A Christmas Dinner in Honor of the Cratchit's - Charle's Dickens "A Christmas Carol"

 Featuring recipes for:

A Christmas Dinner in Honor of the Cratchit's

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861

Roast Goose, Sage and Onion Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Apple Sauce, Gravy, Plum Pudding

Includes Bonus Recipes for "Harvey Sauce" and Mushroom Ketchup

The Third Visitor 
Artwork by John Leech, 1843

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Charle's Dicken's wrote several stories about the Christmas holiday, but, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, is my favorite. An instant best seller when it was first published in 1843, this story which transcends time and offers a dash of hope for better things to come has a dark past. It is that past we will touch lightly upon before we get to the "meat" of the story--A Christmas Dinner in Honor of the Cratchits!

One such issue was child labor as represented by the character's "Martha and Tim Cratchit". Dicken's had read a government report (The Condition and Treatment of the Children employed in the Mines and Colliers of the United Kingdom Carefully compiled from the appendix to the first report of the Commissioners With copious extracts from the evidence, and illustrative engravings,1842) that detailed child labor in factories and mines. The report was the result of a three year investigation and contained thousands of pages of oral testimony regarding the dangerous working conditions of children.

He was appalled to discover that childen, as young as three years old, were considered very cheap labor. They were small enough to crawl into machines to perform maintenance, with oftentimes crippling and sometimes fatal results. They would be forced to work up to 16 hours a day six days a week. It was a sad reality that the poor would be unable to support themselves if their children did not work and this reality is not lost, but reinforced in the story Dicken's wrote.

Ebenezer Scrooge represents the mindset of the period, hard and hard-hearted. Lest it is forgotten or overlooked Bob Cratchit, at the end of a twelve hour work day, with barely a coal used to heat his office space, is reminded by Mr. Scrooge that he has one holiday off a year. But Scrooge is also a generalization of the mindset of the time.

You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.

Remember, during this period of time, individuals who were poor were considered to be either lazy or immoral. It was their behavior that brought about their downfall. This attitude was bolstered by Rev. Thomas Malthus, who argued against the commonly held belief that a nations resources was determined by the size and fertility of it's population.

It would charitable to state that the Reverand's concerns came from his fears of overpopulation and lack of natural resources (food) which would lead to greater and continued suffering. However, his concern was that to help the poor would be to encourage them to continue to be lazy and immoral. It was his belief, that it would be better for everyone if the poor were to die of starvation and decrease the population.

I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.

I confess, that despite the darker origins of the story, I find it pleasurable to revisit it at this time of year. It reminds me that change is possible, and to hope for better things to come. This year, what struck me most was the description given of the Cratchit's Christmas Dinner.

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

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The recipes that I bring you today, are based upon the meal described by Dicken's, and were found in "The Book of Household Management, by Mrs. Isabella Beeton", 1861, located at Project Gutenberg. I hope you enjoy.


968. INGREDIENTS.—Goose, 4 large onions, 10 sage-leaves, 1/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 1-1/2 oz. of butter, salt and pepper to taste, 1 egg.

Choosing and Trussing.—Select a goose with a clean white skin, plump breast, and yellow feet: if these latter are red, the bird is old. Should the weather permit, let it hang for a few days: by so doing, the flavour will be very much improved. Pluck, singe, draw, and carefully wash and wipe the goose; cut off the neck close to the back, leaving the skin long enough to turn over; cut off the feet at the first joint, and separate the pinions at the first joint. Beat the breast-bone flat with a rolling-pin, put a skewer through the under part of each wing, and having drawn up the legs closely, put a skewer into the middle of each, and pass the same quite through the body. Insert another skewer into the small of the leg, bring it close down to the side bone, run it through, and do the same to the other side. Now cut off the end of the vent, and make a hole in the skin sufficiently large for the passage of the rump, in order to keep in the seasoning.

