Monday, December 21, 2020

A Kansas Christmas Dinner 1886

1886 Hand-colored double-page wood engraving featured in Harper's Weekly titled, "Here's A Jolly Christmas Load."
Drawn by F.S. Church.
The scene shows a woman holding dressed 
cherubs as a crowd of them and others look on.

Merry Christmas My Friends! 

Below is an article that was sent to me from a cookbook. Yes, a cookbook. While it may or may not have been a Christmas feast that many aspired to prepare, it's a safe bet that the below directions to that feast was meant for those who were a lot more well-off than our average pioneer family whether they were farmers, ranchers, or simply merchants trying to keep their business afloat in a frontier town. 

And really, while I found it interesting how little preparing Christmas dinners have changed, can you imagine attempting to prepare this?  Good luck! 

"Christmas Dinner

This table should be laid as for any other company dinner, the necessary adjuncts being at had on the sideboard or another table, as heretofore directed. It is a modern fancy to introduce a centre cloth of embroidered linen, or squares and ovals of plush, on which the epergne is set; but practical housekeepers would generally prefer a low dish of ferns or scarlet geraniums mingled with white carnations, having for a base a round mirror whose outer edge could be hidden under a wreath of evergreen, and upon whose surface some stray leaves or blossoms have fallen as if by accident. 

In cities and towns, where raw oysters can be had, they are often used as a first course. They should be opened and the shell washed an hour or so before dinner, and be put in a cold place. When wanted for the table, if one has not proper oyster-plates, arrange six of these shells, with an oyster in each, on a dessert-plate, with the narrow part of the shell inward, all meeting in the centre, where two or three slices of lemon are laid. 

Small crackers are passed, in addition to the bread on the napkin, and the pepper and the salt should be within reach. The second course may be breaded mutton-chops, accompanied with canned French peas. A haunch of venison and boiled cauilflower, with drawn butter poured over the latter, would make an acceptable second course. 

The venison should be purchased several days in advance and hung in a cool place, and should be washed off five or six times with vinegar. On Christmas morning it should be washed with warm water, with a dash of cold water at the last. 

Then wipe it perfectly dry and enclose it in a covering of dough made of flour and water rolled into a thickness of not more than half an inch. Encase this in two layers of white wrapping-paper and secure with a string. Fill a dripping-pan a third full of hot water and baste often, adding to it from the tea-kettle as it evaporates. Frequent basting will keep the paper from scorching; and when thorougly cooked--which will require from two to three hours--take form the oven about three-fourths of an hour before dinner, remove all the coverings, rub well with butter and dredge with flour, and then return to the oven. 

Repeat this butter-basting two or three times, till the meat is nicely browned and a 'glaze' formed. Garnish the venison with alternate slices of lemon and pickled beet-root. Season the gravy with a large spoonful of currant jelly and the juice of half a lemon. Other suitable vegetables to be passed with venison are mashed turnips, mashed potato, or sweet potato. 

If a turkey is thorugh to be a necessitiy to complete the Christmas dinner, he should be perpared for the table as directed on page 119. When dished, it will be an improvement to garnish him with oysters carefully crumbed and fried. Cranberry sauce should be passed with roast turkey. Chicken salad may follow this course, cheese and crackers coming next. 

Everything save the ornamental centre- pice will now be removed from the table, and the crumbs brushed from the cloth, making the entrance of the mince-pies, fruits, nuts, and raisins now in order. Ices will be reslished after highly-seasoned pastried, and light fancy cakes may be passed with them. 

Oranges, grapes, and the late pears are ordinarily offered, and last of all should com the little cups of black coffee, accompanied by cream and sugar. it sould be of good strength, as we fuly assent to the statement that 'well-bred and sensible people do not affect pale and watery decoctions after a hearty dinner.'"

--- Kansas Home Cook-Book consisting of recipes contributed by ladies of Leavenworth and other cities and towns, compiled by Mrs. C.H. Cushing and Mrs. B. Gray, facsimile 1886 edition [Creative Cookbooks: Monterey, CA] 2001 (p. 33-35)

By the way, as you can see, I did not correct any of the misspellings or punctuation mistakes. It appears above as it did in 1886. 

Merry Christmas! 


  1. Oh drat! I don't have page 119 to find out how to prepare the turkey!!

    Merry Christmas, Tom!!

  2. I know exactly what my Christmas dinner is gonna contain. Tacos, turkey, ham, black eyed peas, country fried steak, French fries, cheeseburgers, garlic bread, spaghetti, lasagna, cole slaw, pound cake, pudding, apple pie, pizza, ice cream, eggnog, (not for me, for the guests), Cowboy coffee, and finally, cornbread. A little bit of everything. But if you're talking about what Christmas meal I would have prepared in 1886, it would consist of cube steak, bread, onions, spuds, catfish, flapjacks, cornbread, whiskey, cherry pie, plum pudding, and maybe your Mama's favorite casserole. As for recreational activities, there will be chess, checkers, charades, trivia, and the occasional Christmas carol. Christmas is my favorite holiday. It's like a second birthday. You get everything you want and you're happy. It's also a time where you can escape from all the politics and the hatred going on outside. And if there's anybody you don't wish to invite, then don't. This is YOUR Christmas. Not theirs. Cheers. And stay safe.


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