Monday, 30 September 2013

15 November 1884 - 'How I Keep House On £250 A Year' by Mary Pocock - Chapter 2 'Our Christmas Week'

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Mary Pocock describes the clothes she makes for the poor, including how to make clothes for children out of unwanted dresses donated by friends. This Christmas special includes some recipes for holiday treats including alcohol-free mincemeat and pudding, and an ox-cheek that is both into a soup course for Christmas dinner and a breakfast dish. She concludes with some parlour games that can be enjoyed by young and old alike, because people had to play some kind of game before Cards Against Humanity, I guess. 

Part 1 of this serial can be read here.

Early in November I commence my preparations for Christmas. To begin with, I have a good deal of needlework to do for the poor, for as we only calculate to spend a small sum of money out of our income in charity, we have to give much time, as we like by the end of the year to make our gifts equal to a tithe, or tenth part of our income.

As  matter of fact, we always manage to do this, but it compels me to work for a couple of months before our drawing-room bazaar in September, about which I intend to tell the readers of The Girl's Own Paper; and again for six weeks before Christmas, besides what I do at different times during the year. For this Christmas I knitted little shawls, comforters and cuffs. We made some good, warm petticoats out of strong grey woollen stuff, to which we put grey cotton bands, and on each a large flat pocket of grey cotton, as they were intended for old women. We also made a lot of double (back and front) chest preserveers out of pieces of flannel, silk, or cotton, which we joined together, putting cotton wool between, and then quilted with the sewing machine. Then I was able to beg from friends some woollen dresses that were too shabby for them to wear. Of these we unpicked the skirts and draperies, and washed them in warm bran water; then had them mangled. We made the pieces up into suits for quite little boys, and into frocks and jackets for little girls. These garments would, I knew, wear very much longer than if they had been made out of new cheap materials, and gave great satisfaction to those who received them, for they looked quite new and fresh, and were adapted to those who had them, which is rarely the case when one gives an old dress away.

In September I plant my hyacinths; for then, if I am tolerably fortunate, I have some pots in bloom by Christmas. Last year I sent two or three pots to poor invalids, but for this purpose I chose those not quite in bloom, to give them the pleasure of watching them. I finished my work a week before Christmas. The next thing that claimed my attention was the mincemeat. This and the plum pudding I invariably make myself. The former should be made at least a week before it is required. The quantity I make lasts us six weeks or two months; the following is the recipe I use:-

Mincemeat:- Wash, pick and dry thoroughly in a cloth before the fire 1 1/2 lbs. of currant, stone and chop 1 lb. of Valencia raisins, blanch and cut into pieces 1/2 lb. of Valencia almonds, cut up 3/4 lb. of candied mixed peel, chop very fine 1 lb. of beef suet, add 1/2 lb. of brown sugar, 1 lb. of chopped apples (weighed after they are peeled and cored), half a nutmeg grated, the grated rind of two lemons, and the juice of four lemons. Mix all together, and chop in a bowl or on a board; only chop it for a few minutes, then put it in a stone jar, and press down as hard as you can; tie over, and put aside in a dry place that is not warm. Always stir mincemeat well before using it, as there will be most moisture at the bottom.

It must be remembered that mincemeat that has no wine or spirit in it is difficult to keep; therefore it is necessary to see that the currants are perfectly dry before they are used. To ensure the jar not being damp, it should be stood on the stove until it is quite hot, then allowed on the stove until it is quite hot, then allowed to get cold before the mincemeat is put in it. This quantity of mincemeat costs 3s. 6d,

Some days before Christmas I make some inexpensive soda cakes. These cakes are always better for being kept in a tin three or four days before they are eaten. The following recipe is for one cake:-

Soda Cake:- 1 lb. flour, 1/2 lb. brown sugar, 1/2 lb. clarified dripping or lard, 1/4 lb. currants, a good half-pint of milk, a small teaspoonful of carbonate of soda. rub the dripping well into the flour, add the sugar and currants, and if you have any lemon peel you can grate or chop it very fine and put it in; make the milk warm (not hot), mix the soda with it, then mix all together quickly and put in a warm tin that has been buttered; put into a quick oven immediately. When the cakes have been in the oven a short time, pull the damper out for a minute or two to let the steam out, but do not open the oven door until they have been in forty minutes. They will take from an hour and a half to two hours to bake. Cost of cake, not counting the value of the dripping, sevenpence halfpenny.