Mode.—Make a sage-and-onion stuffing of the above ingredients, by recipe No. 504; put it into the body of the goose, and secure it firmly at both ends, by passing the rump through the hole made in the skin, and the other end by tying the skin of the neck to the back; by this means the seasoning will not escape. Put it down to a brisk fire, keep it well basted, and roast from 1-1/2 to 2 hours, according to the size. Remove the skewers, and serve with a tureen of good gravy, and one of well-made apple-sauce. Should a very highly-flavoured seasoning be preferred, the onions should not be parboiled, but minced raw: of the two methods, the mild seasoning is far superior. A ragoût, or pie, should be made of the giblets, or they may be stewed down to make gravy. Be careful to serve the goose before the breast falls, or its appearance will be spoiled by coming flattened to table. As this is rather a troublesome joint to carve, a large quantity of gravy should not be poured round the goose, but sent in a tureen.

Time.—A large goose, 1-3/4 hour; a moderate-sized one, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hour.

Seasonable from September to March; but in perfection from Michaelmas to Christmas.

Average cost, 5s. 6d. each. Sufficient for 8 or 9 persons.

Note.—A teaspoonful of made mustard, a saltspoonful of salt, a few grains of cayenne, mixed with a glass of port wine, are sometimes poured into the goose by a slit made in the apron. This sauce is, by many persons, considered an improvement.

SAGE-AND-ONION STUFFING, for Geese, Ducks, and Pork.

504. INGREDIENTS.—4 large onions, 10 sage-leaves, 1/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 1-1/2 oz. of butter, salt and pepper to taste, 1 egg.

Mode.—Peel the onions, put them into boiling water, let them simmer for 5 minutes or rather longer, and, just before they are taken out, put in the sage-leaves for a minute or two to take off their rawness. Chop both these very fine, add the bread, seasoning, and butter, and work the whole together with the yolk of an egg, when the stuffing will be ready for use. It should be rather highly seasoned, and the sage-leaves should be very finely chopped. Many cooks do not parboil the onions in the manner just stated, but merely use them raw. The stuffing then, however, is not nearly so mild, and, to many tastes, its strong flavour would be very objectionable. When made for goose, a portion of the liver of the bird, simmered for a few minutes and very finely minced, is frequently added to this stuffing; and where economy is studied, the egg may be dispensed with.

Time.—Rather more than 5 minutes to simmer the onions.

Average cost, for this quantity, 4d.

Sufficient for 1 goose, or a pair of ducks.


1145. INGREDIENTS.—Potatoes; to every lb. of mashed potatoes allow 1 oz. of butter, 2 tablespoonfuls of milk, salt to taste.

Mode.—Boil the potatoes in their skins; when done, drain them, and let them get thoroughly dry by the side of the fire; then peel them, and, as they are peeled, put them into a clean saucepan, and with a large fork beat them to a light paste; add butter, milk, and salt in the above proportion, and stir all the ingredients well over the fire. When thoroughly hot, dish them lightly, and draw the fork backwards over the potatoes to make the surface rough, and serve. When dressed in this manner, they may be browned at the top with a salamander, or before the fire. Some cooks press the potatoes into moulds, then turn them out, and brown them in the oven: this is a pretty mode of serving, but it makes them heavy. In whatever way they are sent to table, care must be taken to have them quite free from lumps.

Time.—From 1/2 to 3/4 hour to boil the potatoes.

Average cost, 4s. per bushel.

Sufficient,—1 lb. of mashed potatoes for 3 persons.

Seasonable at any time.


363. INGREDIENTS.—6 good-sized apples, sifted sugar to taste, a piece of butter the size of a walnut, water.

Mode.—Pare, core, and quarter the apples, and throw them into cold water to preserve their whiteness. Put them in a saucepan, with sufficient water to moisten them, and boil till soft enough to pulp. Beat them up, adding sugar to taste, and a small piece of butter This quantity is sufficient for a good-sized tureen.

Time.—According to the apples, about 3/4 hour. Average cost, 4d.

Sufficient, this quantity, for a goose or couple of ducks.


435. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 lb. of lean beef, 1/2 pint of cold water, 1 shalot or small onion, 1/2 a teaspoonful of salt, a little pepper, 1 tablespoonful of Harvey's sauce or mushroom ketchup, 1/2 a teaspoonful of arrowroot.

Mode.—Cut up the beef into small pieces, and put it, with the water, into a stewpan. Add the shalot and seasoning, and simmer gently for 3 hours, taking care that it does not boil fast. A short time before it is required, take the arrowroot, and having mixed it with a little cold water, pour it into the gravy, which keep stirring, adding the Harvey's sauce, and just letting it boil. Strain off the gravy in a tureen, and serve very hot.

Time.—3 hours. Average cost, 8d. per pint.


1328. INGREDIENTS.—1-1/2 lb. of raisins, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of mixed peel, 3/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 3/4 lb. of suet, 8 eggs, 1 wineglassful of brandy.

Mode.—Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas-day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.

Time.—5 or 6 hours the first time of boiling; 2 hours the day it is to be served.

Average cost, 4s.

Sufficient for a quart mould for 7 or 8 persons.

Seasonable on the 25th of December, and on various festive occasions till March.

Bonus Recipes

Harvey's Sauce

INGREDIENTS.— 6 anchovies, 1 pint of strong vinegar, 3 tablespoonfuls of India soy, 3 table-spoonfuls of mushroom catchup, 2 heads of garlic bruised small, 1/4 ounce of cayenne, cochineal powder

Mode.— Dissolve anchovies in vinegar, and then add to them India soy, and mushroom catchup, garlic, and cayenne. Add sufficient cochineal powder to colour the mixture red. Let all these ingredients infuse in the vinegar for a fortnight, shaking it every day, and then strain and bottle it for use. Let the bottles be small, and cover the corks with leather.

Mushroom Ketchup

INGREDIENTS.—To each peck of mushrooms 1/2 pound of salt; to each quart of mushroom-liquor 1/4 ounce of cayenne, 1/2 ounce of allspice, 1/2 ounce of ginger, 2 blades of pounded mace

Mode.—Choose full-grown mushroom-flaps, and take care they are perfectly fresh-gathered when the weather is tolerably dry; for, if they are picked during very heavy rain, the ketchup from which they are made is liable to get musty, and will not keep long. Put a layer of them in a deep pan, sprinkle salt over them, and then another layer of mushrooms, and so on alternately. Let them remain for a few hours, when break them up with the hand; put them in a nice cool place for 3 days, occasionally stirring and mashing them well, to extract from them as much juice as possible. Now measure the quantity of liquor without straining, and to each quart allow the above proportion of spices, etc. Put all into a stone jar, cover it up very closely, put it in a saucepan of boiling water, set it over the fire, and let it boil for 3 hours. Have ready a nice clean stewpan; turn into it the contents of the jar, and let the whole simmer very gently for 1/2 hour; pour it into a jug, where it should stand in a cool place till the next day; then pour it off into another jug, and strain it into very dry clean bottles, and do not squeeze the mushrooms. To each pint of ketchup add a few drops of brandy. Be careful not to shake the contents, but leave all the sediment behind in the jug; cork well, and either seal or rosin the cork, so as perfectly to exclude the air. When a very clear bright ketchup is wanted, the liquor must be strained through a very fine hair-sieve, or flannel bag, after it has been very gently poured off; if the operation is not successful, it must be repeated until you have quite a clear liquor. It should be examined occasionally, and if it is spoiling, should be reboiled with a few peppercorns.

Seasonable from the beginning of September to the middle of October, when this ketchup should be made.

Note: This flavouring ingredient, if genuine and well prepared, is one of the most useful store sauces to the experienced cook, and no trouble should be spared in its preparation. Double ketchup is made by reducing the liquor to half the quantity; for example, 1 quart must be boiled down to 1 pint. This goes farther than ordinary ketchup, as so little is required to flavour a good quantity of gravy. The sediment may also be bottled for immediate use, and will be found to answer for flavouring thick soups or gravies.