Christmas Menu for 1660
The earliest published Christmas menu dates from 1660, the year of Charles II’s restoration to the throne. The Accomplisht Cook was written by Robert May, an English chef who trained in France and cooked for nobility throughout his life.
This remarkable document includes a section titled “A bill of fare for Christmas Day and how to set the meat in order” in which May suggests 39 dishes split over two courses, plus oysters, oranges, lemons, and jellies for dessert. The menu is surprising not only because of its size, but because it contains so many proteins—there are 11 different types of birds alone—and not much else. May was nostalgically attempting to revive the lavish hospitality on offer before the austerity of the Commonwealth, when even enjoying a mince pie was frowned upon by the more extreme Puritans.
The entire text with recipes is only available to read for free on Project Gutenberg — LINK HERE — although it isn’t the easiest formatting to scan through. There are several publications available on Amazon, in print and Kindle, the most recent from 2015. (click image to the right)
On May’s overladen table are several dishes that are close to the Christmas foods we enjoy today. There is turkey for instance, though it is served in two ways – as a pie and as a roast bird, stuck with cloves. However, it does not enjoy the pride of place we would give it today. In this vast Christmas feast, the turkey is crowded out by an array of other birds and dishes, such as a kid goat with a pudding in its belly. Gross!
I wouldn’t suggest tackling this menu unless you are catering Christmas dinner for the entire village. But, maybe one or two of the more exotic dishes are in order…. as a conversation piece if nothing else!
A bill of fare for Christmas Day and how to set the meat in order
A collar of brawn (pork that is rolled, tied, and boiled in wine and seasonings)
Stewed broth of mutton with marrow bones
A grand sallet (salad)
A pottage (thick stew) of caponets (young castrated roosters)
A breast of veal in stoffado (stuffed veal)
A boil’d partridge
A chine (a cut of meat containing backbone) of beef, or sirloin roast
To roast a Chine, Rib, Loin, Brisket, or Fillet of Beef
Draw them with parsley, rosemary, tyme, sweet marjoram, sage, winter savory, or lemon, or plain without any of them, fresh or salt, as you please; broach it, or spit it, roast it and baste it with butter; a good chine of beef will ask six hours roasting. For the sauce take strait tops of rosemary, sage-leaves, picked parsley, tyme, and sweet marjoram; and strew them in wine vinegar, and the beef gravy; or otherways with gravy and juice of oranges and lemons. Sometimes for change in saucers of vinegar and pepper.
A jegote (sausage) of mutton with anchovy sauce
A made dish of sweetbread (glands of a calf or lamb, most commonly)
A swan roast
A pasty of venison
A kid with a pudding in his belly
A steak pie
A haunch of venison, roasted
A turkey, roast and stuck with cloves
A made dish of chickens in puff paste
Two bran geese (also brant or brent, a small species of goose) roasted, one larded (larding is inserting or weaving strips of fat in the meat, sometimes with a needle)
Two large capons (castrated rooster)
The second course for the same mess
Oranges and lemons
A young lamb or kid
Two couple of rabbits, two larded
A pig souc’t (sauced) with tongues
Three ducks, one larded
Three pheasants, one larded
A swan pye (the showpiece: a pie with the dead swan’s head, neck, and wings sticking up from it)
Three brace (a “brace” is a pair, so three brace would be six total) of partridge, three larded
Made dish in puff paste
Bolonia sausages, and anchovies, mushrooms, and cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish
Six teels (a small dabbling duck), three larded
A gammon (the hind leg of pork after it has been cured) of Westphalia bacon (a German variety)
Ten plovers, (a species of wading bird) five larded
A quince pye, or warden pie (pears or quinces peeled and poached in syrup, then baked whole in a pie)
Six woodcocks,(a species of wading bird) three larded
A standing tart in puff paste, preserved
fruits, pippins, etc
A dish of larks (a type of bird)
Six dried neats (calf) tongues
Sturgeon (a species of fish)
Powdered (salted) geese
I recently discovered that a popular new dish for Christmas is Turducken, which is a turkey stuffed with a duck which is stuffed with a chicken (all deboned, I believe) and bread or cornbread stuffing. Now I see where whoever created that monstrosity got their inspiration. (And I imagine that “popular” is relative …)
Turduckens originated here in the south. Can’t recall where exactly. I want to say Tennessee, but that may not be right. In any case, it is much more popular in the southern states. I’ve still not seen one myself, and it isn’t high enough on my list of “must eats” to hunt one down. LOL!
Chef Paul Prudomme created the turducken in the 1970s in New Orleans. Now you can buy at the grocery during the holidays. It is not difficult to create.