My plum pudding I made thus:- 3/4 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of Valencia raisins, 1/2 lb. of sultanas, 1/2 lb. of mixed candied peel, 2 oz. of Valencia almonds, 1/2 lb. of good raw sugar, 1/4 lb. of flour, 1/4 lb. of breadcrumbs, 1/2 lb. of beef suet, and the grated rind of one lemon. Prepare the fruit as for mincemeat, mix these ingredients well, then add six eggs (yolks and whites) well beaten. Next stir in the strained juice of two lemons; stir all well for fifteen minutes. With the raw sugar and juice of two lemons no wine or spirit is required. Well butter a tin pudding-mould, fill it and cover with a buttered paper, put the lid on (if there is one) and tie up in a cloth that has been dipped in water and floured.

This pudding, sufficient for a large party, must be boiled seven hours. A kettle of water should be kept boiling all the time so that the pudding saucepan may be filled up from time to time, as the water in it evaporates.

I always have a large ox-cheek at Christmas time; they are better then than at any other season. I ask the butcher to break the bones before he sends it.

I use it thus:- Lay the cheek for an hour in strong salt and water, then clean it thoroughly, using two or three waters, and put it to drain. Put in a stock pot a piece of butter the size of a walnut, any bacon rinds or bones you may have, three good sized carrots cut lengthways, a head of celery, or some celery tops, three blades of mace, four lumps of sugar, a bunch of sweet herbs, some parsley, a little basil, two bay leaves, a good teaspoonful of whole black pepper, the same of salt, two thick slices of bread that have been toasted slowly until they are dark brown, not black, an onion with four cloves in it, and an onion that has been baked a nice colour, and two pieces of lemon, out of which the juice has been taken for the pudding (see that there are no pips in the lemon, as they would spoil the soup). Add the ox-cheek, put the lid on the stock pot, and set the whole over the fire for a quarter of an hour, then add five quarts of cold water; when it gets to a boil take off the scum, keep the lid well down, and simmer the whole for four hours, or longer if the head is not quite tender. When quite tender take it out, remove the bones, and cut the meat in small square pieces, put half aside to be served in the soup; for the other half, mix together chopped parsley, sweet herbs, chopped lemon peel, black pepper, salt, and, if liked, a very little shallot; sprinkle this mixture over the pieces of head to taste, then place in a round cake tin; when full pour over one tablespoonful of the stock, and put a little pressure on the top. When cold turn out of the tin, and put a frill round. This is a very good dish, and is our standing breakfast dish for Christmas week.

The soup is strained through a sieve, and may be served clear with the pieces of head in it, or may be thickened with a little flour that has been well dried in the oven. Small forcemeat balls can be served with the meat in the soup if they are liked. If the directions have been properly followed the soup will be a nice colour, and a good flavour, and require nothing added to it.

Christmas Eve was a very busy day for us all; we arranged to make our dinners in the middle of the day off some cold meat. After the shopping was done, we had the rooms to decorate; holly was dear and red berries were scarce; but that did not much matter to us, as in the autumn we had had the opportunity of collecting a number of ash and other berries. They had kept very tolerably, hung on strings in my store cupboard, and we now mixed htem with box and other evergreens.

We had sent word to those of our poor friends for whom we had presents that we should be glad to see them if they would come in any time between four and six on Christmas Eve; so directly dinner was over we commenced arranging our presents on the dining table. There was our work - a few toys, a plant or two, destined to be sent to invalids and also a little tea and sugar for the same purpose. To each gift we attached a pretty card, with a motto or text on it for the coming year. These texts had been some trouble to select, as our endeavour was in each case to choose a motto that would be useful to the recipient of the gift. On the sideboard I had a large urn of hot coffee with milk, and some of my soda cakes, and each person was given a cup of coffee and a slice of cake - standing, of course - for we have not room to give a regular tea; a servant was in the room, and washed the cups as they were used. The little refreshment was a surprise, and gave pleasure, I think. Christmas morning the ground was so covered with snow that I wished we had some children in the house to follow the pretty custom they have in Norway of sticking up ears of corn on that day, to give the birds a breakfast.

