5 Christmas Foods That Go Back Further Than You Think | ExpatWomanFood.com

5 Christmas Foods That Go Back Further Than You Think

We don’t choose our festive feast – tradition chooses for us.

Posted on

12 December 2018

Festive Tradition

All credits: PA

If there’s one thing about Christmas that can rival the feeling of a new smartphone, Dan Brown novel or horribly ugly sweater, it’s the food. At no other time of year can you indulge so eagerly in such displays of gluttony.

It is perhaps surprising then, that this glorious decadence is always painstakingly structured: The same meal is dished out again and again, honed by countless years of practice and force of habit.

Most of our festive foods have centuries of tradition behind them to justify their spots on the menu.

Here are five Christmas foods that go back further than you think…

1. Christmas Pudding

Perhaps the most storied of all festive grub, Christmas puddings have been around since the 14th century – but not as we know them today. Modern pud started life as a porridge called ‘frumenty’ – made up of raisins, meat, currents, wines and spices, it was likely eaten as a pre-Christmas fasting meal.

Over the following centuries it morphed into plum pudding, and was banned by Cromwell’s fun-hating puritans after the English Civil War. Fast forward another 50 years, and King George I supposedly requested plum pudding for his first Christmas dinner in England. The story is almost certainly debatable, but he was nicknamed “the Pudding King” thereafter.

No one knows exactly how Christmas pudding developed, but one thing is certain, it has an historic right to a place at your Christmas table!

2. The Christmas Turkey

Turkeys first arrived in the UK in the early 1500s, and it’s widely reported that Henry VIII was the first to eat one on Christmas day. A practical meal, these large bird could feed more people than a goose or pheasant, and freed up chickens and cows to produce eggs and milk.

Turkey has been a festive favourite for the rich and the royal since Tudor times, but for a long time it was a luxury few could afford. Not until the 1950s did increasing wages and improved supply bring the Christmas turkey to the masses.

3. Candy Canes

These sugary treats have surprisingly deep European roots.

First recorded in Germany around 250 years ago, one story tells of a German choirmaster needing to keep his choristers quiet. Since it was nearing Christmas, he gave them candy canes to shut them up, and to remind them of the nativity with the shape of a shepherd’s crook. The red and white patterning emerged around 1900, but otherwise, the modern cane is quite similar to the canes of yore.

4. Mince Pies

Just like Christmas pud, mince pies have been around for centuries, but with a very different list of ingredients. As their name suggests, these seasonal stalwarts were once packed with meat – usually lamb, but bakers used whatever they could get their hands on.

A delicacy in medieval times, mince pies were status symbols that wealthy proprietors would wheel out at Christmas parties, to prove their pastry chefs were better than yours. High-end pies came in all shapes and sizes – stars, flowers, and even interlocking jigsaw pieces.

5. The Yule Log

A rolled up Genoise sponge filled and topped with icing, chocolate and jam, it’s modelled on the physical Yule Logs burned in midwinter by Nordic pagans. Families would chop down a large tree branch on the eve of midwinter, and leave it burning over the coming days, supposedly granting them good luck for the coming year.

6. Brussels sprouts

Ah yes, the Brussels sprout. Every year we trundle through the process of buying, cooking and binning these little green balls of despair out of a feeling of festive obligation. But a glance through the history books shows they’re a recent addition to the Christmas canon.

They weren’t widely available in Britain until the late 19th century – and then only as novelty mini-cabbages – and became Christmas staples sometime in the 20th. Why then, do we eat them? No one seems to be sure, but the best guess is that they’re obscenely healthy, and ripen at about the right time.