Happy Christmas from 221B Baker St.
“It is the season for forgiveness”
- Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”
Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson observed the Christmas holidays. In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” Dr. Watson visits Mr. Holmes to wish him “the compliments of the season.” Mr. Holmes is engaged in this story to locate a superb diamond stolen from the Countess of Morcar’s hotel suite and which is subsequently discovered in a Christmas goose.
I think you may find the following of interest as it describes how some popular Christmas traditions evolved in Victorian times. I had a Christmas tree of my own in my sitting room as well as some lovely greenery on the mantle and window frames. Unfortunately, my tenant’s rooms were filled with too much clutter to be able to accommodate any such décor.
Prior to 1837, Christmas as a holiday did not exist in Britain. It was considered to be a regular workday. Small gifts were exchanged on New Year’s Day. The holiday we as we now know it was largely developed in Britain during Queen Victoria’s reign. Her Prince Consort, Albert, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” published in 1843, and the Industrial revolution all contributed to creating enduring Christmas traditions. By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas holiday was firmly entrenched in British culture
It was Prince Albert in 1840 who introduced the Christmas tree from his native Germany where they were popular since the 16th century. At first candles, nuts, fruit and sweets and small homemade gifts decorated the trees in upper class households. They were the only people who could afford to purchase rare handmade items. After The Illustrated London News published a drawing of Queen Victoria’s family in 1848 gathered around the Christmas tree, it became the fashion for every affluent home to adopt the new tradition. The first trees were small tabletop affairs. As gifts grew larger and decorations for the trees became more widely available, Victorians placed them on the floor. The first ornaments included tinsel made of silver strands, hand blown fruit and nut shaped glass which eventually turning into a more spherical shapes. Also included were gilded apples, angels, tassels, chocolate wreaths and silver cornucopias.
With the advent of factories, games, dolls, books and clockwork toys became widely available to the middle classes. Christmas gifts were no longer restricted to the wealthy. Children of the poor classes received stockings with sweets, fruit and nuts which is still a tradition among all classes today.
The industrial revolution, as depicted by Dickens, focused on the terrible working conditions of the lower classes. At first, jobs became scarcer as they were taken over by machines. Child labour was also prevalent as families tried to rise against the tide of poverty. The situation grew worse until the literature of social reform, particularly Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” highlighted these abuses. Britain, a nation whose wealth was growing exponentially, had the power to put reforms in place later in the 19th century to redistribute money more fairly and to improve working conditions. Lower classes of society were looked after, and had better chances of making not just a living, but even flourishing. The gradual redistribution of wealth made it possible to permit workers to have Christmas and Boxing Day off and for city workers to visit their country families by rail. Boxing Day was originally created to permit the servants in upper class families and the working class to have a day off to allow individuals to open their “boxes” of gifts from the rich upper and middle classes.
The first Christmas card was made by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. He commissioned an artist to create a festive scene. 1000 copies were printed and offered for sale in Sir Henry’s art shop. Ever the trendsetter, Queen Victoria quickly adopted the idea and had her children prepare her cards. The custom was followed by the upper classes. Later in the century, improvements in printing techniques and lower postage fees made Christmas cards more affordable for the masses. By 1880 over 11 million Christmas cards were sold.
Homes and churches began to be decorated with evergreen boughs, mistletoe, ivy and holly that revived the pagan ritual of showing the promise of spring as well as their purported magical force against evil. The reintroduction of the Yule log represented good health and prosperity.
Whilst Christmas carols were not unknown to the Victorians, it was a tradition that enjoyed a rebirth. Old words were put to new tunes including the 400 year old song, “The First Noel”. Wassailing was also an ancient custom that was revived. It originally was a medieval exchange of food and gifts, and particularly the giving cups of wassail, a potent drink. This practice evolved into carol-singing but the tradition of handing out of wassail remained. Other carols included “O Come all ye Faithful” in 1843, “O Little town of Bethlehem” in 1868 and “Away in a Manger” in 1883.
