Canadian Christmas dinner menu is heavily inspired by the Great Britain. You cannot imagine it without oven-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables and fruit cake or apple pie for dessert. The meals are often particularly rich and substantial – food worth celebrating.
“For many of the islanders, this anniversary is memorable (apart from all religious significance) because it evokes a great slaughter of turkeys, geese and all kinds of game, a wholesale massacre of fat oxen, pigs and sheep; they envisage garlands of black puddings, sausages and saveloys . . . mountains of plum-puddings and oven-full of mince-pies… On that day no one in England may go hungry …. This is a family gathering, and on every table the same menu is prepared. A joint of beef, a turkey or goose, which is usually the pièce de résistance, accompanied by a ham, sausages and game; then follow the inevitable plum-pudding and the famous mince pies.” ~ Alfred Suzanne (“English and American Cookery”)
Christmas dinner can take place any time from the evening of Christmas Eve to the evening of Christmas Day itself.
The tradition of turkey at Christmas also came to Canada from England in the 17-18th centuries. However, back then, turkeys were so abundant in the wild in North America that they were eaten throughout the year and were not considered appropriate food for celebrations. Pork ribs were at the Christmas tables outside of the Thanksgiving-New Year season. Only well-off people could afford it. For the same reason, among the working classes in England it became common to serve goose, which remained the predominant roast until the Victorian era. But time has changed: in the United Kingdom in 2009, 7,734,000 turkeys were consumed on Christmas Day (the UK population was about 65 millions)
“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Eded out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish) they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet everyone had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows.” Charles Dickens (“A Christmas Carol”)
In the pioneer days, the diet depended on local produce and was generally nourishing but monotonous. When the family and friends sat down to their Christmas feast, the menu would include bread, butter, cakes, boiled fowl, pork, mashed potatoes, cream and sugar, cheese, stewed red currant, a pork pie, a mince pie, as well as home-cured ham, applesauce made from their own orchard, and plum pudding that had been liberally doused with brandy and set afire.
Preparing food for the Christmas season took months in making. It began in harvest time when the best root vegetables were set aside. By late October the housewife would already be busy making cakes, puddings, and crocks of minced meat for her pies and tarts. Christmas baking began in the weeks leading up to the great feast.
Christmas pudding, which is often called plum pudding, was a must for Christmas celebrations and contained no actual plums. It happened due to the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for raisins. There was no one standard recipe for it and many households had their own one. Essentially the recipe brought together different kinds of dry fruit, eggs and suet, and what traditionally were expensive or luxurious ingredients, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger that are so important in developing its distinctive rich aroma. The mixture had to be moistened with brandy, whiskey or rum. The pudding was aged for months; the high alcohol content of the pudding prevented it from spoiling during this time.
“Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding.” ~ Charles Dickens (“A Christmas Carol”)
Enjoy your Christmas dinner!