One English army officer of WW I wrote a letter to The Times in which he described the very satisfying surprise Christmas dinner he enjoyed “somewhere in France” in 1915.
FOUR COURSES AT THE FRONT.
DINNER AND “CRACKERS” ON SERVICE.
A non-commissioned officer in an Infantry regiment writes from France:-
I’ve got quite settled down again, and am at present suffering from bad indigestion consequent upon a huge and most unexpected Christmas dinner. It happened thus.
We are quartered in a large chateau “somewhere in, &c.”, and the C.O. gave a swagger dinner to the officers – a real imitation of the Ritz affairs. I have a little room to myself (the study of the one-time owner, now an officer in the French army), and was sitting disconsolate therein. The adjutant strolled in, and asked me what I liked to drink! Result – one bottle of port. He then gave orders that a portion of the banquet should be brought in for me and one of my clerks, which was awfully decent of him. In about ten minutes came course 1 – soup. Course 2 – turkey, peas, greens, and “spuds”, and gravy followed; and then close on the heels of this came course 3 – plum pudding and brandy sauce. No.4 consisted of cherries and blancmange, and this was hotly pursued by fruit, nuts, coffee, cigars, crackers (with paper hats!), various drinks and liqueurs. How’s that for Christmas on active service,eh?
The sequel was amusing. I gravely discussed some business matters after dinner with an officer decorated with a paper “baby’s bonnet”, and a wreath of paper festoons, myself likewise ornamented with a gaudy plumed helmet and flourishing a bunch of grapes.
The Vintage Christmas Recipes archive has many choices for the soup, turkey, and pudding on this menu, so I invite you to visit it for inspiration. The Christmas recipe archive does not, however, appear to have any recipes for ‘spuds’- for these you will have to visit the Fun With Potatoes collection.
Before I could turn to the challenge of giving you a WW I recipe for ‘spuds’ the word itself. The first port of call, of course, is the Oxford English Dictionary. This gives a number of definitions for ‘spud’, my ridiculously brief and highly selective summary of which is:
- in the fifteenth century it meant ‘a short and poor knife or dagger’
- in the seventeenth century it meant ‘an iron head or blade socketed on or fixed to a plough-staff’, and also ‘a digging or weeding implement of the spade-type, having a narrow chisel-shaped blade.
- by the early nineteenth century it was ‘a digging fork with three broad prongs’
- by the mid-nineteenth century it had come to mean ‘a potato’ – with the specific citation being from the
English social researcher Henry Mayhew’s extensive writings on ‘London Labour and the London Poor.’ The context was of ‘spuddy’ as ‘a nickname for a seller of bad potatoes.’
The word ‘spud’ itself is, (as if you could not guess), of ‘obscure origin.’ I am sure someone somewhere has some theories, and one day I am going to continue this little research thread.
In the meanwhile, the recipe idea for the day comes from an article on ‘Simple Hints for Light Dishes, appearing in The Times just before Christmas in 1915.
Besides stuffed tomatoes, it is possible to make light and seasonable lunch dishes by stuffing baked potatoes or baked onions with ordinary mince, having removed the centres, and then putting them back into the oven to get quite hot. A pinch of chopped herbs, a little chutney, or a tiny pinch of mace makes a good seasoning, but this part must never to overdone.
Quotation for the Day.
It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.