The Christmas cracker as we know them today also trace back to Victorian times. Tom Smith was inspired on a trip to France where he saw sugared almonds wrapped in twists of paper. He created the Christmas cracker in 1848: a roll filled with sweets that would crack when they were pulled apart. The sweets were substituted in the later Victorian period with small gifts and paper hats.
Thus, the Victorians were responsible for instituting wonderful Christmas traditions that exist to the present day.
Blue Carbuncle Roast Goose
1 whole goose 8-10 lbs.
6-8 tart baking apples (like Granny Smith) peeled
cored and quartered
¼ cup raisins
1 sliced lemon, nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 head garlic
1 bunch each fresh thyme and sage sprigs
1 onion quartered, 1 dried bay leaf
6 peeled and quartered potatoes
Optional: 1 superb diamond
Preheat oven to 325F. Combine the apples, raisins, lemon slices in a bowl. Salt them lightly and dust with a little nutmeg.
Remove the neck and giblets from the goose and rinse it thoroughly with cold running water, and pat dry with paper towels. Trim as much of the excess fat as possible from the opening of the cavity. Generously sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper, and insert the garlic, apple mixture, onion, thyme, sage and bay leaf. (Insert diamond if desired.) Tie the legs together with a piece of kitchen twine. Sprinkle goose with salt and pepper. Place goose back down in a deep roasting pan with a rack. Cover lightly with foil and place in oven.
After 2 ½ hours remove foil and baste goose. Continue cooking and basting until brown and tender. Cook until thermometer inserted in the breast reaches a temperature of 180F. (A large goose should take 3-3 ½ hours to roast.)
Add the potatoes to the pan 1 hour after the goose has been placed in the oven. They will be ready with the goose and very crispy after cooking in the fat.
Remove the goose from the oven and place on a platter. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. Garnish with small apples, grapes and herbs, if desired.
Traditional Wassail for Slow Cooker
6 small firm apples cored
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water, 72 ounces ale
3 cups Madeira
10 whole cloves
10 whole allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick 2” long plus more for garnish
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
6 large eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 350F. Put apples in a glass baking dish and spoon the brown sugar evenly into the centre of each apple. Pour water into bottom of dish and bake 45 minutes or until tender.
Pour the Madeira and ale into a 5 quart or larger slow cooker. Put the allspice, cloves and cinnamon stick into a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string. Add to slow cooker along with ginger and nutmeg. Cook on medium heat and warm the mixture to 120F. Be certain not to boil.
Place egg whites into a medium bowl and beat until stiff peaks form using a hand mixer. Beat the egg yolks in a large separate bowl until light and frothy approximately 2 minutes. Add egg whites to yolks and beat until just combined using hand mixer. Slowly add 2/3 cup of the liquid from the slow cooker to the eggs, while beating with hand mixer on low. Add this mixture to the slow cooker and whisk to combine.
Add the apples plus the liquid from the baking dish to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Ladle into cups with chunks of apple and garnish with cinnamon sticks.
This is a Christmas cookie that originated in Germany in the 16th century. The German name spritzgeback is commonly shortened to spritz, derived from the German verb spritzen which means to squirt. They are commonly made with a cookie press but can be made with a pastry bag.
½ lb. salted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sifted flour (may need to add up to another 3rd cup)
½ tsp baking soda, maraschino cherries cut into quarters to decorate the center of the cookies if desired
Preheat oven to 400F.
Cream butter and sugar on medium speed about 5 minutes or until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and mix to incorporate.
Sift together the flour and baking powder.
Add to butter mixture a bit at a time and mix until everything is combined.
Fill cookie press with enough dough to press comfortably. (If pastry is too soft refrigerate for 15 minutes.) Press onto ungreased cookie sheets. Garnish with maraschino cherry quarters if desired.
Place on middle rack in oven and bake for 5-7 minutes or until edges begin to brown very slightly.
After baking remove immediately from cookie sheet and cool on wire rack
Find more recipes like this in "Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen" Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. Available now in Audio format and in ebook Kindle.