Pre-Victorian English Christmas food

This is something I found lying on the web.
ON CHRISTMAS DAY BRITAIN crackles to the sound of 14,000,000 roasting turkeys. Henry VIII takes the credit for being the first to tuck into a turkey for Christmas dinner – but Henry made a meal out of most things anyway. For more than 300 years goose knocked the stuffing out of all competitors for the nation’s favourite Christmas meal. Its popularity was boosted further when Queen Elizabeth happened to be eating it on Christmas Eve, when she was given news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. George the First’s favourite Yuletide treat was lashings of Christmas pud. Those old fashioned rich, spicy suet puddings were traditionally made on the last Sunday in Advent and stirred by each member of the family who made a wish. Dinner at Windsor castle in the days of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was an elaborate ritual. Each Christmas they began with turtle soup, followed by a choice of haddock or sole, and beef or roast swan. Guests then ploughed through a selection of veal, chicken, turbot, curried rabbit, pheasant and capon. Then if there was room left, and there usually was, they stuffed themselves with mince pies and pudding. Nowadays it is a modest affair of turtle soup, roast turkey and Christmas pud washed down with Champagne and claret from the Royal cellars. At the other end of the scale there were a few official cookery hints for Christmas dinner in the lean years following World War Two. The Food Ministry’s suggestions for an ‘austerity Christmas’ included “Make a nice sweet beetroot pudding with very little sugar”. Or you could try “Delicious dishes from left-over bread”. To round it all off there was Christmas pudding made from grated raw potato, carrot and melted dripping – with a warning that it would not last more than two or three days. It would have taken longer than that to tempt someone today to try a spoonful. In those Christmases of long ago, before jogging was invented, tables groaned under a monster concoction called ‘Great Pye’. In Medieval days it was always the centrepiece at the Royal Christmas table, assuming the table was strong enough. Contained beneath inch-thick, armour-plated pastry was a whole turkey stuffed with a whole goose, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a partridge, stuffed with a pigeon. Thrown in for good measure, in case anyone complained they weren’t getting enough, was a hare, a few wild duck and a couple of woodcock. Gulp. Our ancestors certainly knew how to prepare a Christmas dinner. Kings especially believed in doing themselves proud, and sat down to some gargantuan meals. At one Christmas dinner arranged by Edward III, the first English king to employ a French chef, 2,000 oxen were roasted. In 1399 Richard II did even better. He entertained 10,000 people and hired more than 1,000 cooks, each a specialist in a different dish. But the biggest Christmas dinner ever provided in Britain was not given in a royal palace, but in Cawood Castle, Yorkshire, in 1566, to celebrate the installation of a member of the family as Archbishop of York. One hundred and four oxen, 1,000 sheep, 6 wild boars and 304 calves were served up, together with thousands of geese, rabbits and game blrds. One of the biggest pies ever served was for Sir Henry Grey in 1770. Weighing more than one and a half hundredweight, it contained four geese, four turkeys, six snipe, six pigeons, two rabbits, two ox-tongues and numerous other items. When it was ready he fitted it with wheels and had it driven by road from Berwick to London for Christmas. Under an ancient charter, Paignton, South Devon, must provide a Christmas pudding large enough to feed all its poor people every 50 years. In 1800, the pudding weighed 900lb and contained 120lb of suet, over a bushel of eggs, 500lb of flour and 100lb of raisins. At least there was no chance of anyone coming back for seconds. In contrast, if you spent Christmas Eve in Poland you could find yourself starving. They call it the Festival of the Star.

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