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Dining with History

No. 2

Mr and Mrs Charles Dickens

1 Devonshire Terrace, Regents Park

Christmas 1843


Dickens is often claimed as the inventor of the modern Christmas, primarily for the immortal legacy of Scrooge in English folklore and language. A Christmas Carol (published in 1843) is probably the best known of his stories, although much of what we associate today with the celebration of Christmas was unknown in the British Isles before 1840. The exchange of cards did not become fashionable until around the middle of the century, and the pagan holly and ivy formed the basis of decoration, the illuminated tree (also pagan, of course) not appearing in England until Prince Albert brought the custom from Germany. Christmas Day itself was a one-day holiday; most returned to work on Boxing Day (when the contents of the parish poor boxes were distributed to succour the impoverished). The modern custom of "bridging" from Christmas Eve to the second day of January would have seemed immoral to some Victorians and very strange to most.

So, for this second article on "Dining with History", we thought that instead of pushing back into earlier centuries, as we had intended, we might stay with Charles Dickens for a Christmas party.

 

Christmas Cake


Various Sandwiches


Mince Pies


Punch

 

Charles Dickens at the time of the party

 

Catherine Dickens's Christmas Cake was made from the traditional English recipe.

4 pounds of mixed fruit 6 ounces of almonds 3 level tablespoons of cornflour
1 1/4 pounds of plain flour 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon 1 pound of salted butter
1 pound of brown sugar 10 eggs 1 teaspoon of lemon essence
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence 1 teaspoon of almond essence 6 tablespoons of brandy
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Centigrade. Line a ten-inch deep cakepan with two sheets of greaseproof paper.

Prepare the fruit and almonds and mix with the cornflour.

Sieve together the flour, spices and baking powder

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and smooth. Beat the eggs well.

Add 1 tablespoon of the flour and then add the egg a little at a time, beating well between each addition.

When all the egg has been added, stir in the fruit, then the flour, then essences, and then 2 tablespoons of the brandy. Stir well.

Turn into the lined pan. Smooth the top with a wet knife. Make a depression in the centre so that the cake will rise evenly.

Bake for around 5 hours, or perhaps a little more depending on the oven. If the cake appears to be cooking too quickly, reduce the heat to 225 degrees.

When cooked and while still hot, pour the remainder of the brandy over the cake. Leave the cake in the pan until cold before turning out.

 

Punch with the Dickens family required more attention than we give to mulled wine.

Peel into a bowl the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin and with the pith removed. Add a double handful of lump sugar, a pint of good rum and a very large wine glass of brandy. Set this alight carefully (by filling a warm silver spoon with brandy, putting a flame to it, and then pouring it gently into the bowl). Let the mixture burn for 4 minutes, while stirring occasionally. Extinguish the flames by covering the bowl with a tray. Squeeze in the juice of the three lemons and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the mixture well, cover it for 5 minutes, and then stir again.

Remove the lemon pips and taste. Add sugar as appropriate (but note that it will become a little sweeter naturally). Pour the mixture into a jug, tie a coarse cloth over the top to exclude th air, and stand in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Thereafter, until it is to be drunk, keep the jug in a warm place. (If several hours are to elapse, remove half the lemon peel to prevent the development of a bitter taste.)

A Merry Christmas to all our readers!



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