Peter Holme looks through The Westmorland Gazette archives to learn about Christmas food in the 1800s

IT IS said that modern families very rarely eat meals together round a dining table. An exception to the rule appears to be Christmas when the full might of mum’s culinary expertise comes to the fore with the turkey, suitably stuffed along with the roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce etc. is presented as probably the biggest meal most people eat during the year.

What would this same family have eaten in the 1800s? Looking through the Gazette archives I have picked out the following.

(From the Gazette of December 1853): “On Tuesday week crowds of people had the curiosity to call at Mrs Heatherington’s confectioner, to inspect a large goose pie, six stone in weight, which on Wednesday morning was sent off to Kinmel Park, North Wales to Sober Watkin Esq.

"This pie was a gift of his old neighbours at Plumpton, who contributed one thing and another to the pie. It consisted of one goose, one turkey, one hare, two fowls, two pigeons, two partridges, one brace of grouse, two tongues and a snipe. “ (six stone = 38 kilos).

The poor of the area also dined well. (From the Gazette in 1876): “The inmates of the Union Workhouse in this town had a merry Christmas of it this year, for besides having a plentiful supply of the customary roast beef and plum pudding, at which eight inmates sat down and ate until they were satisfied, there was also a plentiful supply of currant bread, apples, oranges, nuts and sweets supplied by several townsfolk.”

However, the price of the Christmas dinner was not always to the customers’ satisfaction.

(From the Gazette in 1892): “ It seems to be a tradition with the farmers' wives to begin the Christmas market by asking impossible prices for their geese. This is a disadvantage both to themselves and to intending purchasers, for it prolongs the market and keeps both buyers and sellers in the Market Hall until far past noon.

"Of course many purchasers go away to buy a joint instead of the customary Christmas Goose. Last Saturday 13d per lb. for dressed geese was asked at the opening of the market, and from that figure the price dropped to 81/2d. There were still some baskets of geese still unsold at three o’clock.” (13d = 61/2 p – 8d = 4p).

Finally, mince pies were up for inspection in the Gazette in 1884): “Most people it appears unwittingly commit a dreadful heresy over the ordinary Christmas mince-pie. Its usual shape at the present time is round.

"Four centuries ago to eat a round mince-pie would be to stigmatize yourself as a heretic. The orthodox shape is a long oval and was doubtless meant to represent the cradle in Bethlehem and tradition further asserts that the strange mixture which makes the mince represents the fruits and spice with which the Three Kings in the legend filled the cradle.”