When Christmas dinner took place at home on Union Square, the star was a turkey stuffed with sage and chestnuts, accompanied by home-canned string beans, peas and tomatoes seasoned with fresh onions and croutons, coleslaw pickles, homemade bread and biscuits. Plum pudding was served for dessert, and "between meals, fruitcakes, which had been curing since autumn and included at least four varieties, were available to all."
Newspaper stories of the time also tell a tale of plenty. While there were no special food sections then, the society columns were filled with intimately detailed accounts of the Christmas parties enjoyed both stateside and abroad. (One 1901 story in the Baltimore Sun, describing the holiday celebrations of the Russian imperial family, was titled "The Homely Czar: His Pleasant, Simple Life and Unostentatious Ways.") Articles described special menus, "providing everything that the appetite man could desire," being offered by fashionable hotels such as the Rennert, Stafford, St. James and Mount Vernon, and supplied minute accounts of the in-home soirees held by notable Baltimoreans.
A report on the Christmas Eve dinner held at the Merchants Club, attended by "men prominent in finance and trade, as well as others in public life," shows how affluent Baltimore may have dined during the season:
"In the center of the apartment stood a long table sagging beneath the wealth of viands piled upon it -- roast turkey, turkey olio, roast pig, boar's head, roast mutton, oysters in several styles, salmon, Maryland biscuits, pound cake and fruit cake, each of the latter being a mammoth specimen and bearing in red letters upon its snowy top 'Merry Christmas to Our Guests and Members, Merchants Club 1901.' "
But not only the rich ate sumptuously at Christmas. A Sun editorial stated that "Food for the hungry, cheer for the downcast, the stimulus of appreciation and remembrance -- these are what the season should bring." And charity was not just a noble sentiment in Edwardian Baltimore. Even more numerous than newspaper stories about the affluent at play were accounts of good works: A party and toys for 2,000 poor children, hosted by the Empty Stocking Club at Ford's Theater; a turkey-and-oyster feast for 650 newsboys, sponsored by local philanthropists; the Salvation Army's Christmas dinner for more than 1,000 of Baltimore's destitute and homeless, held at the Cross Street Hall.
Even those on the lowest rungs of society's ladder had well-filled platters on Christmas Day. At the Maryland Penitentiary, a Sun reporter wrote, "For breakfast the convicts will have fresh sausage and hominy, and for dinner pork chops, onions, roast turkey, oyster pie and coffee."
While most of us these days don't have the appetites or metabolisms to eat like Edwardian grandees -- or Edwardian prisoners, come to think of it -- these recipes will help put a turn-of-the-century spin on our end-of-the-century holiday menus:
On the day after Christmas (also known as Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day and, oddly enough, "the first day of Christmas"), the Edwardian upper classes went hunting. An ample "shooting lunch" was part of this tradition, including a creamy soup flavored by the king of English cheeses. This version of Stilton soup, as served at Ardsheal House Hotel in the Scottish highlands, is included in "From the Tables of Britain," by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (M. Evans and Co., 1986).
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound Stilton (or blue) cheese, rind removed, grated
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup light cream
garnish: snipped chives or black pepper
Heat the butter in a saucepan and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute longer. Stir in the cheese and flour and continue to cook over low heat until the mixture is well blended, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the stock and wine, add the bay leaf and bring to a simmer, whisking from time to time, for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cream and cook just long enough to heat the soup through.
Garnish with snipped chives or with a generous grinding of black pepper.
Raised pheasant pie
Impressive game pies were also served at Boxing Day hunt dinners. Traditionally they were served cold, cut into thick slices, but they are also appealing hot. This recipe was adapted from "The Pie's the Limit: Savoury Pies for All Occasions," by Judy Wells and Rick Johnson (Penguin, 1983).
FOR HOT-WATER PASTRY:
2 1/2 cups flour, sifted
3/4 cup butter and lard mixture
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium egg, beaten, for glaze
1 pheasant, boned (or 8 boned pheasant breasts), chopped
1 cup cooked ham, diced
xTC 1 pound pork sausage
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon gelatin
2 cups stock