We have very little knowledge of the food served at Randalls when Mr and Mrs Weston hold a Christmas Eve dinner for their surrogate family the Wooodhouses and the Knightleys-and Mr Elton in Chapters 14 and 15 of Emma. We are told that a saddle of lamb is included in the fare:
With such sensations, Mr. Elton’s civilities were dreadfully ill-timed; but she had the comfort of appearing very polite, while feeling very cross — and of thinking that the rest of the visit could not possibly pass without bringing forward the same information again, or the substance of it, from the open-hearted Mr. Weston. So it proved; — for when happily released from Mr. Elton, and seated by Mr. Weston, at dinner, he made use of the very first interval in the cares of hospitality, the very first leisure from the saddle of mutton, to say to her —
“We want only two more to be just the right number. I should like to see two more here, — your pretty little friend, Miss Smith, and my son — and then I should say we were quite complete. I believe you did not hear me telling the others in the drawing-room that we are expecting Frank? I had a letter from him this morning, and he will be with us within a fortnight
So we are left somewhat to our own devises to imagine what else would be on the table.
Duncan Macdonald, in common with many of the writers of cookery books in this era, gives seasonal bills of fare in his book ,The New London Family Cook(1809), suggesting dishes for four categories of tables: Table I- small family dinners of two courses, Table II -grander family dinners,Table III – a single course dinner, and Table IV- very grand dinners of two courses.
As it is a special occasion therefore I have selected Table IV fare for December to suggest what might have been eaten at that special meal:
Most dinners of this era consisted of two courses, the second course was a mixture of sweet and savoury dishes. On special occasionas a desert- fruits,nuts and sweetmeats- would have also been served in addition, and so I have decided that the gregarious and generous Mr Weston would have served one too..Here are Macdonald’s suggestions for a small winter dessert:
One of the dishes served in MacDonald’s first course is a sirloin of beef. At Christmas ,especially in the north of England this was often served with hackin- a Christmas pudding cooked in an animal’s intestine or stomach-usualky a sheep or ox . Beef and goose were the favoured meats at Christmas in Jane Austen’s era, not turkey.
Spit roast meats were the glory of the English kitchen,and the English cooks’ ability to spit roast was envied throughout Europe. It is an art and a difficult one to master. Let’s see how it was done….as we did on Ivan’s Days Christmas Foods of the Past Course, earlier in the summer
First take your sirloin and thread it carefully on an iron spit to set before a good fire.
You have to carefully negotiate the centre of the meat with the spit to ensure that as it turns around on the spit, it cooks evenly.
While it is cooking you can either be high-tech and use, as Ivan Day does in his Georgian kitchen, a clockwork spit ,as modelled here by my friend ,Farah:
This magical labour saving contraption had to be wound every 30 minutes or so ,for the clockwork is unwound by a weighted chain( the weight is an old cannon ball,which you can just see hanging behind Farah’s shoulder); gravity forced the mechanism to work. The sound of this ticking away and being re- wound is very atmospheric…
Or if you were in Bath you might have used a turnspit dog….
Bath was the last place in England which used these on a regular basis: the turnspit dog was a special breed, now extinct…
Or if you had none of these devices then you would have turned the spit by hand. I’ve done it and its a very , very hard and skilled job
and very hot as you can see. Here is my friend, Katherine Cahill author of Mrs Delays Menu’s Medicines and Manners working very hard here roasting a suckling pig in Ivan’s kitchen in the heat of the summer….
The beef did not need constant attention if the clockwork pit is turning it gently in front of the fire-freeing the cook for other tasks…
..but sometimes the beef needed to be moved closer or further away from the heat in order that it cooked evenly and did not burn.
While the beef is slowly roasting in front of the fire it is time to make a hackin,which ,as I explained above was a form of plum or Christmas pudding cooked in the intestines of animals- and, in the north of England, was served with the meat, not as a separate sweet pudding.Here we used lambs stomach….
They had to soak for a long time in water-which was changed repeatedly in order to clean them and rid them of their slightly cheesy smell.
Here is the pudding stuffed stomach, wrapped in muslin ready to be cooked
.We also made puddings in the form of a ball , wrapped in a floured pudding cloth- an art that has mostly been lost today:
and put one pudding in a mould..all variations that were in use in the long eighteenth century.
This is Macdonald’s recipe which is very similar to the one we used on our Christmas Past course:
Here are eggs, lemons, candied citrons,spices including nutmeg
Raisins, currants and a good Georgian glass of brandy:
The puddings were boiled or baked for hours before they were ready to serve. Sometimes as here the puddings cooked in the intestines-known as Hackin -were sliced and placed under the roasting beef to soak up the juices , dropping from the beef
The beef was here covered with cartridge paper to prevent the outside from burning….
We didn’t eat the hackin cooked in the lambs intestines, but we devoured our cannon ball-shaped pudding and sliced it to serve with our beautifully cooked beef.
Tomorrow..the sort of alcohol that made Mr Elton the type of man known as a U.I.B. (Unsafe In Coaches)….