Much research went into the menu for Madelyn and Michael Bender's "Dining with Dickens Christmas feast," which grew in the process from a small dinner party to a buffet for nearly 50. For help with food preparation, Mrs. Bender turned to Emilie Hilgartner and Brooke Barroll, owners of Done To A T catering company.
"Emilie and Brooke came out to my house and we sat down and went through the book," she says. "I asked them to try out a few of the 150-year-old recipes and then to adapt them to modern tastes. And I asked them to be creative."
"It was really very interesting working with the old recipes," adds Ms. Hilgartner. "For example, we used the old recipe to make small potato pancakes filled with anchovy paste that were dipped in milk and breadcrumbs and then fried. Usually, if we use breadcrumbs, we use an egg wash instead of milk." They also made cucumber sandwich appetizers using unsalted butter, the book instructed, rather than mayonnaise.
But adjustments were made to some recipes. The women did not stuff the turkey with old potatoes to keep it moist and give it flavor; instead they used apples. And they used their own recipes for breads.
The final party menu included assorted appetizers -- such as the cucumber sandwiches and potato pancakes from the book -- oven-roasted red potatoes with lemon and herbs, asparagus with Dijon wine sauce, port wine cranberry sauce, and assorted breads, including corn muffins, cranberry nut bread, zucchini bread and gingerbread.
Dinner was served on Mrs. Bender's special china decorated with winter scenes from Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop." She inherited the dishes, promotional products offered by the Acme grocery chain in the 1950s, from her grandmother, but didn't realize they were Dickens memorabilia until years later.
Port wine and English cheeses were offered after dinner, followed by a plum pudding -- bought at a local grocery when one ordered from England didn't arrive in time -- English trifle and mincemeat pies. The plum pudding, from the Charlotte Charles Co. in Chicago, was steamed 40 minutes on the night of the party, covered with brandy and flamed right before serving.
Ms. Hilgartner cautions that the brandy should not be poured on any decorations surrounding the pudding as they will also flame when the liquor is ignited. Hard sauce, also from Charlotte
Charles, was spooned over individual servings of the pudding.
Madelyn Bender's wassail
Put 1 gallon apple cider, 6 sticks of cinnamon and a cheesecloth pouch filled with 6 to 8 cloves, 1/2 teaspoon mace, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon into a pot on the range at very low heat for hours. (Mrs. Bender started her wassail at 3 p.m. on the day of the party, and by the time guests arrived at 7:30 p.m., the spicy, inviting aroma was filling the house.) Right before serving, remove cheesecloth pouch and then add 1/2 cup of raw brown sugar and 1 cup of dark rum. Top the punch with slices of fresh oranges.
Port wine cranberry sauce
Makes almost 2 cups.
From the Ritz Hotel in London, a la Bender.
Boil 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Add a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries. Let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of ruby port wine. Mix and then chill. (Mrs. Bender made hers a week before the party and stored it in the refrigerator.)
The next two recipes are from "Dining with Dickens."
Makes about 2 dozen small pancakes.
To 2 cups of mashed potatoes, add a little anchovy paste to taste. Mix well together and make into small flat cakes. Dip in milk and breadcrumbs and fry in fat right before serving.
Makes 20 to 30 tiny sandwiches.
Peel a cucumber, slice thinly and lay on kitchen paper seasoned with salt for 1/2 hour or more. Dry cucumber slices thoroughly, sprinkle with pepper and lay on thin slices of white or brown buttered bread stamped out into circles or cut into small triangles. Serve slighlty overlapping each other and garnished with parsley.
The next two recipes are from Done To A T Creative Catering.
Dijon wine sauce
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
Combine 1 cup of Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup table cream and flavor with salt, pepper, parsley, garlic salt and lemon juice. Add 1/2 cup chardonnay. Mix with wire whisk over a low flame. Can be done ahead, stored in refrigerator and warmed slowly over low heat.
Serves 18 to 20.
2 packages ladyfingers
sliced fresh fruit or frozen fruit (strain to get rid of juices) such as berries, apples, pears, bananas, peaches
2 pints of whipping cream
2 packages of French vanilla instant pudding
Layer the bottom and sides of a deep serving dish with ladyfingers. Soak with dark rum. Also soak remaining ladyfingers with rum. Cover the serving dish and additional lady fingers and rest overnight in the refrigerator. Make instant pudding. Layer fruit mixture, pudding and lady fingers. Top with a layer of pudding and then a layer of whipped cream. Decorate with fruit.