When I was a child in the early 1900s, Christmas was a big event.
So preparations began some weeks beforehand. A lot had to be done. There were no ready-meals
in the shops. So families had to make their own Christmas specialities.
Making Christmas puddings, Edwardian and
My brothers and I had to help
mother with the ingredients for making the Christmas puddings. We had to
stone the raisins, for which we needed a basin of hot water. Then with a finger
and thumb we would open a raisin onto a large plate, pick out the stone and
rinse it off in the hot water. Then we would go on to the next raisin.
We also had to take the skins off the almonds, which was called blanching
them, and involved putting the almonds into a bowl and pouring on boiling water.
After a few minutes, the skin would just slide off between our fingers. If the
water was still too hot, we burnt our fingers, but if we let it cool too much,
the skins wouldn't slide off.
We also had to slice the candied peel. This came from the shop as halves
of candied oranges, lemons and grapefruit which had thick coatings of sugar
on the outside and lumps of sugar in the centres that we loved to eat.
My mother always made three Christmas puddings because they would keep for
months. She said that this was also what her own mother used to do in
Victorian times. One pudding was specifically for my father's birthday in July. As she needed
a very large mixing bowl, she used the basin from our decorated china
jug and basin set. This was intended
for hot water for guests who washed upstairs, but most people, including guests,
washed downstairs in the scullery.
used the jug for making his homemade wine.
History books are not always right!
Although my mother specifically states that the
Christmas puddings were boiled in china basins in a large pan, magazines and
TV programmes invariably say that they were tied in cloth and boiled in the
copper. I suspect that both
practices may have been in use, as my mother has never yet been proved wrong
in her recollections. However I certainly can't imagine her mother wanting to contaminate her
washing with a copper that had had greasy cooking water in it. Coppers could
not easily be washed out like today's basins as they had no drain.
Similarly the accepted wisdom seems to be that
brandy was mixed into the
pudding, although my mother specifically states that porter beer was used by
all the people she knew. Perhaps this was a difference between the large
houses and the working classes.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
and daughter of the author
I never heard of anyone putting brandy into Christmas puddings. Perhaps it
was too expensive. The puddings were mixed with porter which was a kind of beer,
and a few silver threepenny pieces were added with the dried fruit. These were made
of silver, so supposedly didn't taint the pudding, but you could jar your teeth
badly on them if you weren't careful. When my mother had mixed all the ingredients
for the Christmas pudding together, everyone in the family had a stir for luck.
This was a convention followed by all the families I knew. My mother would then
let the mixed ingredients stand overnight to blend the flavours. Then next morning
she put the mixture into china basins, covered them and boiled them in a large pan
for eight hours. She had to top up the pan with water from time to time
to prevent it from boiling dry.
Making Christmas pickles 1900s style
Also some weeks in advance, my mother would cut up red cabbage and put it
into jars of vinegar. She would also pickle green walnuts by putting them into
jars of vinegar; and she would make mincemeat. I sometimes helped.
About a week before Christmas my mother would make salt beef ready for supper
on Christmas night. For the salt beef she would buy a piece of beef brisket
and put it into brine for a few days, then cook it in water with a few pepper
corns added for flavour. When cold she would press it into a tin, put a plate
on top and then a weight. To serve, it was turned out onto a plate and sliced.
Making brawn 1900s style
Also about a week before Christmas my mother would make brawn - pieces of
cold meat set in jelly. She would buy half a pig's head and trotters and a
leg of beef and boil them all together in a little water. When they were
cooked, she would cut them up into pieces and put them into a large basin
with some of the water. All this set solid when cold. I don't think gelatine
was used. The meat juices themselves produced the jelly. To serve, it was
turned out onto a plate and cut into wedges.
Making sweets 1900s style
My father always made coconut turkish delight for Christmas, but I don't
know how he did it or whether it was usual practice for a man to make
Making Christmas decorations 1900s style
We children would make paper chains with lengths of coloured paper stuck
together with paste made from flour and water.
Making Christmas cards 1900s style
A poignant 1914 Christmas card for the soldiers at the front in World War One, looking forward to the sunrise of better times to come in 1915. If only that had been true.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.