Food At Christmas - DBH1 The Web Site 2021

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Food At Christmas


I have a Victorian Book of Days. In it under Christmas food was the following mouth watering descriptions. Where a word is not clear in meaning I have noted the modern meaning in brackets with my initials

The Book Of Days On Christmas Food

"The brave days of old were, if rude and unrefined, at least distinguished by a hearty and profuse hospitality. During the Christmas holidays, open-house was kept by the barons and knights, and for a fortnight and upwards, nothing was heard of but revelry and feasting. The grand feast, however, given by the feudal chieftain to his friends and retainers, took place with great pomp and circumstance on Christmas-day.

Among the dishes served upon this important occasion, the boar's head was first at the feast and foremost on the board. Heralded by a jubilant flourish of trumpets, and accompanied by strains of merry minstrels, it was carried-on a dish of gold or silver, no meaner metal would suffice-into the banqueting-hall by the sewer; who, as he advanced at the head of the stately procession of nobles, knights, and ladies, sang

The boar's head in hand bring I
With garlands gay and rosemary;
I pray you all sing merrily,
The boar's head, I understand,
Is the chief service in this land;
Look wherever it be found,
For this hath ordained our steward,
To cheer you all this Christmas-
The boar's head and mustard!

The boars head was then placed upon the table with a solemn gravity befitting the dignity of such a noble dish

'Sweet rosemary and bays around it spread;
His foaming tusks with some large pippin graced,
Or midst those thundering spears an orange placed,
Sauce, like himself, offensive to its foes,
The roguish mustard, dangerous to the nose.'

The latter condiment was indispensable. An old book of instruction for the proper service of the royal table says emphatically : 'First set forth mustard with brawn; take your knife in your hand, and cut brawn in the dish as it lieth, and lay on your sovereign's trencher, and see there be mustard !'

The lessee of the tithes of Horn Church, Essex, had, every Christmas, to provide a boar's-head, which, after being dressed and garnished with bay, was wrestled for in a field adjoining the church.

The custom of serving up the ancient dish at Queen's College, Oxford, to a variation of the old carol, sprung, according to the university legend, from a valorous act on the part of a student of the college in question. While walking in Shotover forest, studying his Aristotle, he was suddenly made aware of the presence of a wild-boar, by the animal rushing at him open-mouthed. With great presence of mind, and the exclamation, 'Graecum est,' (It's Greek DBH) the collegian thrust the philosopher's ethics down his assailant's throat, and having choked the savage with the sage, went on his way rejoicing.

The Lord Jersey of the Walpolian era was a great lover of the quondam (sometime DBH) Christmas favourite, and also according to her own account-of Miss Ford, the lady whom Whitehead and Lord Holdernesse thought so admirably adapted for Gray's friend, Mason, 'being excellent in singing, loving solitude, and full of immeasurable affectations.' Lord Jersey sent Miss Ford a boar's head, a strange first present, at which the lady laughed, saying she had often had the honour of meeting it at his lordship's table, and would have ate it had it been eatable. Her noble admirer resented the scornful insinuation, and indignantly replied, that the head in question was not the one the lady had seen so often, but one perfectly fresh and sweet, having been taken out of the pickle that very morning; and not content with defending his head, Lord Jersey revenged himself by denying that his heart had ever been susceptible of the charms of the fair epicure.

Next in importance to the boar's-head as a Christmas-dish came the peacock. To prepare Argus for the table was a task entailing no little trouble. The skin was first carefully stripped off, with the plumage adhering ; the bird was then roasted ; when done and partially cooled, it was sewed up again in its feathers, its beak gilt, and so sent to table. Sometimes the whole body was covered with leaf-gold, and a piece of cotton, saturated with spirits, placed in its beak, and lighted before the carver commenced operations. This `food for lovers and meat for lords was stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, basted with yolk of egg, and served with plenty of gravy ; on great occasions, as many as three fat wethers (castrated rams DBH) being bruised (minced up DBH) to make enough for a single peacock.

The noble bird was not served by common hands ; that privilege was reserved for the lady-guests most distinguished by birth or beauty. One of them carried it into the dining-hall to the sound of music, the rest of the ladies following in due order. The bearer of the dish set it down before the master of the house or his most honoured guest. After a tournament, the victor in the lists was expected to shew his skill in cutting up inferior animals. On such occasions, however, the bird was usually served in a pie, at one end of which his plumed crest appeared above the crust, while at the other his tail was unfolded in all its glory. Over this splendid dish did the knights-errant swear to undertake any perilous enterprise that came in their way, and succour lovely woman in distress after the most approved chevalier (chivalrous DBH) fashion. Hence Justice Shallow derived his oath of 'By cock and pie !'

The latest instance of peacock-eating we can call to mind, is that of a dinner given to William IV. when Duke of Clarence, by the governor of Grenada ; when his royal highness was astonished by the appearance of the many-hued bird, dressed in a manner that would have delighted a medieval Ude or Soyer."

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