Jessica Carter winds the clock back to see just how our Christmas tucker has transformed…

Call me crazy, but I usually spend most of December obsessing over what’s going to be on top of the dinner table come the 25th, rather than what’s going to be under the tree. Fast forward to the big day and it’s most likely going to be the golden roast turkey followed by a flaming pudding – no doubt we’ll see off a cheeky mince pie or six throughout the course of the day, too. It just has to be done. It’s tradition; law practically.

It’s taken hundreds of years for Christmas dinner to evolve into what we know today. Go back a few monarchs, and you might have been sitting down to roast hog, peacock, cockerel, or even swan on Christmas Day. This feast would then have been followed by the Christmas pudding’s earliest ancestor, plum porridge. Or plum pottage, as it was in its earliest form. Yep, the stalwart Christmas pudding descends from a disgusting-sounding dish made of – and it varies from source to source – dried fruit, sugar, wine, bread and boiled meat that needed to be preserved at the end of the season. Spruced up and steadily sweetened over the years, the pottage mixture resembled something more familiar and far more palatable by the Victorian era.

I am partial to a mince pie while firmly stationed on the sofa, getting stuck into a string of Christmas TV specials, but I’m not so sure I could handle a pie of the old-school variety. Once upon a time this festive snack would have been a Fray Bentos-style, family-size savoury pie, filled with various cuts of minced meat and offal.

The recipes for these ancient treats are unlikely to receive any air-time from celebrity chefs undertaking festive duties on the box this year. Anyway, if they were to slide a swan into the oven, they may as well hop in with it because they’d be in for a right royal roasting themselves from the authorities. But, without some of these long-forgotten foundations, our beloved celebratory banquet may have been a very different affair, so three cheers for boiled meat and prunes!

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