If you’re feeling nostalgic and would like to have a Charles Dickens-like Christmas dinner, check out the updated version of Dickens’ story “A Christmas Dinner,” which features not only the story but also original recipes that have been modernized by culinary historian Alice Ross.
Dickens’ wife Catherine loved to cook, and even wrote her own cookbook under a pen name. “A Christmas Dinner” (Red Rock Press, $24.95) includes a copy of what would have been the family’s traditional Christmas dinner menu, along with the recipes.
In addition to stuffed turkey, the Dickens family would have feasted on Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Cod with Oyster Sauce, Lamb with Celery Sauce, Kalecannon, Pickled Baked Beet Root, Stewed Chestnuts, Pickled Mushrooms and, of course, Christmas Pudding, Christmas Cake and Mince Pies. The drink menu included a brandy punch, wine, beer and ale.
Here’s a 19th-century recipe for Twelfth Cakes, taken from a cookbook used in Catherine Dickens’ kitchen:
MAKE A CAVITY in the middle of six pounds of flour, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; put round it a pound of fresh butter in small lumps, a pound and a quarter of sugar sifted, four pounds and a half of currants, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange, lemon-peel, and citron. When risen, mix all together with a little warm milk; have the hoops well papered and buttered, fill and bake them. When nearly cold, ice them over.
– A Lady, The New London Cookery, adapted to the use of private families, 9th Edition (London, 1838)
TO MAKE MARCH-PANE (MARZIPAN) – Take almonds, scald them, then put them into cold water, drain them, wipe them, then pownd them in a marble mortar, moisten them frequently with the white of an egg to keep them from oiling. In the mean time take half the weight of your almond-paste, in clarify’d sugar, boil it ’till it becomes feathered, then put in your almonds by handfuls, stir it well with a spatula, that it do not stick to the pan. Pass the back of your hand over it, and if it stick not to it, it is enough.
– John Nott, Cook’s Dictionary (London, 1726)
A FINE ICEING FOR CAKES – Beat up the whites of five eggs to a froth, and put to them a pound of double-refined sugar powdered and sifted, and three spoonsful of orange-flower water, or lemon-juice. Keep beating it all the time the cake is in the oven; and the moment it comes out, ice over the top with a spoon. Some put a grain of ambergris into the iceing, but that is too powerful for many palates.
– A Lady, The New London Cookery, adapted to the use of private families, 9th Edition, (London, 1838)