Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Verses for the Printer's 18th century poem of a Colonial Christmas

"The Mistletoe Bough" by Francis Wheatley, 1790
This week I beg my Reader's pardon and indulgence as I celebrate this busy and beloved Christmas week, with little time to research and write, with a poem I've just discovered which gives an amusing look and first person insight into 18th century American Christmas traditions. It was written in the late 1700's by St. George Tucker of Williamsburg, Virginia. The term "Printer's Devil" refers to a printer's apprentice, often the youngest, who spent much of his time stained with black ink. As my husband was a printer's apprentice in his younger days, this poem is especially dear to me. 

 "Christmas Verses for the Printer's Devil"
                   by St. George Tucker
Now the season for mirth and good eating advances,
Plays, oysters and sheldrakes, balls, mince pies and dances;
Fat pullets, fat turkeys, and fat geese to feed on,
Fat mutton and beef; more by half than you've need on;
Fat pigs and fat hogs, fat cooks and fat venison,
Fat aldermen ready the haunch to lay hands on;
Fat wives and fat daughters, fat husbands and sons,
Fat doctors and parsons, fat lawyers and duns;
What a dancing and fiddling, and gobbling and grunting,
As if Nimrod himself had just come in from hunting!
These all are your comforts—while mine are so small,
I may truly be said to have nothing at all.
I'm a Devil you know, and can't live without fire,
From your doors I can see it, but I dare not come nigher;
Now if you refuse me some wood, or some coal,
I must e'en go and warm, in old Beelzebub's hole;
Next, tho' I'm a devil, I drink and I eat,
Therefore stand in need of some rum, wine and meat;
Some clothes too I want—for I'm blacker than soot,
And a hat, and some shoes, for my horns and my foot;
To supply all these wants, pray good people be civil
And give a few pence to a poor printer's devil.
Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now...
and a Merry Christmas to one and all!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Oh Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding"...only if you're over 21!

English Tudor Christmas Carolers
Back in the 18th century (and a couple centuries before) when caroler's sang out "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and implored, "Oh bring us some figgy pudding," and warned, "We won't go until we get some" and demanded, "So bring it right here," they were calling out for a Christmas pudding imbued with tradition...and quite a bit of alcohol. Figgy Pudding, AKA Christmas Pudding, AKA Plum Pudding, AKA Christmas Pottage, is brought to us from 17th century England and, as this writer can attest from personal experience, can be prepared today with as much or as little Christmas spirit (spirits) as the intended audience requires. I am sure those merry-makers of old, caroling from door to door on cold December evenings, were warmed by both the goodwill and alcohol content of their beloved pudding.

As with all things setting Christmas apart from any other time of the year, the Puritans banned Christmas Pudding (way too festive for those folks.) It came back to roaring popularity with the reign of King George I of England who loved it and who became known (along with other less endearing names, especially here in the Colonies) as the "Pudding King." The king included the pudding in his royal Christmas feast of 1714 when he first arrived from Hanover and taken the throne.

Tradition has it that each member of the family should have a hand in the preparation with each taking a turn to stir from "East to West" to represent the Magi on their journey from East to West to find and honor the Christ Child. Admittedly I am most directionally challenged so, living on the east coast of America, I suppose I would just have the stirring be done counterclockwise.

Christmas Pudding from Wikipedia
Below are directions for the pudding you can prepare yourself anytime during the season (it keeps a loooong time.) Traditional recipes include suet but this one leaves it out. Having made pudding with suet, I can assure you the pudding will be fine without it! Thanks to and baker, Dorrie Greenspan, for this recipe. Enjoy!

Figgy/Christmas/Plum Pudding

Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking: From My Home to Yours, created this recipe for figgy Christmas pudding fo rAll Things Considered.
Makes 8 to 10 servings

