“Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall
Brawn, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall:
Beef, mutton and pork, shred pies of the best:
Pig, veal, goose and capon and turkey well drest:
Cheese, apples and nuts, jolly carols to hear,
As then in the country is counted good cheer.”
Thomas Tusser (c. 1520-1580)
“Christmas is come, hang on the pot,
Let spits turn round, and ovens be hot;
Beef, pork, and poultry, now provide
To feast thy neighbors at this tide;
Then wash all down with good wine and beer,
And so with mirth conclude the Year.”
Virginia Almanac (Royle) 1765
These two poems were written far apart in years and distance, but it shows that many of the traditions you enjoy today were brought over by your former country-ruling patrons, the English. Many of these traditions in revelry, manners, dress and society kept true for about 200 years, especially in Virginia. Even despite the conflict that erupted in 1775 could not erase these memories of “home”, the mother land, England, with dancing and feasting the central part of the holidays.
Captain John Smith, whose life was saved by the young girl who loved him, Pocahontas (though she ended up marrying John Rolfe of Virginia), wrote in 1609 that he kept “Christmas amongst the Savages: where wee were never more merrie, nor fedde on more plentie of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle, and good bread, nor better fires in England then in the drie warme smokie houses of Kecoughtan.” (Kecoughtan is now part of Hampton, by the way.)
Seventy years later, in December of 1680, twenty-one visitors entered William Fitzhugh’s home. A Frenchman was among them, who later wrote, “There was good wine and all kinds of beverages, so there was a great deal of carousing.” Fitzhugh provided for entertainment “three fiddlers, a jester, a tight-rope walker, and an acrobat who tumbled around.”
Here are two recipes you can try out this season, if you’re feeling adventurous. First, in the spirit of Captain John Smith who spent the winter with the native American people, I give you a recipe for wild rice that I have used myself. Wild rice was considered “a great gift” for the aboriginal people and it was treasured for its versatility, taste and nutritional value.
WILD RICE DRESSING
1½ c. Wild Rice
½ lb. cornbread, day old & cubed
1 c. Onions, (wild onions or chives if you want to be strict about tradition) chopped
1 c. root vegetables like lily roots and wild carrots, chopped, (or regular carrots and add celery)
½ c. animal fat (or butter if that grosses you out), melted
1½ c. partridge or wild turkey stock (or chicken), hot
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. wild Sage (Or domestic if you can’t find it
1. Prepare wild rice according to package directions.
2. Sauté root vegetables until tender in animal fat or butter.
3. Combine with cooked wild rice and cornbread cubes.
4. Toss lightly with melted butter, seasonings and stock to moisten ingredients well.
5. Bake in uncovered pan at 350º F for 1 hour.
6. Use as a stuffing in pork chops, acorn squash or partridge bird (I have used cornish hens, not able to "hunt down" any partridge).
And here is a traditional drink carried over by those Colonialists who actually celebrated the holidays and to this day is still enjoyed by many, This is an ancient recipe dating from 12th Century England.
COLONIAL HOT CIDER PUNCH, AKA "WASSAIL"
1 Gallon heated apple cider
1/2 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce rum flavoring OR (even better) 1/2 quart light rum
3 sticks cinnamon
3 to 6 whole oranges
small bag of whole cloves
Simmer mixture with 3 sticks whole cinnamon to melt--DO NOT COOK.
Allow to cool, pour into punch bowl.
Separately stick whole cloves around entire surface of 3 to 6 whole oranges.
Place oranges into baking pan with 1/2 inch of water, and bake at 350° for 45 minutes.
Place oranges into punch bowl
Serve with pound cake, nut cake, or cheese and crackers.