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Christmas Dinner Ideas from Fannie Farmer

December 20, 2011

Near the back of The Original Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896) there is a list of different menus for the ardent housewife to draw from as she planned meals for her family.  Included in this list are different menus for different times of the year, including menus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  As you prepare to ring in 2012 with Turkey, Spiced Beef, or Lasagna (depending on your family), I thought I would share what Fannie Farmer thought would make a good menu for a holiday dinner.

- from page 520 of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook

If you are brave and ambitious and want all the recipes for this Christmas Menu, please comment and let me know, then let me know how it all turns out.  As it is, I chose a few of the items to highlight.  

Duchess Potatoes are basically a fancy form of mashed potatoes.  If you are looking for a little bit of artistry for your place, give them a try:

Duchess Potatoes (page 279)

To two cups hot riced potatoes add two tablespoons butter, one-half teaspoon salt, and yolks of three eggs slightly beaten. Shape, using pastry bag and tube, in form of baskets, pyramids, crowns, leaves, roses, etc.  Brush over with beaten egg diluted with one teaspoon water, and brown in a hot oven.

If you don’t have a ricer, that’s ok, just mash the potatoes very well (or use your mixer to whip them finely).  Try different tips on the pastry bag for variations on shapes.

The Consommé Fannie Farmer refers to is, by her definition, “usually made from two or three kinds of meat (beef, veal, and fowl being employed), highly seasoned with vegetable, spices, and sweet herbs.  Always served clear.”  What I take from her definition: vegetable soup with a fancy French name.  Still if you want to try out Fannie Farmer’s variety (as a first course to Christmas dinner or on a cold winter’s night) try this one:

- from page 116

If you are having a Christmas party and need some finger food ideas, Fannie recommends celery on the table.  She has very specific ideas on how to dress celery for the table:

Celery (page 259-260)

Celery may be obtained from the last of July until April.  It is best and cheapest in December.  Celery stalks are green while growing; but the white celery seen in market has been bleached, with the exception of Kalamazoo variety, which grows white.  To prepare celery for table, cut off roots and leaves, separate stalks, wash, scrape, and chill in ice water.  By adding a slice of lemon to ice water celery is kept white and made crisp.  If tops of stalks are gashed several times before putting in water, they will curl back and make celery look more attractive.

When reading this I am struck by the months that celery was available to Ms. Farmer.  I am also concerned about those who ate bleached vegetables.  A reminder that these recipes are from another time.

Finally, one can’t forget dessert on the holiday table.  I included this recipe because it makes me think of the traditional English Christmas carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  Whenever we sing of figgy pudding, I imagine a pudding similar to this one.  While Midwesterners in 2011 are more likely to have pie, Fannie Farmer recommended English Plum Pudding.

- from page 338

She recommends a Brandy Sauce for the pudding, and since it has always been one of my favorite sweet sauces, I thought I would include it:

Brandy Sauce (page 343)

1/4 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons brandy

Yolks 2 eggs

Whites 2 eggs

1/2 cup milk or cream

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, then brandy very slowly, well beaten  yolks, and milk or cream.  Cook over hot water [like in a double broiler] until it thickens as a custard, pour on to beaten whites.

So whether you are looking for new traditional foods for the holidays, or just need some variety this year, enjoy holiday recommendations from years past.  A merry holiday season to you all.

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