Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas in the Arctic (c. 1850)

On the 4th of May, 1850, an expedition under the command of Captain Austin, C.B., sailed from the Thames in search of Sir John Franklin and his missing companions. As is well known, the search was unsuccessful. The memoirs and letters from members of the expedition which are contained in today’s book are, however, a fascinating story in themselves.

The book is Arctic Miscellanies: A Souvenir of the Late Polar Search by Officers and Seamen of the Expedition, edited by Sir John Ross (London, 1852), and one of the contributors provides your virtual Christmas dinner today.

Christmas Day, 1850

My subject, "Christmas fare," so long a matter of curiosity, has now become of considerable interest to us all. I therefore offer to the Arctic public a bill of fare of one of the former Expeditions, with some comments thereon.
H.M.S.' ------------- ,' DECEMBER 25TH, 18—

Mock-turtle Soup.
Quarter of Mutton.
Potatoes.        Green Peas.
Mutton Pie.               Ham.
Green Peas.               Potatoes.
Hamburgh Beef.
Cranberry Tart.        Mince Pies.

Fruit Pie.
Cheese, Ale and Porter.
English Plum-cake.
Almonds. Raisins.

Arctic fare affords so little variety, that I do not expect even our ingenious caterers can add much to this simple list: they may, however, replace the "spiced Hamburgh" by good English roast beef; but the mutton we must retain — it is so nutritious, so well suited to the present delicate state of our stomachs.
With appetites sharpened by old zero, we shall quickly demolish the ordinary routine of hams, potatoes, peas, &c., and thus clear away for the second course. Plum-pudding and mince pies are powerful stimulants to memory, and are therefore indispensable at this festive season. The imagination, thus excited, pictures home as it was, is, or is to be, and dwells on ties too tender to be touched on here; and thus we enjoy a delicious mental repast. But mark! fruit pie, cranberry tart; observe the admirable tact and profound knowledge of human necessities in this rigorous climate, displayed by tempting with such invaluable antiscorbutics!
…. In these Arctic regions, where we are keeping our Christmas, the weather outside is twice as cold, and we are surrounded by fifty times the quantity of ice and snow that there is in England; and for that very reason should we make the inside as comfortable as possible, not only by eating fish, fresh beef and mutton, preserved chickens, green peas, mince-pies, plum-pudding, fruit pie, double Gloucester, with the royal standard on the top, and plum-cake; but also by keeping up the other good old Christmas custom of awakening our imagination by relating all the jolly stories about ghosts and robbers that we ever heard —bearing in mind that a good story is never told too often—and bringing to our minds again the times when, years ago, we used to listen to similar stories around our own happy firesides; and thus shall we make each other as comfortable in the spirit, by recalling the by-gone associations of our childhood, as we do in the gastric receptacles of our economy, by enjoying the best cheer that the season will afford.
I remain, Mr. Editor,
Yours very sincerely,


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