The well read aren't always the well fed, though a cook who concocts a Christmas dinner from literature can be both. After all, our images of steamy plum puddings or warmed chestnuts come not from cookbook authors but from writers of great literature. Charles Dickens did wonders for the roast goose.
This traditional Christmas dinner starts with kir royales, inspired by Rex Stout's Santa Claus-turned-bartender, and ends with Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and his case of a mysterious plum pudding.
In between are Charles Dickens (roast goose, of course, steeped in sage and onion . . . eked out by applesauce and mashed potatoes) and Dylan Thomas (tea, spiked with rum -- but only once a year), then in time for next Christmas, Truman Capote's moving "Christmas Memory" of fruitcake weather. Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.
Read (and eat) on!
It was certainly a modern touch to have Santa Claus tend bar, but there was nothing modern about his costume. He was strictly traditional, cut, color, size, mask, and all, except that the hand grasping the champagne bottle wore a white glove . . .
From "Christmas Party" by Rex Stout KIR ROYALE (1 serving) 4 ounces champagne Dash cre me de cassis
Fill iced flute glass with champagne. Add cre me de cassis. Serve with oysters in brioche (recipe follows). OYSTERS IN BRIOCHE (8 servings) 8 brioches 2 dozen large (or more, if small) shucked oysters in their own juice 2 tablespoons butter 2 teaspoons flour 6 tablespoons whipping cream White pepper and nutmeg to taste Pinch salt
Slice off the top quarter of each brioche and scoop out most of the inside with a fork, being careful not to cut through the bottom or sides. Replace the top and put the hollow rolls into the oven at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes to warm.
Meanwhile, remove the oysters from their liquid, and pass this liquid through a strainer to remove any odd bits of shell. Set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until it is well blended. Over low heat, whisk in the cream, 1/4 cup of the oyster liquor and seasonings to taste.
Add the oysters and bring the sauce just to a boil. With a slotted spoon, immediately remove the oysters and dice them, if desired. Immediately fill each brioche shell with the oysters and some of the cream sauce. Replace the top crust and serve at once.
From "Christmas Feasts From History," by Lorna Sass
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the applesauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits, in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows . . .
From "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens GOOSE WITH SAGE AND ONION STUFFING (6 to 8 servings) 9-pound goose Salt and pepper FOR THE STUFFING: 4 cups chopped onions 4 cups dry breadcrumbs 1 beaten egg 1/2 cup melted butter 1/2 cup chicken stock 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg Freshly ground pepper to taste 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried sage FOR COOKING: 3 carrots, cut in chunks 3 celery stalks, cut in chunks 1 1/2 large onions, quartered FOR GRAVY: Pan juices and enough chicken stock to make 2 cups gravy 2 tablespoons flour mixed with 1/2 cup water
Remove fat from inside of the goose. Set aside. Salt and pepper outside and inside of bird.
Drop onions into a large saucepan of boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and mix onions with remaining stuffing ingredients.
When ready to roast goose, stuff dressing into cavity, filling it about 3/4 full. Extra stuffing can be cooked in a casserole dish. Sew the opening with a criss-crossed string and fasten the legs close to the body by tying the ends of the drumsticks together.
Strew vegetables in the bottom of a deep roasting pan. Add about a cup of water to the pan. Place goose, breast side up, on top of vegetables. Note: The goose will cook for a total of 2 1/2 hours and should be basted every 15 to 20 minutes with 2 or 3 tablespoons boiling water. Also, fat accumulated in the bottom of the roasting pan should be removed with a bulb baster as needed.
For the first cooking step, roast goose at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, to brown lightly. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and turn goose onto its side. Cook for an hour, then turn goose onto its other side. Cook for another hour. For the final 15 minutes of cooking, turn goose onto its back. Remember to baste and remove excess fat during cooking. Goose should be done when the juices run a pale yellow and when legs move easily in their sockets.
Strain the liquid from the roasting pan and discard the vegetables. Skim fat. To make gravy, bring to a boil strained pan juices along with enough broth to make 2 cups liquid. Whisk flour with water to a smooth paste. Add to boiling liquid, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until gravy has thickened to desired thickness. Season to taste and pour into a sauceboat.
Serve goose as Mrs. Crachit did, with applesauce and mashed potatoes. If you want another vegetable, serve buttered carrots sprinkled with a touch of thyme.
We returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then, at tea the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year."
From "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas SPIKED EARL GREY (1 serving) 2 teaspoons loose earl grey tea or 1 earl grey tea bag 7 ounces boiling water 1 ounce rum 1 cinnamon stick
Steep tea in boiling water. Mix in rum and serve with cinnamon stick.
There was nobody to notice the rather curious expression on the face of M. Poirot as he surveyed the portion of pudding on his plate. 'Don't eat none of the plum pudding.' What on earth did that sinister warning mean? There could be nothing different about his portion of plum pudding from that of everyone else? Sighing as he admitted himself baffled -- and Hercule Poirot never liked to admit himself baffled -- he picked up his spoon and fork . . .
From "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding" by Agatha Christie LADY HENDERSON'S PLUM PUDDING WITH BRANDY BUTTER (6 servings) 1/2 pound currants 1/4 pound sultanas 1/4 pound raisins 1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs 1/2 cup flour, sifted 1/2 cup brown sugar 4 tablespoons grated carrots 6 tablespoons chopped walnuts 2 tablespoons candied orange peel, diced 2 tablepoons candied lemon peel, diced 3 tablespoons chopped almonds Pinch of salt 1/4 teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg 1 1/2 cups beef suet, chopped 2 eggs 1 cup dark beer 1 cup brandy FOR THE BRANDY BUTTER: 2 sticks butter 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup brandy Dash vanilla
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients together. Add beef suet, eggs, beer and brandy. Marinate for two days in the refrigerator. Mix again and pour into a 6-cup buttered casserole dish. Cover with a piece of waxed paper. Cover again with foil, and tie pan tightly with string. Steam on top of the stove in a double boiler for 6 hours. Serve hot with brandy butter. For more elegant presentation, you can flambe' the pudding before serving.
To make brandy butter, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add brandy and vanilla and beat until smooth. Serve on top of pudding.
The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves."
From "A Christmas Memory," by Truman Capote EPICUREAN EVENTS FRUITCAKE (Makes 3 loaves) 1 1/2 sticks butter 1 cup sugar 6 eggs 1 tablespoon vanilla 1 teaspoon almond extract 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained 1/2 pound candied pineapple 1/2 pound candied cherries 1/2 pound citron 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds 1 cup pecans 1/2 pound white raisins Bourbon for cheesecloth
Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and cream well. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat well after adding each egg. Add the vanilla and almond extract. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Gently fold into creamed mixture. Fold fruit and nuts into batter.
Butter and flour 3 9-by-3-inch loaf pans, or, preferably, line them with parchment and butter parchment. Divide batter among three pans. Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees. Cool and wrap in cheesecloth soaked in bourbon. Once a week, brush with more bourbon until two days before serving. This cake tastes good even without aging, but it is at its optimal at about 3 weeks old.