A very nice stuffing for turkeys can be made from chestnuts, but space will not allow me to enter into further details.
In conclusion, let me add, let Christmas come as a blessing, and not as a curse.
The demon Alcohol is abroad at this holy season, and many know that they require an archangel's strength to trample him underfoot. Let the law of each feast be regulated like that of the wise Eastern monarch: "None did compel." Let every one on Christmas Eve endeavour to find some case of distress which it is real and not false charity to alleviate. He will doubly enjoy his own dinner who can think that some one but for him would have gone without. It i s such deeds that entitle us to say— ----"That his bones, When he has run his course, and sleeps in blessings, May have a tomb of orphans' tears wept on 'em."
There is something sacred in the very name of home to every true-born Englishman, and, as we should naturally expect from the hallowing influence of this holy season of the year, home seems doubly sacred on Christmas Day. How many thousand families throughout the land are united but once a year! what efforts, too, do some make, so that on their great, annual holiday they may once again find shelter under the old and loving parental wings!
But let us this year anticipate the day's festivities, and Christmas Eve finds us once again reunited round the fire, on which the log is heaped, and crackles brightly : for no one, unless by abject poverty compelled, would have a poor fire on Christmas Eve.
The fresh-cut holly glistens on the wall, the curtains are drawn, and the grey-haired, bright-eyed old man, as he glances round the circle, his voice too full almost to speak, yet feels an inner comfort difficult to describe—a feeling partly of thankfulness, partly of resignation, as he looks forward to the fast-approaching time when the places that know him now shall know him no more for ever. For it has been well said that children, though they increase the cares of life, yet mitigate the remembrance of death. But such a good old-fashioned circle round the fire on such a night would not be complete without a steaming bowl of something hot, to drink a toast in memory of yet another happy gathering in the old house at home. So, while the party assembled listen to the distant sound of the waits, or perhaps to the still preferable music of the bird of dawn—which recalls one of the brightest gems that have dropped from the pen of our greatest poet—we will, after repeating the lines, step down-stairs, and brew a bowl of bishop :—
" Some say that ever, 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, This bird of dawning singeth all night long : And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad : The nights are wholesome ; then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallowed and so gracious is the time."
Bishop, a good old-fashioned drink, whose nose has, so to speak, been somewhat put out of joint by mulled claret since that beverage has become so cheap, is best made as follows :—First take a small lemon, and at this season of the year they will be easily obtained white and new. First wash the lemon in a little warm water, and then stick into it a dozen or more cloves, and make the lemon hot by placing it in a plate in the oven, or better still, by suspending it from a string in front of the fire, taking care that the lemon does not hang too close, so as to get so hot as to split. Next take a little water, about a tumblerful, and pour it into an enamelled saucepan, and add to it a stick of cinnamon about six inches long—of course, breaking up the cinnamon; also put in the juice of a small lemon, one blade of mace, a quarter of a nutmeg grated, and four lumps of sugar that have been rubbed over the skin of a fresh pale-looking lemon. Put a lid on the saucepan, and let these spices boil on the fire gently for half an hour, or a little more. Next take a bottle of port wine, and decant it gently, in case of sediment, in the ordinary way; heat this in a saucepan, but do not let it boil; as soon as it is hot, pour the wine into a bowl previously made thoroughly hot with hot water, add the liquor of the spices and lemon-juice through a strainer, place the hot lemon in the bishop, and grate a little fresh nutmeg over the top, and add sufficient sugar to the whole, according to the tastes of the party. Of course, this is a somewhat strong mixture, and is certainly not altogether suited for children in any quantity. However, by adding more boiling water and more sugar it can soon be made weaker. Of course, the proper vessel into which the bishop should be poured is a punch-bowl. Unfortunately, punch-bowls are somewhat rare. If the party is tolerably large, a wash-hand basin makes a very fair substitute. Of course, you would pick a small one, and as ornamental as possible. Now, a thick basin requires a good deal of warming, so should you adopt my suggestion, recollect to fill the basin with boiling water some time before it is wanted. In lieu of a punch-ladle, the soup-ladle will be found a worthy substitute. I would also remind you of warming the glasses, not only for the sake of keeping the bishop hot, but to avoid breakages. In cold weather, especially when it is frosty, pouring any hot liquid into a cold glass is very apt to end in cracking it. The bowl too, should be placed in front of the fire on a hassock in the centre of the family circle.
