Today, December 23rd …
James Woodforde was an English country parson who kept a diary for over 40 years, giving us a wonderful picture of middle class life in the eighteenth century. Like his contemporary Samuel Johnson, he minded his belly very much, and often recorded his dinners.
As Christmas approached, on this day in 1769, he bought his Christmas goose:
“To a fatted Goose at 5 Pence per Pound”
Nine years later on December 23rd 1778 he entertained guests. The ham was disappointing:
“ I gave them for dinner 3 Fowls boiled, part of a Ham, the major part of which Ham was entirely eat out by the flies getting into it, a tongue boiled, a Leg of Mutton rosted, and an excellent currant Pudding. I gave them for Supper a couple of Rabbits smothered in onions, some Hash Mutton and some rosted Potatoes, We were exceedingly merry indeed all the night.”
Folks were generally much more forgiving in the days before refrigeration, although Samuel Pepys over a century earlier recorded a dinner at which “my stomach was turned when my sturgeon came to table, upon which I saw very many little worms creeping, which I suppose was through the staleness of the pickle.” Most of us would never, ever, host a dinner party again, if we had given fly-blown ham to guests - and the guests certainly wouldn’t have stayed on for supper and been exceeding merry. An excellent pudding can only make up for so much.
It is highly unlikely that there was any sort of cookbook in the parson’s household, although they were being churned out thick and fast at the time. Charlotte Mason’s “Lady’s Assistant for regulating and supplying her table … ”, was published in the same year as the ham disaster. Here are a couple of her suggestions:
It must be seasoned with sage and onion, cut very small, and mixed with pepper and salt; an hour will roast it: boil the sage and onion in a little water before they are cut, it prevents their eating so strong, and takes off the rawness.
For sauce – gravy and apple sauce.
A very good common pudding, with currants.
A pound of currants, a pound of suet, five eggs, four spoonfuls of flower, half a nutmeg, a tea-spoonful of ginger, a little powder sugar, a little salt; boil this three hours.
On Monday: On keeping husbands at home.