Food & feasts
Many of the foods the Stuarts ate at Christmas we still eat today. Stuart Christmases were a time of feasts and plenty. All good folk were encouraged to share their fortune with the poor.
'Who feast the poor a true reward shall find
Or help the old, the feeble lame and blind'
In Stuart times the most impressive meat dish was the boar's head with an apple or lemon in its mouth. The head was crowned with holly, ivy and rosemary and carried into the hall. At Queen's College, Oxford they serenaded the boar's head with its own carol:
'The boars head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary
And I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot est is in convivio'
Did you know..?
If you could not afford a boar's head a poor person's version was brawn made from boar's flesh.
Turkeys were introduced from America at this time. They were brought to England by the Spanish in 1500. The Christmas menu sometimes included capons, hens, turkeys, geese and ducks.
This was a large pie, which represented the manger of Jesus. Christmas pies were so special they were guarded against thieves. They contained meat, game, spices, fruit and suet (animal fat).
Minced pies were smaller but just as exotic in their contents – suet, chopped apple, lemon peel and juice, currants, raisins, spices, candied citron peel and sugar. You had to eat a mince pie on each of the 12 days, for 12 happy months ahead.
Christmas or plum porridge
This was the beginning of Christmas pudding as we know it today. In Stuart times it was more like a thick soup. It was served at the beginning of the feast. It was made from boiled beef and mutton broth, breadcrumbs, raisins, currants, prunes, wine, spices, cloves and ginger. A little silver charm and coins were added for good luck. At the end of the Stuart period the meats began to be left out and it became a sweet pudding.
Twelfth Night cakes were amazing confections made from butter, flour, sugar dried fruit, nuts, spices, candied fruits and honey. They were iced with decorative figures.
Did you know?
In Stuart times salt, sugar, currant, raisins, dates, figs and apricots were called spices.
In the 1650s, coffee came to England and was a luxury.
Spices were very important in Stuart times. They were used not only to flavour food but also as medicines and perfumes. Spices were very expensive because they came from distant lands. You will probably have spices at home such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, mace and pepper (black and white). Oranges and lemons were expensive too and were popular at Christmas. Two very special spices have a Christmas connection, frankincense and myrrh.