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24 Vintage Christmas Dinner Recipes for Partying Like It’s 1899

Some dishes are still served today while others are ghosts of Christmas past.
24 Vintage Christmas Dinner Recipes for Partying Like It’s 1899Elzbieta Sekowska/Shutterstock

Christmas dinner was an extravagant feast during the late Victorian period with elaborate multi-course affairs. Of course, there were more modest holiday meals enjoyed, too—think Bob Cratchit’s simpler but appreciated Christmas dinner in The Christmas Carol.

Dicken’s novel was, in fact, a game changer. Before the book was published, in 1843, Christmas was barely celebrated but Dicken’s message changed all that and the holiday became a day to party with platters of food and cocktails, decorated homes and gifts. So, with a nod to The Christmas Carol, which turns 175 this year, here is a sampling of traditional eats that graced the Christmas table back in the day. And you’ll note that many of the dishes are evergreen—meaning they are forever favorites, like oysters, cranberry sauce, applesauce and gingerbread. Others, however, are ghosts of Christmas past.

1

Oysters

Oysters Shutterstock

Oysters were a cheap delicacy and extremely popular at the turn of the century. The bivalves were inexpensive because they were plentiful, according to Mental Floss. Like today, they were served on the half shell with a lemon wedge. Blue Points were harvested off Long Island and, at the time, were considered the pearl of oysters, and traditionally served as the first course at Christmas.

Get the recipe from The Fish and Wildlife Service.

2

Plum Pudding

Figgy pudding Shutterstock

Like many Christmas favorites, plum pudding is a dish with British roots. Fact: There are no plums in plum pudding. The pudding (which is more like cake) was made with stale bread crumbs, scalded milk, raisins, figs, currants, wine brandy, suet, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The adored dessert was made up to a year before Christmas because it was considered best when aged. If you decide to make it for your Christmas, start now. And do go the distance—when serving, douse it with brandy and set aflame.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

3

Fruit Cake

Holiday fruit cake Shutterstock

The bunt of bad jokes, the outcast fruit cake certainly gets a lot of flak. And only a fruitcake gives someone a fruitcake as a gift for Christmas, right? But Fannie Farmer gave it some love with a Christmas recipe for Dark Fruit Cake in her 1896 cookbook and it was a desired dessert.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

4

Sugar Plums

Sugar plums Shutterstock

Visions of sugar plums danced in children’s heads and the sweet confections appeared on Victorian Christmas tables, too. Dried plums or prunes were mixed with cinnamon, cloves, nuts, and other fruits, formed into balls and rolled in sugar, for a very special Christmas candy. Sugar plums are a feature of our list of 6 Christmas Carols with Foods You’ve Never Actually Eaten.

Get a circa-1609 recipe from The Historical Cookery Page.

5

Duchess Potatoes

Duchess mashed potatoes Shutterstock

The name suggests royalty and these fancy-pants potatoes often had a special spot at the Christmas table. The mashed potatoes (butter, egg yolks, salt) were shaped using a pastry bag that piped the potatoes into whimsical shapes of baskets and roses, and then the potatoes were browned in the oven.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

6

Consommé

Chicken soup consomme Shutterstock

Unlike today, consommé was held in high regard, including turtle consommé, as well as consommé made from beef, veal, and fowl. The clear soup was also sometimes called bouillon and was typically served early on as part of the multi-course elaborate holiday feast, including on Fannie Farmer’s Menu for Christmas Dinner.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

7

Roast Goose

Roasted goose Shutterstock

Turkey was often served on Christmas, but it wasn’t the only game in town (see what we did there). Roasted goose was often the main event at Christmas dinner—served with applesauce and cranberry sauce.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

8

Applesauce

Apple sauce Shutterstock

A healthy and sweet addition to the holiday table and featured in Dicken’s Christmas story, too, the saucy side dish would often get a kick, thanks to spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

9

Cranberry Sauce

plain cranberry sauce Shutterstock

While it’s always relished at Thanksgiving, it was also served at Christmas and added a festive pop of color. Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce wasn’t available in 1899, so the dish was always homemade. It’s super easy to prepare—it’s basically all about that tart little red berry and sugar.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

10

Mince Pie

Mince pies Shutterstock

Traditionally made with chopped meat, by the turn of the century, the meat in this two-crust pie was commonly replaced with suet or butter, and it also included chopped apples, brandy or rum, dried fruits, and spices. Not only were mince pies featured in an 1896 Thanksgiving dinner menu in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, but there is also a recipe in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook Mock Mince Meat Pie which used crackers instead of suet.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

