Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton’s Christmas Feast – Part 1

The Victorian Kitchen exhibit at Tudor House and Garden, Southampton, Hampshire.

Apologies for stating the obvious but Christmas is nearly upon us and am pleased to say that this year I’m not at all stressed about preparations for the festive season.  This is not because I’m being smug and have brought all my presents, sent my cards and sorted the Christmas bill of fayre.  Quite the opposite is true.  At the time of writing, I haven’t done any shopping, brought cards or decided what I am going to cook. This year I decided to adopt a laid back approach to Christmas, setting aside only 3 days over the next 9 to complete it all. A challenge that I am going to relish.  I don’t wish to come over all ‘bah-humbug’ but why anyone would spend four months planning for a four-day holiday is beyond me. Ah well each to their own.  The Victorian housewife wouldn’t have begun preparing for Christmas in September for goodness sake! The plum pudding and Christmas cake would have been made well advance but all other preparations she would have taken in her stride. This year I am opting for a home-made Christmas and looking forward to making, baking and crafting. Happy baking and don’t stress-out about Christmas!

If you want to have a Christmas Victorian style then visit the BBC website Make Your Own Victorian Christmas which contains lots of activities to get you started.  The site includes instructions on how to make cards, sugar plums, wrapping paper, mulled wine, table mats, wassail punch, wreaths, crackers and much, much more.  Each activity comes with information about level of difficulty and time needed to complete.

Mrs Beeton will of course be my ‘go-to gal’ for festive recipes and I include here some of my favourites from my Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition).

Recipes featured:

  • Christmas Cake;
  • Christmas Pudding, without suet – fruitarian Plum Pudding;
  • Plum Pudding;
  • Sauce for Plum Pudding;
  • Chestnut Farce – Stuffing for Roast Turkey;
  • Sausage Farce – for Stuffing Turkey;
  • Bread Sauce;
  • Giblet Soup;
  • Turkey Soup;
  • Parsnip Soup;
  • Pickled Walnuts;
  • Piccalilli;
  • Spiced Vinegar;
  • Mixed Pickles.

Christmas Cake

1lb of butter, 1lb of castor sugar, 1lb of sultanas, 1 lb of currants, 3/4 of a lb of mixed candied peel, 2 lbs of flour, 1/2 and oz of baking-powder, 8 eggs, milk.

Sieve the baking-powder 2 or 3 times with the flour on to a sheet of paper to mix well.  Put the butter and the sugar into a clean plan and stand in front of the fire to soften. Weigh the fruit on to the flour, having carefully cleaned and picked them free from stalks and stones. Cut up the peel into thin shreds, and lay it with the fruit and flour. Break the eggs into a clean basin. Now proceed to beat up the butter and sugar into a cream with your hand, add the eggs in 1 at a time, beating well after each addition of eggs. When all are in, add the flour and fruit, moisten to the usual cake batter consistency with milk, and bake in round or square well-papered and greased tins. This will make about 7 lbs of cake and can be baked in 1 or more cakes, as desired. Baking time is 3 to 4 hours.

Christmas pudding. Image from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.

Christmas Pudding (Without Suet- Fruitarian Plum Pudding)

**Mrs B. provides 3 different recipes for Christmas pudding.  One without suet, one rich and one inexpensive.  I have chosen the recipe without suet because I have a couple of vegans in my family.  I know that you can purchase vegetable suet but I like the idea of not using any suet.**

1/2 a lb of figs, 1/2 a lb of breadcrumbs, 1/2 a lb of stone raisins, 1/4 of a lb of peeled sweet almonds, 1/4 of a lb of pine kernels, 1/4 of a lb of butter, 1/4 of a lb of shelled Brazil nuts, the grated rind of 1 and the juice of 2 lemons, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoonful of whole spice, a pinch of salt, 1/4 of a lb of moist or brown sugar, 2 apples, 1/4 of a lb of honey.

Mince the figs.  Peel, core and chop the apples.  Chop the almonds, pine kernels and nuts. Clean the fruit, and chop or shred the candied peel. Put all the dry ingredients in a basin, and add the honey and lemon juice. Beat up the eggs, and stir in with the above. When thoroughly mixed fill into 1 or 2 buttered moulds, tie over with a buttered cloth, and boil for 3 hours. When done, unmould, dish up and serve with a suitable sauce or custard.  This mixture will make 2 puddings.

