Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Medieval Christmas - Part 2

I hope that everyone is having a very merry Christmas or correlating feast day today! To continue with our food and feasting theme, let's turn our attention to the Christmas day dinner. I hope these recipes inspire and intrigue you, perhaps you will even consider adding them to your own Christmas dinner menu for next year.

Three of the most popular dishes that would become associated with the Christmas feast were plum pudding, and mincemeat pies (the ones made with real meat), but perhaps the most popular was boar's head (shown above). This dish was so liked and synonymous with the season that if an actual boar's head could not be procured, a faux presentation of one was made with cake or cheeses, and this was considered acceptable.


2 lbs ground lean stew meat (traditionally either venison or beef)
1-2 cups shortening
4 cups cored and chopped apples (peel if you like)
2.5 cups raisins
1.5 cups currants, chopped
2.5 cups sugar
3 cups pie cherries, pitted
1.5 pints strong cold coffee
1 pint cider
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 tbs black pepper
1 tbs allspice
6 tsp salt

Cook meat until tender. In a large pan (dutch oven) add all ingredients but the meat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the meat and stir well. This is now your 'pie filling'.

Here is also Alton Brown's Mincemeat Pie recipe, complete with pie crust.

PLUM PUDDING: (aka Christmas Pudding - aka Plum Duff).

Truth: Plum pudding contains no actual plums. Say what?! The word 'plum' in pre-Victorian times meant 'raisin'! But today we include plums. Go figure.

Epicurious.com has a great recipe for traditional plum pudding that excludes plums. Also, you can read up on some of the history of plum pudding here.


Bean Cake was a food "game" that was played at the Christmas feast. The following passage is from Terrance Scully's book The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages (a link to this book is included in the previous post) about Bean Cake....

Since the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6) commemorated the visit of the Wise Men or the Magi (kings) to the Christ child, it became universally customary to prepare a cake in the shape of a royal crown for this celebration. Originally in antique times a mere wreath to symbolize power and victory, the crown had come to symbolize purity and consecration. As a food, the many versions of the 'King Cake' testify to the broad popularity of this cake at this time in the ecclesiastical calendar. Certain traditions, involving the hiding of small articles in this cake grew with its use: if a person eating it found a pea or bean in his piece, he was declared the 'king' or ruler over the Epiphany festivities; finding a ring presaged marriage in the coming year for the finder; finding a coin, wealth. 


Botanical Sketch of Elderflower

Seriously, sambocade might be the coolest thing on a medieval feast menu. Sambocade is a elderflower and cheese tart that is pretty similar to our version of a cheesecake.

Here is a modernized recipe for sambocade, but the only thing I do not like about this recipe is the the exclusion of rosewater from the list of ingredients. Rosewater in this dish is something that all versions of the medieval recipe have in common (besides the obvious ingredients of cheese and elderflowers). To rectify this, add 1 tbs of rosewater to this recipe and you should be good to go. Some medieval recipes also call for an addition of half tsps of black pepper and cloves to the cheese mixture, but these are optional.

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