12 plump dried Calymyrna figs, snipped into small pieces
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup dark rum
1/3 cup cognac or brandy
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 (packed) cup brown sugar
2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (made from about 8 inches of baguette)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup brandy, cognac or rum, to flame the pudding (optional)
Softly whipped, lightly sweetened heavy cream, vanilla ice cream or applesauce, homemade or store-bought, for serving (optional)
Getting ready: You'll need a tube pan with a capacity of 8 to 10 cups — a Bundt or Kugelhopf pan is perfect here — and a stock pot that can hold the pan. (If you've got a lobster pot, use that; it'll be nice and roomy.) Put a double thickness of paper toweling in the bottom of the pot — it will keep the pudding from jiggling too much while it's steaming. Spray the tube pan with cooking spray, then butter it generously, making sure to give the center tube a good coating.
Put the figs and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and, keeping an eye on the pan, cook until the water is almost evaporated. Add the cognac or brandy, rum and raisins and bring the liquids back to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, make sure it's in an open space, have a pot cover at hand and, standing back, set the liquid aflame. Let the flames burn for 2 minutes, then extinguish them by sealing the pan with the pot cover. For a milder taste, burn the rum and brandy until the flames die out on their own. Set the pan aside uncovered.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt and keep at hand.
Working in a mixing bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs and brown sugar together until well blended. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the bread crumbs, followed by the melted butter and the fig mixture (liquids included). Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and gently mix them in — you'll have a thick batter. Fold in the cherries and cranberries.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Set the pan into the stock pot and fill the pot with enough hot water to come one-half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the baking pan. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot tightly with foil and the lid.
Lower the heat so that the water simmers gently, and steam the pudding for 2 hours. (Check to make sure that the water level isn't getting too low; fill with more water, if necessary.) Carefully remove the foil sealing the pot — open the foil away from you to protect your arms and face — and then take off the foil covering the pan. To test that the pudding is done, stick a skewer or thin knife into the center of the pudding — the skewer or knife should come out dry.
To remove the pudding from the pan (a tricky operation), I find it easiest to carefully empty the water into the sink, and then carefully ease the baking pan out on its side. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the pudding cool for 5 minutes. Detach the pudding from the sides of the pan using a kitchen knife, if necessary, then gently invert it onto the rack. Allow the pudding to cool for 30 minutes.
Flaming Figgy Pudding from Wikipedia
If you'd like to flame the pudding — nothing's more dramatic — warm 1/3 cup of brandy, cognac or rum in a saucepan over medium heat. Pour the warm liquid over the top of the pudding, and then, taking every precaution that Smokey Bear would, set a match to the alcohol. When the flames die out, cut the pudding into generous pieces. Actually, there's so much fruit in the pudding, the only way to cut neat slices is to make the slices generous.
Serve the pudding with whipped cream, ice cream or applesauce.
Alternatively, you can cool the pudding completely, wrap it very well in several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to two weeks. When you are ready to serve, butter the pan the pudding was cooked in, slip the pudding back into the pan, seal the pan with foil, and re-steam for 45 minutes.
Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sing a Song of Christmas...18th century style

Bruton Parish Church, Colonial Williamsburg, VA*
~First, a brief but important (to me, at least!) announcement: If you happen to be fortunate enough to be in Edenton, North Carolina this Friday or Saturday, Dec 13 and 14 to see and participate in the free and paid events of the beautiful annual Christmas Candlelight Tour, stop by for complimentary confections from 1-5pm at the Chowan Arts Council Gallery, 504 S Broad St, where I will be having a book signing of my novel Sea Snow, the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse. For more information about this special town-wide Edenton offering see:
(free egg nog and cookies and goodies galore!)~

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." sings out from radios, televisions, store speakers, and cell phone ring tones but, in the 18th century, the weeks leading up to Christmas Day were times of quiet introspection called Advent. Many present-day churches still follow the same liturgical calendar encouraging their congregants to spend the four pre-Christmas Day weeks meditating upon the preparation of their hearts and souls for the coming of Christ into the world, but as soon as they step back into day-to-day life, I think most cannot ignore the festive atmosphere that surrounds us this time of year. I, for one, believe it's possible to merge faith and festivities but in parts of 18th century America, that was not the case. As a matter of fact, thanks to Puritan influences, most of 1700' s New England completely turned its back on anything that set Christmas apart from any other time of the year. the South where the Anglican church was dominant, Christmas was celebrated, albeit more conservatively than we now do.

An integral part of 18th century Advent and Christmastide activities was the singing of songs of the season. Several of our well-loved Christmas hymns and carols were written in the 1700's. The lyrics were sometimes set to old, traditional tunes of Great Britain and Europe and the carols we sing today are sometimes set to music composed a century later. The heart of the songs, however, lies in the words themselves and today I would like to share some of them in the form of spiritual poetry. Sometimes we are so caught up in the melodic singing, we do not pay attention to the words. So, in the spirit of an 18th century Advent and Christmas, here are three songs brought to us directly from the writers of the time. In some, I have omitted the repetitious lines used when singing and I challenge you to read them without hearing the musical notes in your head (harder than you think!)

