During the Georgian and Regency period, Christmas was the traditional time for entertaining on a lavish scale. Lord Fermanagh, who did not consider himself a wealthy man, entertained "as many as 400 people a day and rarely less than 100." These would include the performers such as morrismen and wassailers, workers from the estate as well as house guests and relatives. The menu might include a fricassee of chicken or chicken in brandy-wine, duck in port, jugged pigeons – apparently a "pupton of pigeons" (a pigeon pie in a forcemeat crust) had gone out of fashion by the nineteenth century but it sounds intriguing! Foreigners were often impressed (or appalled) by the gargantuan appetites of the English. In 1795, Parson Woodforde gave a dinner for 21 guests (a snug little dinner by the standards of the times) and served "three joints of beef, a leg of mutton, fish, rabbits, plenty of puddings, both small and strong beer, punch (made from six bottles of rum), wine and five bottles of port." At this time savoury and sweet dishes would be served together – the first course consisting of soups, boiled meats, fish, small roasts, pies and vegetables with a few sweet puddings. The second course would be roast meats, fricassees and ragouts with fruit pies and custards.
Favourites at the time were flummery (an orange and cream jelly) served in a magnificent mould, chocolate pye decorated with gold-leaf almonds and crystallised rose petals and that popular symbol of wealth the pineapple. This could be soaked in brandy or chopped and piled back into the shell. The leaves of the pineapple could be gilded really special occasions.
At the dessert, the cloth, napkins and dishes would be removed and the mahogany table would gleam in the candlelight until it was covered by decanters of wine, comfits in porcelain or crystal dishes and fruit in elegant baskets. Towards the end of the dessert the ladies would withdraw and leave the gentlemen to their drinking.
Now all this makes me feel really good, because I realise that my own seasonal indulgence is not really so bad after all!