Friday, December 25, 2015

Historic Foods and Christmas: Yorkshire Pie and a Trifle

Our family's Thanksgiving meal has never deviated from the traditional fare of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie. With food being one of the few traditional aspects of that holiday, making a change in the menu might disrupt the very fabric of the day. As an unintentional compromise, our Christmas meal has always diverged from the holiday standards. For almost as long as I have been married, we have chosen to have enchiladas on Christmas Day.

This year we agreed to take a break from enchiladas and try something new. We do this occasionally with some of our family traditions to keep them from growing stale. For this year's meal we took our inspiration from our interests in English and Colonial American History in selecting our main dish and our dessert.

For the main course I selected a Yorkshire Pie which were commonly served at Christmas time in England. They are  made with a standing crust and filled with the meat of fowl. Each bird is boned and placed in the pie with the larger birds progressively wrapped around the smaller birds. Depending on the recipe, the cook may start with a pigeon or a partridge and work all the way up to goose or a swan. It was essentially an antiquated version of the Turducken.

Yorkshire pies were also a staple on George Washington’s Christmas table at Mount Vernon. The recipe used by Martha Washington is found in her copy of “The Art of Cookery” by Hannah Glasse which was published in several editions in the mid to late 1700s. 

In a December 1786 letter to David Humphreys, a colonel and aide de camp to General Washington during the Revolutionary War, Washington makes reference to the pies being served at Mount Vernon. In the letter dated the day after Christmas, he laments that Humphreys was not able to “aid in the Attack of Christmas Pyes,” and adds that they shared quite a large pie on Christmas Day.

"We had one yesterday on which all the company (and pretty numerous it was) were hardly able to make an impression."

Our Yorkshire Pie
We chose to use a version of the recipe that was featured recently on Mount Vernon's website. It was a modernized variation of the Glasse recipe, found in Nancy Crump’s 2011 book, “Dining with the Washingtons. ”  This version dispatches with the pigeon, the partridge, and the goose and wrapping each bird around the other. The recipe only uses chicken and turkey in layers separated by vegetables such as carrots and celery. We also substituted turkey bacon into our pie.

The choice of our dessert was left up to my wife, who decided to make a Trifle. The Trifle is made from a thick or solidified custard, diced fruit, and a layer of sponge cake soaked in port or a fruit drink. The earliest known recipe for the Trifle was published in 1596 by Thomas Dawson in the book, “The Good Husvvife’s Jevvell”

"Take a pinte of thicke Creame, and season it with Sugar and Ginger, and Rosewater, so stirre it as you would then have it, and make it luke warme in a dish on a Chafingdish and coals, and after put it into a silver piece or bowle, and so serve it to the boorde."

My wife's version of the Trifle
This recipe bears little resemblance to the modern trifle, which began to emerge in the 1700s. In the modern version the bottom layer is commonly made from cake such as fund cake, sponge cake, or macaroons. The cake is usually doused with alcohol such as sherry or port. In our case my wife chose to use sparkling cranberry juice and fresh squeezed lemon juice. On top of the cake are alternating layers of custard and raspberries. The dish is then topped off with whipped cream. 

Once slice of the Yorkshire Pie proved more than enough for each of us. The recipe was meant to serve 8 to 10 people, so with only four of us we understood why George Washington and his guests were unable to make much progress in finishing their pie. It was especially difficult with mashed potatoes and green beans added to our plates.

The Yorkshire Pie from the inside
The Trifle was a bit too lemony, but it was very light and sweet. It was a welcome change from our usual Christmas desserts of pecan and pumpkin pies and chocolates.

We all enjoyed our tribute to English Christmas food, but I do no think it will become our yearly meal. If anything it will inspire us to research and cook holiday foods from different parts of the world which should prove to be an exciting new holiday tradition in our home.

We hope you had a Merry Christmas full of family and food as well.

1 comment:

Steve Butts said...

Looks great! It is interesting in a time when it has become customary to overload with tons of dishes for a holiday feast that the pie made having a bunch of auxiliary dishes unnecessary. Your children weren't disappointed with the experiment? Thanks for sharing!