called nefs) in the form of ships were present at the dinner table of the well-to-do, as well as ornate spice containers. Given the astronomical cost of most spices, this display was most certainly an outward and ostentatious show of wealth. The major spices during the Middle Ages were: black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and saffron. Another common spice, galangal which is akin to ginger was also widely used. Today galangal has all but disappeared from the European spice vocabulary. We do find galangal in Thai cooking however. Cloves were also highly valued, but due to their exorbitant cost were not as liberally used as the other aforementioned spices. Account books of manors detail the enormous amount of spices that were purchased during any given year.  Herbs such as rosemary and parsley were also widely used in cooking, however, they were a local product, they were not given much importance, and considered “too local” to be given much prominence.

Cooks employed by the well-to-do had a tall order to follow: to create flavorful meals and present them in imaginative and awe inspiring ways. While today’s chefs strive to make the individual ingredients speak for themselves, the cooks of the Middle Ages aimed for artifice and fantasy in a Disneyesque kind of way. Guests as well as patrons expected it.

The typical medieval feast of a great manor or castle often consisted of 3-4 courses. Each course in turn was comprised of 4-5 dishes, where repetition of dishes was not uncommon.  The sequence of courses was often served according to the contemporary medical belief that that the stomach was “like an oven” in which food was cooked. It was therefore important to “warm up the oven” with lighter dishes first and then progress to the heavier dishes. Hippocras, a spiced wine was served for at the conclusion of the meal as a digestive.  To make the Hippocras spices were ground and passed through a sieve known as manicum Hippocraticum (sleeve of Hippocrates), a reference to Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine.

The medieval banquet was a culinary feast for the eyes as well. Between courses it was customary to regale guests with a “subtlety.” This could take the place of a historical reenactment, an edible food item aimed at entertaining and amazing guests, or a decorative item not meant for human consumption. Peter Freedman in Out of the East describes a favorite subtlety served at banquets: Pomys en Gele, basically apples in aspic. However, these were not really apples, but meatballs colored with parsley sauce and served with aspic. They were certainly edible, but were not what they appeared to be. Subtleties also made political statements. In A History of Taste, Paul Freedman discusses a dinner given in honor of the Duke of Savoy in 1416. The occasion? The Duke’s newly acquired territory. For the subtlety the pastry chef executed a relief map representing the new duchy. Edible? Maybe, but the dual purpose of the subtlety was served either way.

Madeleine Pelner Cosman explains in her book: Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony that to achieve the fantastic effects as well as to make food go a long way the cooks of the Middle Ages availed themselves of three major techniques: alaying, aforcing, and endorring. These combined with the artistry of the cook created the visual and gustatory excitement the medieval banquet was famous for. Aforcing meant increasing the amount to make the food go further, so it would feed more people. Allaying dealt with diluting.  Some of the common ingredients used inaforcing and alaying were almond milk, verjuice (fermented grape juice) and bread. Vinegar was also sometimes used to “point” or add bite to the dishes. Endorring was perhaps the most exciting way to change the visual quality of a dish. Basically, endorring meant adding a gold hue to the food. Saffron was the most widely used spice to achieve this effect. Using saffron certainly made the food edible. Another, slightly more ostentatious, yet non edible item used to achieve the endorring effect was gold leaf.

Tastes during the Middle Ages varied greatly from today’s tastes. Typical of what was pleasing to the medieval palate were: lamprey, eel, peacock, swan, partridge and other assorted small songbirds. Apart from perhaps eel, none of the above items feature in today’s culinary offerings. Dairy products were often perceived as the province of the peasant class.  Sausages were seldom found on the tables of the wealthy. The reason for this? Sausages were preserved. Since the wealthy had ample access to fresh meats, they saw no need in eating something that was preserved.  Although household account books indicate that fruits were consumed, they do not feature prominently in the cookbooks of the time.  Medieval foods were anything but dull and drab. They combined art and artifice to entice the palate as well as the eyes. The prolific use of spices and special effects contributed to foods that were rich in taste and presentation.

taste of medieval food