Traditional meals look really big to us today. For those raised on hamburgers and french fries, or pizza and a soda, the multi-course meal seems huge. To give you an idea, here’s a Christmas dinner from 1924 along with a few recipes. Here you’ll find recipes to make Oyster Cocktail, Chestnut Stuffing, and Frozen Maraschino Pudding.
Why were these meals so lavish? Why did they contain so many courses? Well, for one thing, these big meals hearken from a time when they were cooked by servants and served by servants. Therefore, the person in charge of the meal only cooked. He or she wasn’t engaged in working full time outside the home. Actually, the cook also needed to complete no other housework or errands. The food could be delivered to the house. As a result, the cook could focus completely on turning out dinners like this one, night after night.
Given all that, why do we put forth all this effort? If you want to emulate the habits of the wealthy of old, what better time to go all out than the holidays? Plus, feeding a houseful of people really does take more food. One way to stretch the turkey, or whatever you plan to serve, is to include extra sides and an extra dessert. Even though this creates more work, in the long run it’s easier than making a second turkey or a second main dish.
This Christmas dinner from 1924 was designed to be carried out by one young cook in her early twenties. The magazine touted it as the “new bride’s Christmas dinner.” Can you imagine? This would take a lot of advance planning to pull off well as a solo cook.
Christmas dinner men
Tomato Bouillon, Whipped Cream
Roast Turkey, Chestnut Stuffing
Baked Onions Squash Soufflé
Endive French Dressing
Frozen Maraschino Pudding
This dinner would be served in five or six different courses, one after another. No normal Twenties dining table contained the space for such a repast if served all at once. So, to give you an idea what this looks like, here’s a possible breakdown of the meal:
Course 1: Oyster Cocktail. This is the appetizer.
Course 2: Tomato Bouillon with Whipped Cream. This is the soup course. The whipped cream is unsweetened. It’s just cream, whipped. The saltines accompany the soup.
Course 3: Roast Turkey, Chestnut Stuffing, Giblet Gravy. Accompanied by the vegetables, which are Mashed Potatoes, Baked Onions, Squash Soufflé, and Jellied Cranberries. This is the main course.
Course 4: Endive with French Dressing. This is the salad course, and it appears at the end of the meal. The Cheese Sticks listed under it accompany the salad.
Course 5: Frozen Maraschino Pudding, Sponge Cake, and Coffee. This is the dessert course.
After dinner: Not really considered a course, nuts and candy or mints sit in bowls on the table for nibbling after the completion of dinner. Perhaps guests enjoy them with a second cup of coffee.
If you want to undertake this or a meal like it, most of the items above are easy enough to replicate. Perhaps you already have recipes in your file. Maybe some of them you’ve committed to memory, like Mashed Potatoes. Really, you only need to roast a turkey once to know how it’s done. The next time, and after that, you only need to check to make sure the oven is set, look on the wrapper for hours to cook, and you’ve got it.
If you’d like it vegetarian
Or maybe you’d prefer to replace the turkey with a great nut roast, and make the meal vegetarian. If so, the best nut roast recipe I’ve ever made is the Cheese and Nut Loaf from the Greens cookbook. While this recipe isn’t vintage, it is really good! To help you find your own copy, I’ve linked to a slightly modified recipe from Epicurious in case you don’t have the cookbook on your shelf.
- 3/4 cup tomato catsup
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- few drops Tabasco sauce, optional
- 3 dozen oysters
- 1 stalk celery, for garnish
- 1/2 green pepper, for garnish
To the catsup add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and celery salt. If you want to add a few drops of Tabasco sauce, do it now.
Add the oysters to the mixture and chill. Serve in cocktail glasses, garnished with finely chopped celery and strips of green pepper.
If you like, you can replace the oysters with clams, lobster, crabmeat, or shrimp.
Recipe makes six servings.
- 3 cups chestnut puree
- 1 cup soft bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon grated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 cup cream
To prepare the chestnut purée, boil a quart of large French chestnuts until tender. Let cool until you can touch them safely. Remove the shells and skins and rub through a sieve. (A food processor would probably also work.)
To the puree add the bread crumbs, butter, and seasonings. Moisten with the cream and mix lightly.
Use this to stuff the turkey, or bake in a casserole dish. To bake in the oven separately, turn the mixture into a buttered or oiled baking dish. Cover the dish with foil. Bake the dressing at 400ºF for 30 minutes. Then, if you want a crispy topping, remove the foil and continue baking for 15 minutes or so until the top is golden brown.
Frozen Maraschino Pudding
- 1/2 cup candied pineapple
- 1/2 cup maraschino cherries
- 1/4 cup juice from cherries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 egg whites
- pinch salt
- 1 cup cream, whipped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Cut the pineapple into small pieces and halve the cherries. Add the cherry juice and let stand several hours.
Beat the egg whites until they are stiff.
Boil the sugar and water together until the syrup spins a thread (238ºF). Pour the hot sugar slowly onto the stiff egg whites. Add salt and beat until cool. (This will cook the egg whites. If you are concerned, you can use pasteurized egg whites in this dish.)
Fold in the cream, which has been whipped until stiff. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and fruit mixture.
Freeze for three hours before serving.
Recipe makes six servings.
An alternate fluffy dessert
If you like the idea of the whipped cream and fruit dessert but the egg whites give you pause, here’s an alternative. This recipe for Fruited Cream Dessert contains many of the same ingredients, minus the egg. You can substitute candied pineapple and cherries for the fruit in this recipe, if you like. Be sure to soak the pineapple in the cherry juice before using. The soaking softens the pineapple.