You cover a lot of bases when you say “Happy Holidays.” Between the 5 major religions, there are 26 holidays in December alone (depending on the year). These holidays may be different by way of customs and rituals, but there is a common thread between them: holiday food. Even the word ‘December’ makes me hungry. For me, the Christmas season conjures visions of gingerbread, egg nog, candy canes, fruit cake, and its fancy cousin, Panettone. One might say they dance in my head.
But what would have danced in your head in preparation for a St. Augustine Christmas feast 120 years ago?
The answer to this lies in the menu for the Christmas dinner served to the guests of Henry Flagler’s Alcazar Hotel (presently the Lightner Museum and City Hall).
The menus for 1897 and 1898 are part of the New York Public Library Digital Collections. Here is a little taste of the main courses they offered in 1898, or as they say in the biz, an amuse-bouche:
If you are interested in obscure cuts of meat you may choose the Saddle of Mutton, which is sort of cross section of sheep, including two loins and the hip.
You may opt for a more familiar Christmas dinner item, the Ham Glace, or glazed ham.
Moving through the barnyard, you may decide you fancy the Tournedos of Beef Tenderloin, which is a round steak, cut from the most tender part of the cow.
If you find yourself in the mood for comfort food, I would go with the Fried Chicken a la Maryland, which is fried chicken smothered in white gravy – the only menu item served at both the Alcazar and Cracker Barrel.
If prefer your poultry gravy-less, might I suggest the Capon, Farcie aux Marrons, which is (castrated) rooster served stuffed with chestnuts.
A very trendy item on the menu would be the Lobster a la Newburg, because the printed recipe for this dish of spicy fried lobster simmered in cream, cognac, and sherry only first appeared in 1894 (four years prior).
The Goose, Apple Dressing is a dish with pangs of Christmas familiarity, not for myself necessarily, but maybe for a character in a Dickens’ novel.
The Prime Ribs of Beef, along with many of the side dishes, should be familiar to most modern diners, and are mostly self explanatory.
The Ruffled Grouse Barde, on the other hand, could use some clarification for today’s foodie. The ‘barde’ refers to bacon (or fat) placed on the meat during cooking to keep it from drying out. But “Ruffled”; I’m unsure if this is a typo of Ruffed Grouse, a species common to the northern US states and all across Canada, or if it just means they roughed up the bird before they plated it.
Either way, I think I would just skip to the dessert: English plum pudding, pumpkin pie, fruit cake, macaroons, petits fours, charlotte russe (a molded cake, typically made with ladyfingers and Bavarian cream or custard), macedoine jelly (fruit set in jelly shaped in an intricate copper mold), harlequin ice cream (the same as Neopolitan), and home made confectionery.
Now THAT sounds like Christmas to me! As they say at the North Pole, “bon appétit!”
What are your holiday culinary traditions? Share with a comment!