Although not as elaborate as a classic Victorian Christmas, holiday celebrations during the Regency period were full of merrymaking and a great deal of food. The Twelve Days of Christmas saw elaborate dinners and balls, as well as smaller, more intimate gatherings.
Christmas assemblies, held at inns or public assembly rooms, could feature enormous quantities of food for large gatherings. The bill of fare at one holiday assembly, for instance, included turtle soup, giblet soup, pea soup, cod, perch, scalloped oysters, eggs, veal cutlets, mutton, pork chops, rump steaks, sausages, and roast lamb. The cold dishes were equally impressive, with three hams, several tongues of beef, six chickens, literally hundreds of minced pies, ten fruit tarts, and a few hundred jellies. Pickled salmon and cold crab rounded out the menu.
This sort of culinary extravagance could even extend to the table settings, which were often edible. Wealthy hostesses took pride in elaborate centerpieces composed of pastry and sugar paste. Depictions of rural scenes were popular—miniature villages peopled with sugar figurines—as were baskets of artificial flowers composed of sugar and glazed to imitate porcelain. Too gorgeous to eat, these artistic displays imparted a festive flair to any holiday table.
In more modest households, Yorkshire Pie often took pride of place, both at Christmas Eve supper and at breakfast the following morning. This special pie was very large, very high, and stuffed with a variety of meats or poultry encased in jelly. One classic recipe from the eighteenth century lists turkey, partridge, chicken, and pigeon; spices such as nutmeg and mace; all then overlaid with “at least” four pounds of butter and encased in a good, thick crust. Needless to say, one Yorkshire Pie could last several meals!
In addition to Yorkshire Pie, a Regency Christmas breakfast might also include minced pie (chicken or meat, eggs, sugar, raisins, lemons, orange, and spices, baked in a crust), large rounds of Double Gloucester or Cheshire cheese, French rolls, currant jelly, and buttered toast. Large plum cakes were also served over the holidays, often purchased from a pastry shop.
And let’s not forget the classic Christmas pudding. The original was a rather messy affair: beef or mutton broth thickened with brown bread, with raisins, currants, mace, clover, and ginger added during the boiling process. More porridge than firm pudding, it was refined by King George III’s chef to more closely resemble the dish we know today. Still, whether messy or firm, puddings were popular during the holidays. Tasty and inexpensive, they were perfect for a busy hostess with a house full of guests.
Finally, no Regency Christmas was complete without the wassail bowl. The highlight of many a holiday party, wassail usually featured a base of mulled apple cider, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Apples and oranges could be added to the mix, and the recipe was often topped off with brandy or sherry. A merrymaking beverage, indeed, the perfect start—or end—to any holiday gathering.
Christmas during the Regency Era was a time of good cheer, much food, and a welcome respite from the dreary days and dark nights of winter.
In best-selling author Vanessa Kelly’s irresistible Clan Kendrick series, Christmas in the Highlands means family, celebration—and for one brother, the beginning of a passionate adventure . . .
Being thrown over by the man she expected to marry was humiliating enough. Now that Donella Haddon, grand-niece of the Earl of Riddick, has also proven a failure as a nun, she has no choice but to return to her family’s estate. The brawny Highlander sent to escort her is brash, handsome, and the only thing standing between Donella and a gang of would-be kidnappers. But the scandal in her past can’t be so easily outrun.
Wealthy widower Logan Kendrick was expecting to meet a plain, pious spinster—not a gorgeous, sharp-tongued lass who can hold her own in any ambush. Though she’s known as the Flower of Clan Graham, Donella is no shrinking violet. In fact, she might be the perfect woman to bring happiness back to his lonely little son’s life just in time for Christmas. But first, he must protect her from ugly gossip and a mysterious threat—and convince her that their wild, unexpected desire is heaven sent.
Vanessa Kelly is the award-winning and USA Today best-selling author of The Improper Princesses series, the Clan Kendrick, The Renegade Royals, and The Stanton Family series, in addition to other historical romances. Named by Booklist as one of the “Stars of Historical Romance,” her books have been translated into nine languages and published internationally. In graduate school, Vanessa specialized in the study of eighteenth-century British fiction and is known for developing vibrant Regency settings, appealing characters, and witty story lines that captivate readers. She lives with her husband in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Visit her online at vanessakellyauthor.com or on the social platforms below.