Food is such a large part of Christmas, and forms many of the traditions which we all look forward to enjoying every year. Based on the pagan festival of Saturnalia, Christmas foods hark back to times past when even celebratory food was fuel and are uniquely and unusually rich and bolstering in our modern diet. Many of our Christmas foods date back to at least Tudor times: the first monarch to enjoy a Christmas turkey dinner with all the trimmings was Henry VIII.
It is no surprise that many of our festive traditions come from this time, as trade brought exotic foods such as citrus and dried fruit and spices from all parts of the globe. However, our modern image of Christmas dinner – roast meat, potatoes, pudding, and lots of it – owes a great deal to the Victorians, and Charles Dickens’s evocative depiction of a Victorian Christmas in A Christmas Carol:
‘Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see:, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.‘
Looking at the Consett Iron Company Magazine for December 1963, it seems as though pork was the top roast for Christmas. This was true in 1961, with a fabulous display of joints in the butchers in Leadgate and only a couple of turkeys – even so, the Ghost of Christmas Present would be proud.
Someone who would not be short of roasties to go with his turkey dinner was Jim Appleby, featured in the November 1967 magazine. He seems to have grown the most enormous spuds from some ordinary potatoes he bought from a travelling vegetable seller. I don’t know about you, but this story has a slight Jack and the Beanstalk feel to it – appropriate for this time of year!