Christmas Menu 1890 from Godey’s Lady’s Book

Vintage Christmas Postcard
Vintage Christmas Postcard

Lately, I’ve been “getting it” that the Victorian era played a tremendously important role in Western history. Think of Beatrix Potter and Peter, Victoria and Albert, the Crimea and the Czars, colonels and colonies.

And there’s nowhere better to start looking at the Victorians and their impact than in the kitchen, whether those kitchens were in far-flung hill stations in India or cottages in the Cotswolds. Or in the newly minted United States of America.

For example, Godey’s Lady’s Book, a highly popular serial publication called by some the “Victorian Bible of the Parlor,” molded American household practices throughout the nineteenth century. In the beginning, this book-like magazine simply reprinted articles from British publications. The far-reaching influence of this Victorian-era magazine for women is nearly incalculable. (Click here for an online index to issues from 1855-1865.)

Many of the traditions Americans so strongly associate with Christmas come almost entirely from the Victorians.

And Godey’s Lady’s Book helped to perpetuate those practices.

Or so common wisdom has it.

This ghost of Christmas past resembles only slightly the currently common American Christmas menu (turkey and cranberry sauce), which generally replicates the menu associated with Thanksgiving.

Raw Oysters
Fried smelts            Sauce tartare
Potatoes a la Maitre d’ Hotel
Sweetbread Patés        Peas
Roast Turkey       Cranberry Sauce
Roman Punch
Quail with Truffles         Rice Croquettes
Parisian Salad
Crackers and Cheese
Nesselrode Pudding*               Fancy Cakes
Fruit              Coffee

Today we tend to forget just how British (and French) we used to be in this country, but the fact remains, we owe much of our culinary heritage to England. (And some of us owe our red hair and freckles — fading though they may be —  to that noble, if not at times flawed, heritage, too!)

*Nesselrode Pudding

According to historical records, M. Mouy, the chef to the nineteenth-century Russian diplomat, Count Karl Robert von Nesselrode, Russian statesman, created this sublime dessert. Rumor suggests that chefs froze early versions of the pudding into animal bladders, according to food historian Ivan Day. The following recipe comes from Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (1908).

One pint of shelled almonds, one pint and a half of shelled chestnuts, one pint of cream, a pint can of pineapple, the yolks of ten eggs, half a pound of French candied fruit, one table-spoonful of vanilla extract, four of wine, one pint of water, one of sugar. Boil the chestnuts half an hour; then rub off the black skins, and pound in the mortar until a paste. Blanch the almonds, and pound in the same manner. Boil the sugar, water and juice from the pineapple for twenty minutes in a sauce-pan. Beat the yolks of the eggs, and stir them into the syrup. Put the sauce-pan in another of boiling water and beat the mixture, with an egg beater, until it thickens. Take off, place in a basin of cold water, and beat for ten minutes. Mix the almonds and chestnuts with the cream, and rub all through a sieve. Add the candied fruit and the pineapple, cut fine. Mix this with the cooked mixture. Add the flavor and half a teaspoonful of salt. Freeze the same as ice cream.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

One thought on “Christmas Menu 1890 from Godey’s Lady’s Book

  1. As editor of The Congregationalist, the quarterly magazine of American Congregationalism, I am wondering about the possibility of acquiring a high-resolution JPEG of the “Vintage Christmas Postcard” heading the 12/19/08 post “Christmas Menu 1890 from Godey’s Lady’s Book” and permission for one-time use to illustrate a Christmas article in our December 2009 issue.

    Time is of the essence, we go to press next week. Thanks for any help you can give me.

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