Every December 25th Northern Ireland families come together to feast on a plate of festive classics but have you ever wondered how the yuletide meal we love so well made its way onto the table?
Here, in association with Lidl, we trace the roots of the Christmas dinner...
A mix of revved up staples in substantial portions, the Christmas dinner in Northern Ireland is a marriage of international specialities.
Traditionally reparations take place on Christmas eve, with boiled ham to veg prep setting the scene for early morning kitchen activity that culminates with a feast that is typically consumed between 1pm and 4pm.
Turkey, ham, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing and a range of other vegetables are the pillars of the plate.
And in recent years some English traditions have worked their way across the Irish sea and onto the dinner plate to add even more variety. From pigs in blankets to cranberry sauce (although it originates in America) and Yorkshire pudding, the evolution of the Christmas dinner concludes with a banquet of enormous proportions.
Some say the Christmas feast in all its glory can be traced back to Medieval times. Others say it was Queen Victoria who made the meal a proper occasion but delve further into the history of the components that make Christmas dinner the gastronomic affair that it is today and the dish appears to be something of an international amalgamation.
The turkey’s origin can be traced back to Mexico. It was first brought to Britain in the early 1500s thanks to a Mr William Strickland. This Yorkshire man bought six of the birds from Native Americans and sold them in England. It was in the late 19th century when Edward VII made it fashionable at Christmas for the middle classes. Before turkey, goose was the former star of the Christmas dinner table with Goose Clubs allowing those on a lower budget to save for the big day. Today the same can be said for Christmas turkey clubs in butchers around the province. Some sources say that even in the 1930s it took a week’s wage to buy a turkey and so it became a luxury until the 1950s.
Members of the brassica family, the mini cabbage is thought to have first grown in Rome. During the 16th century their popularity grew in the likes of Holland and Belgium, the latter being an indication as to how sprouts acquired their modern name. Easy to grow and boasting more vitamin C than an orange, their miniature form is thought to have appealed to the Victorians in the 19th century when they became more popular. It was then when they made their way onto the Christmas dinner plate.
Most families have their own recipe for the traditional meat filling that comprises a mix of meat, cereal, herbs and spices. While its origins are somewhat muddled, it has been noted that the earliest known stuffing recipe featured in a Roman cookbook. Usually stuffed within the turkey or protein of choice, quite often today stuffing is a standalone dish, prepared and cooked separately.
The first written recipe of the Yorkshire pudding was penned by Hannah Glasse in 1747, who seasoned the batter with grated nutmeg and ginger and cooked it under a joint of "beef, mutton or a loin of veal" as it spit-roasted before the fire. It was Ms Glasse who gave the pudding its prefix and today the perfect culinary addition has made itself a popular element of almost every Sunday roast.
There are around 5,000 varieties of the humble spud and 3,000 of those are found in the Andes alone. So many believe the origin of the roasted potato can be traced back to South American cuisine. It was the Spanish Inca Conquest that saw the potato make its way to Europe, only really establishing itself here in the 17th century. Queen Victoria, when celebrating the Christmas meal is thought to have opted for mash.
One of only a handful of native American fruits, cranberries were toyed with until they became the essential sauce for a festive feast in the 1700s stateside. It’s thought then they were mixed with water and sugar and first featured in a recipe book American Cookery by Amelia Simmons in 1796. Food brand Ocean Spray packaged its own version in the 1930s. The condiment first became popular during Thanksgiving.
An English tradition which was also known as prune pudding even thought it is thought to have never included prunes in its makeup, this festive after dinner favourite can, again, trace its roots back to medieval England. The first recipes, however, date a bit later than that - to the 17th century. The bonus, for many, is the pudding’s high alcohol content which allows it to be created up to one month, or even earlier before the big day.
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