The taste of Christmas past: historical festive recipes

It’s the season to eat, drink and be merry; a time for indulging in a little (or a lot) of what you fancy. But what did people in the 17th and 18th centuries eat at Christmas, and could you turn your hand to the recipes?

Shapes for pies from T Hall, The Queen's Royal Cookery, 1713

To make Plum broth AKA ‘Christmas potage’ (1691-1738)

Take a leg of beef and a good slice of mutton and put it in a pot with some water and set it over the fire, and when it boileth put in some grated bread and some prunes and a little whole spice. An hour after put in some raisins and currants and let it boil leisurely. And when it is boiled enough season it with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger mace, and salt, and then sweeten it with sugar to your taste. Put in some verjuice. Serve it up with a little bread put in the dishes.

To make Punch (1663-1740)

One quart of Brandy 2 quarts of water & lemons & 4 ounces of sugar

To make mince pies (c1654-1685)

Take a large fat neat’s tongue, parboil it, and take off the hard outside. Then take two pound of the choicest of it, then put it to two pound and a half of the best beef kidney suet, two pound and a quarter of the best currants, half a pound of raisins of the sun, stoned and minced very fine, six of the best largest pippins -either scrape them or mince them till they are a perfect pulp. Put in a quarter of a pound of dates sliced, of orange, lemon and citron peel, of each a quarter of a pound, two whole nutmegs, three drams of mace, two of cinnamon and one of cloves. You must dry your spice before the fire, then beat it and sift it. You must put in one or two large maligo lemons – the peel must be grated amongst the sweetmeats, that is all the yellow of it, and the juice must be squeezed among the sack and rosewater. Put in six pennyworth of ambergris and let it be bruised among the spice. You must put in salt, sugar, sack and rosewater according to your taste. The tongue must be chopped as fine as is possible. The suet must be shred very fine and sifted through a coarse hair sieve. You may put in great lumps of marrow but then less suet will serve. You may slice all your sweetmeats thin but do not cut the pieces too small.

Here are some 17th-century mince pie designs:

To make a turkey pie, 1692

Take your turkey and take the wings off close to the shoulders. Draw it, put your turkey between a cloth, and beat the breast bone flat. With a cleaver take out the gizzard and liver, and season the outside and inside very well. Put it into your pie. Fill your pie up with butter. Then close your pie and bake it six hours. If you bone your turkey you must take ducks or capons and bone them and fill your turkey whole as it was with them, and put in one ounce and a half of pepper mixed with salt. When your pie is drawn and almost cold, you must put in three pound of clarified butter and when it is cold you must stop up the funnel with raw butter.

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