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5 (almost) Forgotten Historical Christmas Dishes

5 (almost) Forgotten Historical Christmas Dishes

A look at five dishes from throughout history that used to be served to celebrate the festive holiday of Christmas

By FDL on

Moist turkey slathered in crispy bacon, perfectly roasted ham, juicy goose and crunchy, fluffy roasted potatoes. Succulent brussel sprouts with walnuts, rich gravies and of course mince pies and steamed puddings. All classic Christmas dishes that most people look forward to devouring over the festive period. However, Christmas dinner has not always been this way, in fact, many dishes people used to eat at Christmas have long been forgotten, until now.

Here's FDL's Ghosts of Christmas Dinner Past - five historical dishes that used to be cooked to celebrate Christmas.

1 - Mince Pies with Real Meat - 1200s

A British tradition and also served throughout Europe and America, Mince Pies are still a classic dish to be eaten at Christmas time. Made with pastry and a selection of minced fruits and spices (currants, cherries, raisins, apricots, cinnamon, nutmeg and sometimes nuts) the pies date back as far as the 12th Century with many reports claiming they come from the traditional Roman festival, Saturnalia, in which sweet meat 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 sweet meats with fruits and spices. Through time meat has been phased out of most modern mince pie production but there are still many people who prefer to create the original pies using suet and real meat.

The Independent newspaper have a brief history of the Mince Pie including a classic recipe if you feel like adding meat back to your Christmas pie this year.

2 - Frumenty - 1300s

Made in a number a ways including ingredients such as almonds, currants, milk, eggs, fruits (currents, raisins) almonds and often using fish and meat - Frumenty is a dish that dates back to medieval times.

It's main ingredient is cracked wheat and the dish has been part of traditional Christmas meals around the world. The recipe involves taking 1 cup of cracked wheat and adding to pre-boiled water. 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. Frumenty is said to be the precursor of plum pudding which, with the development of new cooking methods and technique, became the Christmas pudding we all know and love today.

A recipe for Frumenty has been found in the Vatican Library and was also printed in Le Viandier De Taillevent - a recipe collection that dates back to 1300.

3 - Wild Boar's Head - 1500s

The hunting of wild boar goes back as far as Roman times and has been presented as a Christmas dish as far back as 1553. A recipe for the dish is found in Sabina Welserin's cookbook and calls for a head to be boiled in well water, laid on a grate, slathered in wine and roasted while being constantly basted with more wine.

The dish would then take centre stage on the table and was often served with a black sauce containing wine, cherry syrup, sugar, ginger, pepper, cloves, raisins, almonds and cinnamon - delicious!

4 - A Yorkshire Pie - 1700s

Found in Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery, which was first published in 1747, the Yorkshire pie is one serious Christmas dish, in fact, it's quite possibly the world's meatiest pie. First the cook must skin and bone a goose, a turkey, a fowl a partridge and a pigeon - wipe the sweat of their brow and then 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 (not intended to be eaten). First the pigeon, then the partridge, then fowl, followed by the goose and finally the turkey. But that's not it for the meat, Hannah's recipe then called for some hare, some woodcocks, game and any extra wild fowl the cook can lay their hands on - at least four pounds of butter must be added before laying over a very thick pie lid and baking in an a very hot oven for at least 4-hours.

The dish is rarely served today, mainly because of it's complexity and sheer decadent ingredient list, but smaller variations containing less meat can still be found served at Christmas.

5 - Oyster Stew - 1800s

Oysters have not always been the delicacy they're seen as today and in many towns, especially those close to the sea, they were consumed as a cheap and plentiful ingredient.

The idea of eating Fish at Christmas goes back to ancient times and in many traditions around Europe fish is still consumed on the eve of the big day as meat before a religious feast is frowned on by the Catholic church.

The tradition of oyster stew on Christmas eve is difficult to date but most texts claim that it was started by Irish immigrants who fled to the states during the great potato famine in the 1800s. Eating a fish stew made with a salted fish called ling was already tradition but unable to find their coveted ling in their new home Irish settlers looked for alternatives and began to cook Oysters in place of fish. Of all the recipes listed above this dish is still the most popular today with many people around the world still consuming it on the eve of Christmas.

If you don't fancy trying to rekindle some Christmas dinner ghosts this year why not check out some of these great FDL Christmas recipes.

With thanks to Food Timeline for their information on the subject.

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