Plum Pudding

** Mrs B. provides 5 recipes for plum pudding, 3 of which are specifically for Christmas.  I have chosen the recipe that will feed approximately 10 people.**

5 ozs of breadcrumbs, 4 ozs of flour, 4 ozs of finely chopped suet, 4 ozs of raisins, halved and stoned, 4 ozs of currants, washed and dried, 4 ozs of moist sugar, 2 ozs of shredded candied peel, 2 ozs of raw carrot grated, 1 level teaspoonful of finely grated lemon-rind, 1/2 a saltspoonful of grated nutmeg, 1 good teaspoonful of baking-powder, about 1/4 of a pint of milk, 2 eggs.

Mix all the dry ingredients except the baking-powder together, add the beaten eggs and sufficient milk to thoroughly moisten the whole, then cover, and let the mixture stand for 1 hour. When ready, stir in baking-powder, turn into a buttered mould or basin, and boil for 6 hours, or steam for 7 hours. Serve with a suitable sauce.

Sauce for Plum Pudding

** Mrs B. was a little bit naughty with this particular recipe.  It is not actually one of her own, it was created by French chef Alexis Benoist Soyer (1810-1858) who became one of Victorian Britain’s most celebrated cook and author.**

1/4 of a pint of milk, 2 glasses of brandy, 1 tablespoonful of castor sugar, the yolks of 2 eggs, a very little grated lemon-rind.

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan, set the pan on the fire, and whisk until the contents thicken and become frothy. Serve at once.

Roast turkey. Illustration from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. 1915 edition.

Chestnut Farce (stuffing) For Roast Turkey

2 lb of chestnuts, 1/2 a pint of stock or water, 1 oz of butter, a good pinch of sugar, salt and pepper.

Cut off the tops of the chestnuts, and bake or roast them for 20 minutes. Remove the outer and inner skins, put the chestnuts into a stewpan, add the stock (no more than will barely cover them), and simmer until they become tender and dry. Rub through a fine sieve, add the butter, salt and pepper, and use as required.

Sausage Farce for Stuffing Turkey

2 lb of lean pork, 4 level tablespoonfuls of freshly made breadcrumbs, 1/2 a teaspoonful of mixed herbs, 1/2 a teaspoonful of sage, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 teaspoonful of pepper, the liver of the turkey finely chopped. Stock.

Cut the pork into small pieces, and pass it two or three times through the mincing machine.  Add it to the breadcrumbs, herbs, liver, seasoning, and mix well together. Moisten with a very little stock and use.

Bread Sauce

1/2 a pint of milk, 1 tablespoonful of cream, 2 ozs of freshly made breadcrumbs, 1/4 of an oz of butter, 1 very small peeled onion, 1 clove, salt and pepper.

Put the milk and onion, with the clove stuck in it, into a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Add the breadcrumbs, and simmer gently for 20 minutes, then remove the onion, add salt and pepper to taste, stir in the butter and cream and serve. Takes 25 minutes to make and makes 1/2 a pint of sauce.

Giblet Soup

** Don’t throw away the turkey/goose/chicken giblets.  Take your cue from Mrs B., out of respect for the animal make sure that you use all of its parts.  It does take nearly 3 hours to prepare but worth it as at least you know there will be no wastage from your Christmas poultry.**

The giblets of a goose, turkey, duck or chicken to one set allow 1 lb of lean beef, and 3 pints of stock or 2 pints of water, 1/2 a carrot, 1 small onion, 1 strip of celery, a bouquet-garni (parsley, thyme, bay-leaf), 1 oz of butter, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, 1/2 a glass of sherry, salt, pepper, 1 tablespoonful of macaroni, cooked and cut across into tiny rings.

Skin the gizzard, scald and skin the feet, wash the neck and liver, dry and cut into small pieces. Melt the butter and fry the giblets, meat and sliced vegetables until brown, then add the stock, herbs, salt and pepper, and when boiling skim well.  Cook gently for 2 hours, then strain and return to the stewpan. When boiling, mix the sherry and the flour smoothly together and add to the soup, also the macaroni and any necessary seasoning, simmer a few minutes longer, and serve. Takes 2 – 3 hours to make and serves 6 persons.

Turkey Soup

2 quarts of white second stock, the remains of a cold roast turkey, 2 ozs of cooked macaroni, 1 1/2 ozs of creme de riz (rice-flour), 1 small onion, 1 bay-leaf, 1 small blade of mace, salt and pepper.

