“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that, while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”
Recognize that? Probably not, because it’s not one of the more commonly quoted passages from A Christmas Carol, but I love it just as much as some of the ones every one of us can quote, like…
“God bless us, everyone!”
But how true are those words? NOTHING is so contagious as laughter! And few things are as welcome and as beautiful as laughter and joy in the home.
Which led to my idea to do a Dickens Christmas Dinner. We’ve been reading A Christmas Carol in our homeschool, and to help add to the fun of the reading, (and because of our fascination with all things British,) we decided to put together an all-British meal for a little 19th century Christmas celebration!
So I went in search of some British recipes. And let me apologize in advance to my British readers, (I do have some of those,) because I’m very sure I didn’t prepare or serve all of these dishes in proper British manner. It’s likely some of these foods aren’t supposed to be served together. But that’s okay! It’s probably natural for authentic British cooking to be a bit of a stretch for southern American cooks.
And let me add that following British recipes is not as easy as it might seem! We may use the same language, (mostly,) but we use very different measurements for things, which got confusing at times. I found this Conversion Calculator to be very helpful in the whole process, but British recipes measure dry ingredients by weight, not volume. I tried to use Americanized British recipes where I could, but the rest of the time I was converting grams to cups and Celsius to Fahrenheit, which was sometimes a bit inexact for my liking.
Also, ingredients like caster sugar or goose fat were either something I’d never heard of or I knew I would never find them in a store.
Recipes would talk about cooking until something “colored” rather than it browned, and I kept trying to figure out what in the world a “hob” was. Thank heavens for Google!
But it was such a fun process! I enjoyed doing this so much I’m very anxious to try making traditional meals from other countries as well. It was a great learning experience for the whole family, all while being a fun, unique thing to do on a December night!
So let me share our meal choices with you…
Roast beef seemed the best choice for the main course. Sorry, but no blood pudding or steak and kidney pie for us, thank you very much, even if I could have found the ingredients for them!
I have to confess I seasoned my roast in very traditional American fashion and roasted it on top of vegetables. Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary here…
Hot horseradish sauce is apparently a suitable English condiment and while I considered making it fresh, I chickened out in the end and bought some, which probably doesn’t taste anything like real British horseradish.
But here’s where it got interesting…
No, that isn’t guacamole. That’s Mushy Peas, which they tell me are usually paired with fish and chips, (better known as fish and fries in America,) so they may be totally out of place in this meal, but that’s okay! They’re British, and that’s all that particularly mattered on this evening!
Mushy peas are usually made with marrowfat peas. (Yes, marrowfat peas are really a thing, though what an awful name, huh?) They’re the kind of peas used to make wasabi peas, but I’ve never tried those either, though I have seen those in the stores. But plain marrowfat peas aren’t exactly something I can pick up at the local Kroger, so we improvised with dried split peas to make this recipe. Though the consistency of mine probably ended up even mushier than they were supposed to be, I really did like the taste. Peas are not generally something I care for, so this was a big deal! It has me thinking I need to pick up dried peas a little more often.
And we had to try Yorkshire Pudding!
Obviously the British and American ideas of pudding are VASTLY different, so I was interested to try this. Yorkshire pudding is like a savory muffin made with hot meat drippings. You actually pour the drippings in the pan and get them really, really hot before you pour a batter of egg, milk, flour, and salt on top to bake.
These were…well… a little strange to us. While they were super easy to make, they were also heavy and very eggy, just a little too different from the traditional yeast rolls we serve with a meal like this. But for ease and quickness where a side bread is concerned, Yorkshire puddings can’t be beat!
Now here is where we met with our greatest success…
It’s not much to look at, but this is Bubble and Squeak.
Bubble and squeak is usually a way to use up leftovers. It’s not generally served as a side dish for a nice meal, but it was a British food we had actually heard of many times and we just wanted to try it for the novelty of it.
And we loved it! It was definitely the biggest hit of the night. It’s essentially a pan-fried “cake” made out of leftover vegetables and cabbage. I fried some chopped onion in butter, (because I don’t usually have goose fat around the house,) and added cooked cabbage and fork-mashed vegetables from our roast, pressing them flat in the pan and then turning them when they were lightly browned and holding together. Then I just flipped it out of the pan, cut it into wedges, and it was ready to serve!
And it was absolutely delicious! My kids ate every bite and begged me to make it again, which I did for lunch the next day with the leftovers from our Dickens meal. Bubble and squeak is something we will be making again and again.
And it really does bubble and squeak as it cooks, which of course was amusing for the kids!
I whipped out a real tablecloth for this meal, (doesn’t happen very often, let me tell you,) and even pulled out the china!
|Note to self: Invest in cloth napkins. And taper candles.|
|Yes, I needed about twice the table I had for this meal…|
Sparkling red grape juice was a special treat, too, followed by tea and dessert…
I waded through countless British dessert recipes before deciding on Victoria Sponge Cake.
|Lopsided cakes are a specialty of mine.|
I added the sugared cranberries because, well, it seemed more Dickens-Christmasy to do so, but the jam I actually used was strawberry. And I cheated and used Cool-Whip instead of whipped cream. I was expecting a more Angel food-type cake, but its consistency reminded me more of a pound cake, though less buttery. But of course that may have been my mistake. It was kind of pretty nonetheless and my husband and kids enjoyed it with their tea.
Mom drank coffee because I barely like iced, all-American sweet tea, so of course hot British tea is not exactly my…um…cup of tea. 😉
We cranked up the Old English Christmas music and had a delightful time at our Dickens Christmas Dinner, trying new foods and just enjoying one another. I’m wondering now if we’ve started a new Christmas tradition within our family! Next time I’ll be a little more familiar with some British recipes and how to convert them. And next time I think bonnets and top hats may be in order!
But this is definitely one new Christmas tradition I hope to carry on!