A Victorian Celebration of Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Readers! I hope everyone was able to draw together with loved ones and enjoy the blessing of family. Now that the bustle of the season is fading away, I would love to share what we’ve been doing this past month.

A Christmas Carol

As previously mentioned, Amberly and Lea are taking a British Literature course this year, and each month there is a different theme or author. Their project was to create a family gathering to celebrate the culmination of a month of reading, studying Victorian recipes, planning a menu, and producing a feast of Dickensian proportions. There are few writers that conjure up the spirit of the holidays quite like Charles Dickens, and the girls set about creating a feast to mimic the Cratchit’s dinner in A Christmas Carol.

The Menu

Dinner

Roast Ducks with Sriracha Orange Glaze
Turkey Breast
Onion, Sage, and Sausage Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Duck Gravy
Cinnamon Apple Sauce
Roasted Carrots

Desserts

Steamed Christmas Pudding
Mincemeat Shortbread Tarts
Tart Cherry Plum Cobbler

Drinks

Hot Wassail
Cranberry Ginger Cider

 

Everything was made from scratch, though we didn’t necessarily follow all Victorian recipes. The British aren’t traditionally known for their fine cuisine, and it was important that the meal be enjoyable to all.

One of the most notable deviations in the menu was the substitution of duck for goose. This was done for a couple reasons. First, it was nearly impossible to locate a goose in the Springfield area. Second, the one goose I did find was over $90, and that certainly was not in keeping with the spirit of the Cratchit’s meal. Goose was traditionally used by the poor because it was cheap, unlike turkey, which was considered a luxury beyond the means of most. In the story, the Cratchit family had a roasted goose to feed their family, and at the end, Scrooge sends over a turkey to make amends.

The Main Event

The girls each prepared and slow-roasted a duck. The recipe they followed gave them step by step instructions, which included flipping the bird every hour and poking holes in the skin to drain off the fat. The result was that the birds were flavorful, moist, and tender. Not at all greasy. The last hour, they crisped up the skin under high heat, and added an orange Sriracha glaze that was to die for.

 

Deserts Make Life Sweeter

Another conspicuous difference in the menu was the Christmas pudding. Because it was such a prominent part of the dinner scene in the book, we knew it needed to be included, but it really just sounded disgusting. If you don’t know what a British plum pudding is, think boiled fruitcake doused in brandy, lit on fire. Yum, right? No, we determined that there had to be a better way. We found a highly rated recipe that substituted various dried fruits for some of the raisins and prunes, and we could steam in the Instant Pot. Amberly and I made miniature puddings ahead of time, and preserved with orange liqueur. They turned out really well, and best of all, didn’t have, as Dickens wrote, a “smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding!”

Lea’s dessert was a mincemeat tart which, while not part of the Cratchit’s menu, was a classic Victorian Christmas dessert. We looked at several recipes, and most called for canned mincemeat, but we decided to make one ourselves. We used a New England mincemeat filling as the starter, and adjusted from there. Ours did not include meat, and used butter in place of suet. We used a shortbread cookie crust rather than a traditional pie crust, and the results were delicious.

We managed to find British Christmas crackers as party favors, and used beautifully papered British chocolates and made Victorian paper cornucopia to decorate the small Christmas tree that was on display.

Overall, the dinner went really well. It was so fun to relax with loved ones and enjoy the fruits of our labor. The girls were exhausted at the end of the day, but deservedly proud of their accomplishments.

Thanks for following along with their project. Love to all in this new year. Hopefully 2017 will be filled with joy and prosperity to all of you! As poor Tiny Tim says, “God Bless us, every one!”

Here I go…

img_1884Welcome to the Back of Beyond! I’m Laura Davis, and I’ll be writing a lot about my family. We’re a close, geeky (but not in a hipster kind of way), homeschooling family of six. My husband is Gordon. Our two teens are Amberly and Lea, and our two younger kids are Joey-6 and Evie-4. We like to travel, eat great food, and learn about the world. Our goal is to eventually travel the country full time, but for a multitude of reasons, are currently stationary in Illinois.

I have to be honest; until recently I didn’t really get the whole blogging thing. I felt like I had enough reality just living my life. Why would anyone want to read about and watch someone else living theirs? Then I found myself trying to keep my eyes open reading homeschool mom blogs, and watching grocery shopping vlogs at 1 am. I realized that it was comforting reading accounts of other families-some similar to mine, some different-going about their daily lives. It made me feel not so alone. Other people have lots of kids, struggle to feed their families, fight to teach their ADHD kids to read.

We really are such a voyeuristic society. We like to watch “reality” television where people work through conflicts, try to lose weight, show off their special talents, succeed in some cases, fail miserably in others. We relate to strangers we will likely never meet. We interact via these new platforms, become invested in these lives put on display, and yet so many times we feel all alone. People are more isolated than ever before, but we find ways to connect through blogs.

One of the downsides of reading blogs is feeling like you can’t measure up. It’s human nature to try to present our most polished selves to the public. We don’t want to open ourselves to criticism and rejection. I personally struggled with the idea of starting a blog because I felt insecure about my progress in life–that feeling of sucking at adulthood. Then I realized there are lots of people in that boat, and those are the readers with whom I want to connect. That said, I reserve the right to block or delete comments from people looking to criticize my life choices. If you disagree with my methods, don’t use them. I won’t judge you, please do not judge me. Beyond that, feel free to follow along on our meandering journey!