Christmas Dinner 1900-2011
By Emily Bengtson
One of my past times is reading through old cookbooks
to compare how we eat today compared to yesterday.
A favorite cookbook of mine is the White House Cookbook
printed in 1904, written by the White House cook,
with the first printing in the 1880s.
I am always interested in what meals are called. Back
in those early days, on Sundays and holidays, the
meals were breakfast, dinner and supper. The rest
of the year it was breakfast, lunch and dinner. Growing
up in Fremont County, it was breakfast, dinner and
supper all the time. We understood that dinner on
Sundays, holidays and birthdays was going to be special.
Today we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner or supper.
The holiday menu listed in the White House Cookbook
is as follows:
Oysters on the half shell
Game Soup, Boiled White Fish in Sauce
Roast Goose & Apple Souse
Boiled Potatoes, Mashed Turnips, Creamed Parsnips,
Boiled Rice, Lobster Salad, Canvass Back Duck
Christmas Plum Pudding with Sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream, Mince Pie, Orange Jelly Delicate
Salted Almonds, Confectionary Fruits
Each item in the menu had the accompanying recipe
in the cookbook. An interesting one is Canvass Back
Duck described as follows: "The epicurean taste
declares that this special kind of bird requires no
spice or flavors as the meat partakes of the flavor
of the food that the bird feeds upon, being mostly
Some of the foods listed above would make it to our
holiday menu in the 1930s. What I remember is how
hard it was to get them ready for eating. When I was
about 11 years old, Dad bought a live turkey at the
local sale barn on Saturday before Christmas and we
had to help Mom get it ready to eat. Once it was killed,
we pulled off the feathers including the pin feathers.
What a job to get it ready to cook. Plus the length
of time it took to cook in a wood stove seemed endless
as we worked to keep the heat high enough for baking.
As far as I was concerned I preferred Grandma's fattened
old hen to turkey. To this day I would rather have
baked chicken then turkey.
We had baked goose for Thanksgiving. Mom saved the
feathers to make pillows. Grandma saved the goose
grease to make a rub to help with colds and dry skin.
Very little of the bird was wasted. All the vegetables--carrots,
turnips, potatoes and onions--came from our cellar
with apples stored wrapped in newspapers to keep them
fresh. There were not as many items as at the White
House but the food was all good, just as life was.
Today our holiday menu includes:
Roast Turkey, Baked Ham
Stuffing with oyster and one without oyster
Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Sweet Potatoes
Green bean casserole, apple salad. Chinese cold slaw,
three kinds of cranberry salads
Stuffed celery with pineapple cream cheese, pickles
Pumpkin, cherry, and pecan pies, vanilla cake
Time has changed the vegetables and meats that we
eat, but the biggest change is in how we prepare the
meal. No more plucking the turkey, just a trip to
the store and we are ready to cook. What has not changed
is the good time.