The “New Dixie Receipt Book” of 1901 illustrated traditional Christmas foods in the South. The cookbook, from Columbus, is inscribed Sallie P. Billups, November 12, 1903. Photo by: Courtesy photo
December 21, 2013 9:03:47 PM
On Friday Karen and I made a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of last minute items for next week's Christmas dinner. Several hours later while stuck in traffic I pondered on Christmas dinner in times past.
Among my grandmother's papers I had come across a December 1939, Detroit (Michigan) Evening Times. In it was a cook's tour of Dixie with recipes. It was written by Eudora Welty under the name of Prudence Penny.
There was a recipe for jellied apples as prepared by Mrs. Herschel Brownlee in Port Gibson, the town which General Grant "on one occasion declared 'too beautiful to burn.'" The article also included Mrs. Brownlee's recipe for stuffed eggs with spinach.
Mrs. C.L. Lubb of Aberdeen contributed a recipe for that "southern favorite," beaten biscuits. The article concluded with Welty saying, "A collection of recipes from the old south is no more complete than the Old South itself without that magical ingredient, the mint julep."
She then provided the recipe for the Whitehall Mint Julep from Columbus.
Though Welty's source of the mint julep recipe was my grandmother, Mrs. T.C. Billups, my grandmother's favorite Christmas beverage was actually milk punch.
■ 2/3 quart of Bourbon
■ 2 quarts of milk
■ 1/3 quart of cognac or brandy
■ 1 quart of half and half
■ 1/2 quart of rum
■ 10 tablespoons powdered sugar
Chill all liquids then mix and keep chilled. Makes about 30 servings. Nutmeg may be sprinkled on top before serving.
An old family cookbook from 1901, "The New Dixie Recipe Book," provides a traditional southern menu for Christmas Day. However, it first states that the table should be decorated with holly and mistletoe.
The breakfast menu should be composed of "oranges, germia, broiled salt mackerel, chipped beef on toast, baked potatoes, griddle cakes, muffins and coffee."
Dinner should include "oysters on half shell, cream chicken soup, broiled whitefish, sauce Maitre d'Hotel, roast goose, apple sauce, boiled potatoes, mashed turnips, sweet potatoes, Christmas plum pudding, Lemon ice, squash pie, quince jelly, delicate cake, salted almonds, fruit and coffee."
For supper, "cold roast goose, oyster patties, cold slaw, charlotte russe, popovers and currant jelly" should be the fare.
Other suggestions for a traditional Christmas dinner included "roast young pig" and mince pie. Plum pudding was always a Christmas favorite and the oldest family cookbook I have, The Virginia House-Wife from 1825, contains the recipe for "An English Plum Pudding."
English Plum Pudding
"Beat eight eggs very light, add to them a pound of flour sifted, and a pound of powdered sugar; when it looks quite light, put in a pound of suet finely shred, a pint of milk, a nutmeg grated, and a gill of brandy; mix with it a pound of currants, washed, picked, and dried, and a pound of raisins stoned and floured -- tie it in a thick cloth, and boil it steadily eight hours."
Another old Christmas favorite was ginger snaps, and for those people who have not already ordered a tin of Moravian Ginger Snaps here is a hundred-year-old recipe from Columbus.
■ 1 cup molasses
■ 1 teaspoon ginger
■ 1/2 cup sugar
■ 1 teaspoon soda
■ 1/2 cup butter
■ 1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix molasses, sugar, ginger 7 butter. Put on stove, stir until butter is melted. Stir in 3 1/2 cups flour into which soda has been sifted. Let this stand all night. In the morning roll thin and cut. Bake in moderate oven.
As Eudora Welty said in her 1939 article, "Who could ask for anything more?" It is also interesting to note that roast pig, which was first eaten in Mississippi in December of 1540, was still considered a traditional Southern Christmas meal in 1901.
And what are we having? We will feast on a Greenberg Smoked Turkey and an Old Waverly Farm Smoked Ham.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.