To carry a large flat dish with ignited brandy is extremely dangerous, and I have not forgotten that dreadful story which appeared in the papers one or two years ago, about the poor girl who was burnt to death by the lighted brandy from the Christmas pudding falling on her white muslin dress.
In order to light the brandy, get a large iron spoon and fill it with brandy, get a lighted cedar taper or thin wood-shaving, or even a piece of paper rolled up, and act exactly as if you were going to boil the brandy in the spoon; in a few minutes the brandy will light of its own accord, when it can be poured on the pudding, and more added if required. If it is evening, and young children are present, it is as well to turn down the gas very low, or remove the candle for a few minutes. Judging by my own recollections, the lighted plum pudding was a great event in my early days—slightly awful, but intensely delightful.
With regard to the beef, I need say but a few words. It is a question between you and the butcher, and I will say butchers, as a rule, behave very well at Christmas-time, and while I think of it, I would recommend you to give your carving-knife to the butcher-boy, and tell him to get it well sharpened for the occasion, a hint that will not be forgotten—the day after Christmas will have its due effect. But sirloin of beef has a trying piece of gristle at the top, and without a sharp knife a very handsome piece will be made to look ragged. Have a good roaring fire. A piece about twelve pounds will take three hours. It will not require much basting, but remind the cook that it is the sides, and not the fat part, that should be basted. Some stupid women forget this. Let the dish for the beef be thoroughly hot; and this takes time. Have also some curly white horseradish to pile on the top of the joint, and be sure the dish-cover is hot, without being smoking.
We will next discuss the mincemeat, and would recommend a trial of the following recipe:—Take three apples, three lemons, one pound of raisins, three-quarters of a pound of currants, one pound of suet, quarter of a pound of raw beef, two pounds of moist sugar, four ounces of mixed candied peel, quarter of a rind of a fresh orange, one tea-spoonful of powdered mixed spice composed of equal proportions of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg ; half a pint of brandy, and one glass of port wine.
Peel the apples and cut out the cores very carefully, and then bake the pieces till they are quite soft. Squeeze the lemons, and cut away the white pappy part, and boil the lemon-peel till it is fairly soft. The raisins must of course be carefully stoned, and the currants well washed and dried, and picked, as in the case of the pudding. Chop the suet very finely, as well as the raw meat and lemon-peel. Mix all the ingredients well together, and add the brandy last of all, and press the whole down into a stone jar, and place a piece of paper soaked in brandy on the top. Remove the paper and stir up the mixture thoroughly every three days, replacing the paper; if this is done, the mincemeat will keep good a long time.
To make the pies, roll out some thin puff-paste, butter a small round tin, and line it with a piece of paste, then place in a generous quantity of the mincemeat, and cover it over with a similar piece of puff-paste, and bake it in a moderate oven. Mince pies are none the worse for being warmed up, but pray take care that they are sent to table hot.
Let us next proceed to the goose. Now a fine, large, tender goose, with a sauce-tureen of fine rich gravy, and another of hot apple sauce, with a nice large floury potato, is not to be despised, and to my mind is worth half a dozen turkeys. I am afraid the sage and onion, the necessary accompaniment, causes it to be considered rather a vulgar dish. Never mind, let us be vulgar; it's only once a year. The principal thing is the stuffing. Onions vary so in size that it is a little difficult to describe, but for a large goose you must take five large onions and ten fresh sage-leaves. If you are obliged to put up with dried leaves, you will want nearly twice the number. Take rather more than a quarter of a pound of bread-crumbs, about a couple of ounces of butter, and add some black pepper and salt.
Chop the onions very fine with the sage-leaves, and mix all up together; and the yolks of a couple of eggs may be added if you wish to have the seasoning very rich, but they are by no means necessary.
This will make the stuffing that nine persons out of ten really prefer, but do not like to say so. If, therefore, you really wish to have the stuffing mild, the only difference must be, you must cut out the cores of the onions and partially boil them, and let them drain on a napkin; this takes away considerably the strong onion-flavour of which some persons are not very fond. Fill the goose with the stuffing, and roast it before a quick fire. Care must be taken that the goose is well tied up, to prevent the stuffing coming out at one end, or its getting filled with grease during basting at the other. A good-sized goose only requires one hour and a half to roast, and the general fault is that people will over-roast them, and dry them up. The largest goose I have ever seen would not take more than two hours, but try in the case of a very large one to have the stuffing off the chill before you put it in. Serve some rich brown gravy and apple sauce in a separate tureen, as you will be sure to splash the gravy in carving the goose if any is put on the dish.
With regard to roast turkey I can only say that no possible time can be given for roasting, as they vary so—especially in the present day of plump prize birds—that even the weight would be no criterion. A small turkey will require one hour and a half; while a very large one may want five hours. One word of caution about the stuffing. Every one knows how unpleasant a tendency what is called veal stuffing has to "rise." This is, I believe, owing to too much lemon-peel being almost invariably used. When you use a quarter of a pound of beef suet, a quarter of a lemon is amply sufficient. To this quantity may be added a couple of tea-spoonfuls of dried mixed stuffing-herbs (which can be bought in bottles at Covent Garden Market), two ounces of lean ham, rather more than a quarter of a pound of bread-crumbs, two eggs, a little chopped parsley (about a tea-spoonful or rather more), and a little grated nutmeg, salt, and cayenne pepper. Mince all the ingredients very finely together, and pound them afterwards in a mortar.