In this post, The Humbug Murders author L.J. Oliver describes a typical Victorian Christmas and offers a few tips on how you can channel their Christmas spirit in the modern day. Their Scrooge detective story The Humbug Murders is available now in print and ebook!
Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese,
game, poultry…mince pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot
chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense
twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim
with their delicious steam…
–From Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
Let’s be honest, the traditional Dickensian Christmas dinner sounds pretty expensive! Even today the well-to-do Victorians are remembered for their magnificent displays of wealth and abundance. Of course, only the wealthiest few had the means to enjoy a “throne” of a feast, right?
While I was researching for the mystery novel The Humbug Murders, set in Dickensian London with Ebenezer Scrooge as a reluctant detective, I had the opportunity to really explore what Christmas must have been like for the poor. And what I discovered was actually quite surprising!
The Victorians were very frugal, yet creative people when it came to stretching their money into the best possible recipes, and even the poorest Victorians did what they could to put on a Christmas feast for their loved ones. Let’s learn a thing or two from them! Although nobody likes a penny-pinching Scrooge during the holidays, few of us need to add an extravagant feast to our list of outgoings. Turns out there’s no need to compromise on quality, flavor or abundance if you know how to lay out a spread fit for a Scrooge. Here are a few of my favorite money-saving tips, brought to you by London’s poorest.
Instead of presenting a whole roast or smoked salmon, buy the trimmings from your local fishmonger and make a delicious salmon, dill and cream pate instead.
Make inexpensive but delicious canapés using pastry as the base to keep cost down. On a rolled out sheet of pie crust pastry, spread a thin layer of cranberry jam before rolling sausage meat up like pigs-in-blankets! Bake till golden brown and decorate with herb sprigs for a really festive look.
Choose a different meat. ‘Forgotten cuts’ like pork belly and lamb shanks have become more popular in recent years, and are a great value and delicious in slow-cooked dishes. You could even replace the expensive tenderloin cut in a traditional beef Wellington with minced beef and still convince your guests it’s a treat!
The Festive Dessert:
Posh up cheap mincemeat! You do need mince pies for a truly Victorian Christmas, so buy the cheapest mincemeat you can find and posh it up with orange peel, raisins soaked in brandy, and some extra spices from your cupboard!
Also, poached pears cost next to nothing and your guests will never guess. Halve the pears and poach them in a spiced tea along with sugar, honey, and cranberries. Let the poaching water get syrupy and serve the pears with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream and the tea drizzled over the top.
So go Victorian this holiday season and get creative with your feast. May your day be blessed and abundant – and as Tiny Tim would say: God bless us everyone!