11

Oyster Stuffing

Thanksgiving oyster stuffing Shutterstock

Aside from being served on the half shell, oysters were also shucked to make a cameo appearance in an oyster stuffing, to accompany the bird (turkey or goose) starting in Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book circa 1880. Oyster stuffing or dressing is still a traditional side dish and one of the 30 Secrets for Making Perfect Stuffing.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

12

Chestnut Stuffing

Roasted chestnut fennel sausage stuffing Shutterstock

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…. And roast they did, chestnuts were a favorite in Victorian times. Turkeys were also roasted with a chestnut stuffing tucked inside. And Jack Frost nipped at noses.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

13

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Stuffed red bell peppers Shutterstock

Bell peppers were a favored vegetable and at Christmas they got the extra attention they deserved—stuffed with rice and meat and tomatoes, much like today.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

14

Negus

Negus traditional mulled wine and spices Shutterstock

This hot punch was served at Mr. Fezziwig’s annual Christmas ball in Dicken’s 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. The punch was a stir of port wine, hot water, spices, lemon juice, grated lemon peel, and kissed with a sprinkle of nutmeg. Today, it’s called a mulled wine and still finds a place on Christmas menus.

Get a traditional recipe from Esquire.

15

Manhattan Cocktail

Manhattan whiskey cocktail Shutterstock

There are varying accounts as to just who invented this city-slicker cocktail, but there is no question that it was created in Manhattan and that it was a pour of rye, sweet vermouth and aromatic bitters (and in fact, it was believed to be the first cocktail to introduce vermouth to booze). The sip is still a trendy cocktail, and particularly festive for Christmas—as it was in 1899.

Get a traditional recipe from Liquor.com.

16

Brandy Sauce and Hard Sauce

Brandy hard sauce Shutterstock

We always had hard sauce with our pie on Christmas, my dad insisted on it. In the Victorian era, it accompanied plum pudding or Christmas pudding. Fannie Farmer’s recipe called for butter, powdered sugar, lemon extract, and vanilla. Brandy sauce is similar, but it’s made with brandy, powdered sugar, butter, eggs, and milk or cream.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

17

Charlotte Russe

Charlotte russe cake Shutterstock

This classic cake that dates to the 18th century in Europe became a favorite in the 19th century at Christmas. It is a layer cake built with lady fingers, Bavarian cream, cooked fruit and a crown of whipped cream.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

18

Croquettes

Potato croquettes Shutterstock

A desired side dish often found on turn-of-the-century menus were croquettes—in fact, Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Christmas menu included Chicken Croquettes and Green Peas.

Get the recipe from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Cook Book, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

19

Lobster Newberg

Lobster newberg Shutterstock

While turkey and goose were popular (and sometimes prime rib of beef), seafood and fish also had a special spot on Christmas menus. This rich and elegant seafood entrée was invented in 1876 at Delmonico’s Restaurant in downtown New York City. The lobster special took off and became the “it” dish for special occasions, including the holidays, when it appeared on fancy hotel restaurant Christmas dinner menus.

Get the recipe from What’s Cooking America.

20

Boned Capon in Aspic

Aspic meat Shutterstock

Thankfully, this traditional Christmas dish has fallen out of favor. Why? A capon is basically a castrated rooster. And aspic is a meat-like-Jell-O. Are we not right? Well, if you’re interested in trying your hand at it, there is a recipe in the book Recherche Entrees: A collection of the Latest and Most Popular Dishes.

Get the recipe from Recherche Entrees.

21

Nesselrode Pudding

Nesselrode Pudding Shutterstock

This frozen chestnut-centric pudding was named for Count Nesselrode, a Russian diplomat. The fancy pudding was a decadent dessert and made with a chestnut puree, creamy custard, raisins, currants, sherry wine and candied fruits like apricots and cherries.

Get the recipe from the James Beard Foundation or The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

22

Potatoes a la Maître d’hôtel

Potatoes a la maitre d'hotel Shutterstock

A favored potato dish that was often the house specialty in fine restaurants, like Delmonico’s, it was made with sliced boiled potatoes and a rich buttery sauce and parsley.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

23

Gingerbread

Gingerbread cake Shutterstock

Gingerbread has stood the test of time and is still a Christmas treat as decorated houses and little men. Fannie Farmer’s illustrious 1896 cookbook had a recipe for a Christmas gingerbread cake.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

24

Frozen Pudding

Frozen pudding Shutterstock

Think ice cream. This icy dessert, made with cream, sugar, eggs, rum and candied fruits, was placed in a “brick mould” and then popped into the ice box to freeze.

Get Fannie Farmer’s recipe from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

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