Mulled claret is made in a very similar manner to bishop, only no roasted lemon is required. Take a small quantity of water, and boil in it for some time the same quantity of cinnamon and mace as recommended for the bishop, but do not' put in any lemonjuice. After this has boiled for some time, add some white sugar—a dozen lumps or more, for claret requires a far greater amount of sugar than port. After adding the sugar, do not boil up the water and spices, as the addition of the sugar makes it extremely likely to boil over. Next warm a bottle of claret on the fire, taking care, as before, not to let it boil. When it is thoroughly hot, strain off the sweetened and spiced water, and add a little grated nutmeg, and a table-spoonful of pale brandy. If you have a large jug with a strainer in the spout, there is no occasion to strain off the spices. Mulled claret is generally put into a jug, and not into a bowl.
There is a good old-fashioned sound about the " wassail-bowl." I have never tried the following recipe, but will give it, as it sounds fairly correct:— Heat in a saucepan a pint of Burton ale, with half a pound of sugar, a grated nutmeg, and half an ounce f grated ginger; after it has just boiled up, add a quart more ale, four glasses of golden sherry, and a couple of ounces of lump sugar that has been rubbed over the outside of a lemon. Add also a few thin slices of lemon. Make the whole mixture hot without boiling it, and add half a dozen roasted apples that have had the cores stamped out and cut, but that have not been peeled.
Of course, this must be placed in a bowl, which must be treated, as we said, with hot water. The sort of ale that must be used for the wassail-bowl is evidently strong old ale, like Burton or Edinburgh, and I should think the more sweet and oily the ale the better the wassail. Mild ale or bitter ale would not answer, especially the latter.
I have on previous occasions gone into the mysteries of mince pies and plum pudding, as well as into turkey-stuffing and goose-stuffing. How to roast a sirloin of beef, though important, is too well known to warrant many words. There is, however, no season in the year in which cold roast beef is so plentiful as the day after Christmas Day. Now, though cold roast beef really does not want any sauce at all, yet there is one that so admirably suits it that I think it is well worth mentioning at the present season. I refer to horseradish sauce. Horseradish sauce used to be made by mixing together grated horseradish with sugar, mustard, vinegar, and cream. There has, however, been an admirable modern invention called Swiss milk, preserved in tins. When, therefore, you have any compound requiring cream and sugar, by using Swiss milk with ordinary milk you get an exactly similar result, at a far less cost. To make horseradish sauce proceed as follows :—Take a stick or two of horseradish, and send it through a coarse grater till you have sufficient pulp to fill, say, a couple of tablespoons. This grating process, like chopping onions, is far from pleasant, as it makes one cry. Next dissolve about a tea-spoonful of Swiss milk in a little ordinary milk—say two table-spoonfuls of the latter —and mix in about a tea-spoonful of made mustard and a tea-spoonful of vinegar, then mix in the two table-spoonfuls of horseradish pulp, and stir it all together.
The consistency should be that of good thick cream; of course, by adding more pulp the mixture will be rendered thicker. Should it be too sweet, of course it is owing to there being too much Swiss milk, and as Swiss milk is apt to vary somewhat in sweetness, it is as well to act cautiously in using it, as it is always easy to add, but impossible to take away. Some persons, when serving horseradish with hot beef or hot rump steak, warm the sauce; this is a great mistake, as by warming the sauce you utterly spoil it, and to my mind render it absolutely disagreeable.
In speaking of Christmas dinners last year, I mentioned that an exceedingly nice stuffing for turkeys can be made from chestnuts. As anything in connection with turkeys is very apropos of the present season, I will describe how to make chestnut stuffing and chestnut sauce. For a large turkey, take about sixty chestnuts and slit the skins, and fry them for a short time in a little butter in a frying-pan till their husks come off easily. Then boil the chestnuts in some good strong stock till quite tender; take one-half and pound it in a mortar, with a little pepper and salt and scraped fat bacon; stuff a turkey with this and an equal quantity of ordinary veal stuffing or sausage-meat.
With regard to the sauce, take the remainder of the chestnuts and mix them with some good strong gravy, rubbing the whole through a wire sieve with a wooden spoon; a couple of lumps of sugar and a glass of sherry are an improvement. Of course, the best stuffing of all for turkeys is made from truffles, but then they are so expensive, as a rule, that the recipe would not be practical.