In this ongoing series of articles, we’re taking a look at some of our own cultural dishes, both to get a better understanding of ourselves, and to see how we have shared influences with other cultures in the process. With Christmas fast approaching, we though it appropriate to shine the light on a staple of most everyone’s festive cheer; the traditional Christmas Dinner.
The UK’s take on Christmas Dinner is, in a lot of ways, not entirely dissimilar to a Sunday Roast- it’s typically eaten during the afternoon, for a start. The similarities continue in the general makeup of the dish, too; roasted Turkey (sometimes basted and wrapped in Bacon), Roast Potatoes, and a boiled vegetable selection are all part of a Christmas Dinner. The more exclusive elements of the dish included Pigs In Blanket (bacon wrapped cocktail sausages, although full-sized sausages are sometimes used), Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Parsnips, and Swede as part of the vegetable mixture (with the Swede typically being mashed), a side of Cranberry Sauce or Redcurrent Jelly to compliment the Turkey, and a side of Stuffing. Very rarely, Devils On Horseback- fruit wrapped in bacon rashers, typically pitted Dates- may also be served with the main dish. Occasionally, modern spins on the dish will substitute Chicken or Duck for the Turkey- although, Turkey itself is a newer addition to the dish then many people realise.
Turkey’s first appeared as the main component of a traditionally British Christmas dinner sometime in the 16th century, with King Henry VIII being the first monarch to have it with his Christmas meal. It didn’t quite take off until the following century, at which point it became the de-facto British Christmas Dinner mainstay it is today- although Goose also became a popular choice around this time, enough so that working class families would become part of “Goose Clubs”, the aim of which was saving up enough money to be able to afford a Goose come December. The concept of a celebratory meal does date back further then that, though, possibly for centuries; the meat of choice was simply wild Boar instead. Capon was also fairly common back in those days, and is perhaps the longest standing ingredient tied to the dish to the point of still being served with some to this day. There are records of the rich and upper class members of society dining on meats as exotic (and no doubt obscenely expensive) as Peacock and Swan.