There can be no doubt but that the season of Christmas is especially associated with eating and drinking. The most approved English method of exhibiting " goodwill towards men," is by asking them to dinner. How many families there are with poor relations, in one respect resembling Christmas itself: they only come but once a year! The hallowing influence of this holy season may be seen in all classes. The haughty relax somewhat of their pride, and have what is called quite a family party— often the event of the year to the children of the above-mentioned poor relations. How much more of true enjoyment to the giver is there, however, in this dinner than in some of a different nature during the height of the season ! So gracious and so hallowed is this time, that the miser relaxes, though reluctantly, his purse-strings; the workhouse-master approaches nearer to a man and a brother. The weary and heavy-laden prisoner is, in his fare, reminded once again of the outer world from which he is debarred. And even the hobnailed-booted ruffian refrains from kicking his wife on Christmas Day.
But the part of Christmas with which we are more especially concerned is the dinner-party. And our endeavour will be to help and advise that large class, the very backbone of English society, whose status may perhaps be best described by saying that they are blessed with neither poverty nor riches. To the really poor, the Christmas dinner is very dependent on the poor man's friend, the baker's oven. Early on the day the goose is carried there, prepared often in the somewhat primitive fashion of a heap of sage and onion on one side of the dish, and a pile of potatoes on the other. It is to be trusted that the baker's man is an honest one. A small piece cut off each joint of meat before baking, on Sunday, too often maintains the man for the week. The poor know to their cost how much meat will shrink in the baking. On Christmas Day the number of geese sent to each baker's is something extraordinary.
An ingenious baker once solved the following problem :—How to make a very small goose into a very large one. He purchased the smallest and cheapest that could be found, and substituted it for the smallest one sent to him to bake. By the simple method of making each person have the next smallest goose to the one he sent, the baker retained for himself the finest of the lot.
But we will now soar into the more aristocratic region of mock-turtle soup and boiled codfish, roast sirloin of beef, boiled turkey and oyster sauce, plum pudding and mince pies. At least, we think we have heard of such dishes at this season of the year as being occasionally used.
However, one word of warning. The following awful catastrophe actually occurred : Scene—A dinner-party. Time—Soon after Christmas. Host—A nephew, with a wife and very large family. Important Guest—An uncle, rich—very rich ; a bachelor ; elderly, but irritable. At the moment the covers are taken off, he rises from the table, wrath written on his brow: "I will stand it no longer; give me my hat. This is the twelfth day running I have had roast beef and boiled turkey. I'll stand it no longer !" Exit in a rage.
Now, as I said in my last article, there is such a demand for mock-turtle soup about Christmas-time that calves' heads have been known to fetch a guinea apiece; but every housekeeper knows how exceedingly expensive they are at this season.
The change, however, of real turtle soup for mock is in the opinion of most people a change for the better, and we will fulfil the promise we made in another article, and describe as clearly as we can how to make real turtle soup from the dried turtle flesh, at a less cost than mock-turtle soup can be made from calves' head when the latter is very dear.
The first thing to be done is, of course, to purchase some of the dried flesh, which is generally about ten shillings a pound, and can be obtained from any of the large London provision-merchants—and is occasionally kept by the better-class grocers.
Now the general fault that we have found people express in regard to cookery-books, is that they invariably describe how to make such large quantities that the recipes are only adapted to hotels. It is evident, too, that if a cook can make three pints of soup, she could make three gallons. We will therefore describe how to make a small quantity of turtle soup—viz., three pints, which, by-the-by, is amply sufficient for ten people, or even more. Let those who doubt this—and they will be many—go at once, and see how many ladlefuls there are in a pint—the average is five. Now, at the commencement of a good dinner one ladleful is ample for each person. Three pints of soup would therefore give fifteen people one help each, but of course it would not do to have only just enough. Beau Brummel once said that he would never speak to a man again who came twice for soup j but he would be a brave man who would risk no one asking for more, when the party is a family one at Christmas-time, and the soup real turtle.
First, the turtle-flesh must be obtained at least three days before the soup is required. Suppose, then, a quarter of a pound to be in hand. It has somewhat the appearance of glue. Place it in a basin of cold water about the temperature of a hot summer's day, and let the basin, which had better be covered with a plate, be kept in a warm place, such as a top shelf in the kitchen. The very last thing before the cook leaves the kitchen for the night, or when the kitchen fire has got low, and will have no more coals put on it, is for the basin to be placed in the oven. This is especially necessary in winter. In the morning the basin must be taken out before the fire is lit, and the water changed—i.e., the flesh, which will be found to be a little swollen, put into fresh cold water, and if it smells rather offensively—somewhat like high fish— there is no harm in rubbing it all over gently with a lump of salt. This soaking process had best be continued for three days and nights, at the end of which period the flesh will be, comparatively speaking, soft, especially the thinner pieces. The last twelve hours the water may be quite warm, but not hotter than that the cook's hand can be borne in it without inconvenience.