"Le sommeil de l'enfant Jésus "by Francesco Travisani, 1656-1746

"Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"
(an Advent hymn by Charles Wesley, 1701-1788,  also the author of  
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing")

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

"Oh, Come All Ye Faithful"
 (as "Adeste Fideles" by John Francis Wade, 1711-1786)

"Nativity" by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 1714-1789
Oh, come, all ye faithful, 
Joyful and triumphant!
Oh, come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the king of angels:
Oh, come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord.

Highest, most holy,
Light of light eternal,
Born of a virgin,
A mortal he comes;
Son of the Father 
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,

Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
In the highest:
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, 
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh, come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

"Joy To The World"
(by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)
"The Holy Family" by Giuseppe Antonio Petrini, 1677-1758
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


*By Rainer Halama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Syllabub Anyone?...18th Century Festive Holiday Drinks

"The Sense of Taste" by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760) 
Ah, 'tis the season for raising a toast of good cheer or simply sipping something warm and wonderful by candlelight or a crackling fire. The 18th century had its share of Christmas "spirits" whose tasty descendants still grace our tables and tickle our taste buds today. One of these that made its way from 16th century Tudor England into my own 20th century North Carolina childhood is that creamy, luscious concoction known as Syllabub, a frothy blend of sweetened wine or cider and rich cream. I had such fond memories of this holiday treat, I even named a dear, big, beautiful Maine Coon Cat of mine, "Sir Syllabub" ("Bubba" for short.)

Syllabub. The origins of the name are speculative but it's so much fun to say aloud, isn't it? Rolls around your tongue and then just pops right out. A multi-syllabic party in your mouth! Syllabub was a very popular, festive beverage in 18th century Colonial America, as well as in Great Britain, and many recipes of the period show a goodly amount of variations on the theme. There are even recipes that involve milking a cow directly over a bowl of sweetened wine or cider. I think I'll pass on that one this year, thank you very much. There are two basic forms of Syllabub, one in which the sweetened wine/fruit juice is whipped into heavy cream in such a way as to remain consolidated, and one in which the liquid drains out of the mixture leaving the wine in the bottom of the glass and the thick cream on top. For this latter method, there were special Syllabub drinking vessels with a spout from which one could drink the liquid and use a spoon for the creamy froth on top. 

North Carolina Scuppernong Grapes,
 photo by Kathryn Louise Wood
My childhood memories are of the type that stays consolidated, served chilled, and is a cross between a drink and a dessert to be eaten with a spoon. Now, my family's roots are of the tea-totaling Methodist and Baptist variety and alcohol was not considered acceptable holiday fare so our Syllabub was made with "soft" cider made from apples or Scuppernong grapes. HOWEVER...once in a while (no one claims to know exactly how it happened) that cider might sit in the pantry for quite a spell waiting for Christmas and could (under just the right, mysterious circumstances) have a little extra kick about it, bordering on the "hard" side. When that happened, there would be a bit more of the "silly" in the Syllabub.

In the weeks to come I will share other 18th century holiday recipes but, for now, I will give you directions from some historic cookbooks for Syllabub. You may adapt these instructions with modern methods and ingredients and still enjoy a traditional treat with which your ancestors would feel at home. The first is closer to the kind of Syllabub of my youth (replacing the wine-- Rhenish and sack-- with "soft" cider...of course...) The second is of the liquid on the bottom, cream on the top variety.

"To Make Everlasting Syllabubs"
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, London 1758

~Take five half pints of thick cream, half a pint of Rhenish, half a pint of sack, and the juice of two large Seville Oranges; grate in just the yellow rind of three lemons and a pound of double-refined sugar well beat, and sifted. Mix all together with a spoonful of orange flower water, beat it well together with a whisk half an hour, then with a spoon fill your glasses. These will keep above a week, and is better made the day before.~

"Lemon Syllabub"
Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, London 1784
Detail from"The Sense of Taste" by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760) 

~Put a pint of cream to a pint of white wine, then rub a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar upon the out rind of two lemons, till you have got out all the essence, then put the sugar to the cream, and squeeze in the juice of both lemons, let it stand for two hours, then mill them with a chocolate mill, to raise the froth, and take it off with a spoon as it rises, or it will make it heavy, lay it upon a hair sieve to drain, then fill your glasses with the remainder, and lay on the froth as high as you can, let them stand all night and they will be clear at the bottom.~

Enjoy your Syllabub mustaches!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!