I always give the servants their choice of having the Christmas dinner on the 25th of December or of having it on New Year's Day, when each, if she likes, may invite a relation; this year, as usual, they chose to put it off until New Year's Day. We were to dine at four o'clock, as out of the party of eight three would be children. Our dinner was quite simple:- Ox-cheek soup, roast turkey, Bath chap, stewed celery, spinach, brown potatoes, mince pies, plum-pudding, and, instead of sauce, boiled custards, and dessert after. Some neighbours had promised to come in in the evening. There being some children in our party we had some quiet games, such as "What is my thought like?" "Proverbs" and the "Traveller". as I do not think this game is as well known as the others I will describe it.

The Traveller:- One of the party personates the traveller, and asks for a night's lodging. His request is granted, and he is asked in payment to give some account of his travels. He complies and names in order the cities, rivers and mountains he professes to have seen, giving some account of the productions of countries through which he has passed, with the habits of the people he has seen. If he is detected in any mistake he is at once turned out of the lodging, and a forfeit is demanded of him; but should anyone accuse him wrongly of error he demands a forfeit from the accuser. The player who detects a mistake takes the traveller's place.

This was followed by one or two pencil games, such as drawing a pig or an elephant with one's eyes shut, or drawing comical portraits. These last are done by each player having a piece of paper, on the top of which he writes the name of another player or of a public character, folds the name back out of sight, and passes the paper to his neighbour who, without looking at the name, must draw a head and throat, fold the paper again, leaving only the throat visible, and pass it to the next person to draw a body. The papers are then folded and put in a basket; they are drawn in turn, and each player when he opens the paper must say why the portrait is like the person whose name it bears. Much merriment was caused by the opening of the papers. One player had drawn a hat in place of a head, so a gentleman appeared with his hat down to his shoulders; while a lady was apparently ready to race in a sack; and on a third paper a bald head and whiskers showed above the edge of a cask. After the games we had a little music. Gounod's "Nazareth" and his "Bethlehem" were sung, also the Christmas and several other hymns.

The day after Christmas Day I had arranged to have a large juvenile tea party, but when I invited the children I told them that they would each be expected before the romps commenced to do something toward the general amusement. My young guests arrived about three; we had one or two games to make them feel at home together, then each either recited, told a story, or played on the piano. I had brought down before they came a number of things that they like for dressing up in, so some gave their recitations in character. They next acted two charades; the words chosen were "hornpipe" and "corkscrew".

We had tea at half-past five, after which the table was pushed on one side, and romps and noisy games were declared for.

We began with blind man's buff, then, while some rested, we let the boys work off a little of their energy in a fettered fight, after which we played at the Zoological Gardens. This game is played like family coach, but instead of choosing a town each player says what animal he will represent; and when the keeper of the garden says, for instance, that the lion and dog will change cages, those animals must as soon as they gain the opposite chairs make their usual noise. This noisy game was followed by a cat's concert; for this each player chooses his own imaginary instrument, and plays on it his favourite tune; no two players must choose the same tune. Any player detected playing his neighbour's tune or instrument must pay a forfeit.

After this we cried the forfeits. Cups of chocolate and glasses of lemonade, with cakes and biscuits, were handed round, and my young guests went home, having apparently much enjoyed themselves. The next evening we finished our Christmas festivities by asking a few friends to come in the evening, without ceremony, and have a little music and a dance. The evening went off very well; our friends took coffee when they came, and sandwiches, cakes, grapes, prepared oranges, and lemonade were on the table in the dining room all the evening for anyone who liked to help themselves.

New Year's Eve I gave the servants 1/2 lb. of Valencia raisins, 1 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of suet, 1/2 lb. of sugar, a lemon, and two pieces of candied peel, telling them they could use two eggs, and make their pudding to their own liking as regarded milk, bread and flour. I ordered roast pork, apple sauce and vegetables for their dinners, and gave them dessert. They had - one her mother, the other her sister, coming to spend the day with them. We always dine out on the 1st of January, so they had only themselves to wait on. On Christmas Day I always send down a slice of my pudding and a mince pie for each of the servants, but I generally reserve my little Christmas gifts to them for the New Year.

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