Divide the remains of the turkey and the bones into small pieces, put them into a stewpan with the onion, bay-leaf, mace, and a little salt and pepper or peppercorns, add the stock and simmer gently for 3 hours. Strain, return to the saucepan, add the creme de riz, previously blended smoothly with a little cold stock or milk, stir and boil gently for 7 or 8 minutes.  Have the macaroni ready boiled and cut into very short lengths, put it into the soup, season to taste, make thoroughly hot and serve. Takes 3 1/2 hours to make and should be sufficient for 6 persons.

Mrs B’s notes on the Turkey:

‘This well-known bird is a native of North America, where it abounds in a wild state. The plumage of the wild male bird is a golden bronze, shot with violet and green, banded with black.  The turkey is much esteemed for the excellence of its flesh and eggs.  In its domesticated state it is a very delicate bird and difficult to rear.’ (p. 177, 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management)

This is one of the gallinaceous birds, the principal genera of which are the pheasants, turkeys, peacocks, bustards, pintatoes and grouse.  They live chiefly on the ground scraping the earth with their feet, and feeding on seeds and grain which, previous to digestion, are macerated in their crops.  They usually associate in families consisting of one male and several females.  Turkeys are especially partial to the seeds of nettles.  It was introduced into England during the reign of Henry VIII.  According to Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, it began about the year 1585 to form a dish of the rural Christmas feast:

Beefe, 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.” (ibid. p.720)

Parsnip Soup

2 pints of second stock, 1 pint of milk, 3 or 4 parsnips, 1 onion, 2 strips of celery, 1 oz of butter, the juice of a lemon, or 1 tablespoonful of vinegar, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, salt and pepper.

Slice the vegetables, and fry them in the butter, without browning for about 15 minutes.  Add the stock, and simmer until the parsnips are tender (about 40 minutes), then rub through a wire sieve. Return to the stewpan, add the milk, salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Mix the flour with a little milk or water, pour it into the soup, stir, and cook for 5 or 6 minutes.  Add the lemon-juice and serve with croutons of fried or toasted bread.  The lemon-juice is added to correct the sweetness of the parsnips, and is simply a matter of taste.  Takes approximately 2 hours to make and serves 6 persons.

Mrs B’s note of the parsnip:

‘This is a biennial plant with bright yellow flowers and a root resembling the carrot, which in saccharine and nutritive matter it nearly equals.  Like the carrot, it grows wild in Britain, but only the cultivated parsnip is edible.  It is generally distributed over most parts of Europe, and in Roman Catholic countries forms with salt fish a Lenten dish.  A beverage is made from parsnips in conjunction with hops, and also a wine of agreeable flavour. The parsnip contains in 100 parts: – Water 82.5; proteids, 1.3; fats, 0.7; carbohydrates, 14.5; salts, 1.0.’ (p. 194, 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management)


This is a delicious accompaniment to cold meats on Boxing Day.

Cauliflowers, onions, gherkins, French beans, capsicums, spiced vinegar, mustard, turmeric, curry powder.

Divide the vegetables into convenient pieces, throw them into boiling brine sufficiently strong to float an egg, and cook for 3 minutes.  Drain well, spread them on large dishes, and let them remain in the sun until perfectly dry.  Prepare the vinegar as directed and add 1/2 an oz each of turmeric and curry powder to each quart of vinegar.  Also allow to each quart of vinegar 1 oz of mustard, which must be mixed smoothly with a little cold vinegar, and afterwards stirred into the boiling vinegar, but not allowed to boil.  Place the prepared vegetables in jars, cover them completely with vinegar and when quite cold, cover closely.

Spiced Vinegar

1 pint of good vinegar, 1 oz of black peppercorns, 1/2 an oz of whole ginger, 1/2 an oz of salt, 1/4 of an oz of allspice, 1/2 an oz of finely chopped shallots, 2 cloves of garlic bruised, 2 bay-leaves.

Pound or crush the peppercorns, ginger and allspice, put all into a jar, add the rest of the ingredients, and cover closely.  Let the jar remain in a warm place for 1 week, then place it in a saucepan containing boiling water, and cook gently for 1 hour.  When cold, cover closely, and store for use.

Mixed Pickles

An equal weight of small mild onions, sour apples and cucumbers, vinegar to cover.  To each pint of vinegar add 2 tablespoonfuls of sherry, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 a teaspoonful of pepper, a good pinch of cayenne.

Peel and slice the onions, apples and cucumbers thinly, put them into wide-necked bottles, add the seasoning and sherry, cover with vinegar, and cork closely.  This pickle may be used the following day, and should not be kept for any length of time.

Vegetable illustration from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. 1915 edition.