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Christmas Food & Drink

Food and drink have always been part of the Christmas celebrations, as well as the Winter Solstice festivals. One of the oldest traditions at Christmas time is the "wassail bowl". Wassail is a toast comes from the Saxon phrase "wes hal" meaning good health or be whole. It was not uncommon for the wassail bowl to be as big as a cauldron. It was filled with a mixture of cider, brandy, ale, spices and drunk hot. In fact the wassail bowl was hung over a burning Yule log and the contents kept warm in this way. An age-old brew of the wassail bowl is a punch called "Lambswool", made of ale, roasted apples, sugar or honey, eggs cream and pieces of toasted bread. These days our choice of alcohol is wide and varied. Some Christmas favourites are mulled wine and egg nog.

Today the traditional Christmas meal is varied and may include amongst others Roast Ham, Roast Beef, Roast Pork and of course the very popular Roast Turkey. Turkey is a newcomer to the Christmas table and only made their way to Europe from North America in about 1650. Prior to turkey, traditional Christmas fare included roast swan, goose, capons, pheasants and peacocks. Considered a special treat was a roast boar's head decorated with holly and a fruit, usually an apple stuck in its mouth!

Today these roasted meats are usually served with seasonal vegetables and a variety of fruit sauces ranging from apple, prunes and apricots to cranberries however until about 100 years ago one of the best-known Christmas dishes, which accompanied roasted meat was frumenty. Frumenty was a made with grains of wheat, boiled up into a broth added to which were crushed almonds, milk and egg yolks. It was sometimes eaten with honey on Christmas morning but usually as sauce served with mutton or venison. Plum porridge or plum pottage is derived from frumenty and was essentially a thick soup made by boiling up portions of beef or mutton with dried prunes or plums, raisins, currants, bread crumbs and seasoned with spices and wine.

Today's traditional Christmas pudding is derived from frumenty and plum pudding. Christmas pudding (also called plum pudding, although it contains no plums at all) is another Christmas menu newcomer. It is steam-cooked in a cloth, giving it a large round shape. Christmas pudding is traditionally made on "Stir-up Sunday" at the beginning of Advent. To be made correctly the pudding should be stirred from east to west in honour of the three wise men. Each family member should give the pudding a stir and make a secret wish. Traditional mince pies were made with minced meat and were shaped like a crib and were decorated with a tiny pastry baby Jesus. Today mince pies contain a sweet fruit filling.

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