Sunday, December 6, 2015

What Was Christmas Dinner Like in 1896? Ask Fannie Farmer!

The "modern" 1896 lady of the house kitchen.

For the last little while, I've been fascinated with cookbooks published before the microwave oven came into common use in America. For years, I've used a 1964 edition of  THE JOY OF COOKING by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. My husband, a professional cook and baker, used the AMERICAN HOME ALL-PURPOSE COOKBOOK by Virginia T. Habeeb, published in 1966. When I left home, my mother gave me her BETTY CROCKER BOOKBOOK, which she received as a wedding present in 1942. These three cookbooks were basic in our younger days of keeping house. They are a link to the past but are also interesting reading when you compare the recipes then, with the recipes now. Which foods and products were in common use, then, that are no longer available, or have evolved into something else today?

My old standbys. Veterans of many meals and they bear the marks to prove it!

I have two other cookbooks I like to read and use: THE FANNIE FARMER COOKBOOK, published in 1896; and THE SETTLEMENT COOKBOOK, published in 1965, with first editions published in the early years of the Twentieth Century. It has been updated through the years. Fannie Farmer was the product of the Boston School of Cooking and the Settlement book was the brain child of Mrs. Simon Kander, a cooking teacher at "The Settlement" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; a school set up to help the many immigrant housekeepers new to America, around the turn of the century. All five of the cookbooks I've mentioned so far, are good teaching tools for the beginning cook.

I thought it would be fun and interesting to look at a Christmas dinner menu and recipe set from the turn of the century and ponder the differences between the methods and recipes, then, and those in common use today. There is a version of the 1896 Fannie Farmer book online which you can download for free, if you like. I used it so that I could easily capture the recipes and instructions to include here.

First, the Christmas Dinner Menu a la Fannie Farmer:

Fannie Farmer's Menu for Christmas Dinner, 1896. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear......

The menu from The Settlement Cookbook was similar: Consomme' with Egg Custard; Roast Goose, AppleSauce, Orange Sweet Potato Puff; Eggplant-Zucchini Casserole; Mince Pie; Grant Thomas Pudding; Nuts; Mints.

1. Consomme' - The first part of many dinners in those days, was a bowl of hot-steamy Consomme' (con-sew-may). The recipe follows. All the recipes and pictures with the same background are from the online version of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

The tools useful to the home cook in 1896:

On the table, when the dinner was being served were the following Condiments:

Bread Sticks
Salted Pecans

Recipe for Bread Sticks:

Recipe for Salted Pecans (begin by lightly frying them in butter, about 3 minutes):

Recipe for Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing (honestly, this is the best picture of a bare-naked goose I could find; you'll want to refer to it when you get to the part about "trussing"):

 (A hot oven is 400 to 450 degrees F.)

Recipe for Applesauce:

Recipe for Duchess Potatoes:

Recipe for Cream of Lima Beans:

Recipe for Chicken Croquettes:

Recipe for Dressed Lettuce was simply iceberg lettuce wedges with French Dressing.


Recipe for Cheese Straws:

Recipe for Puff Paste:

Recipe for Plum Pudding with Sauce:

Recipe for Bonbons:

Recipe for Brandy Sauce:

Recipes for Cocoa and Hot Chocolate:

Cafe' Noir was made by brewing coffee either with twice the amount of coffee as usual or half as much water as usual.

Recipes for Frozen Puddings:

Some ads from the back of the cookbook:

Well, what do you think? Have things changed much since 1896? All my cookbooks have recipes for roast goose, even though I've not had that for a Christmas dinner since an attempt as a student in college many decades ago. It was successful, but we didn't really like it all that much. It was a much more common special meal item in years past.

So what's on the menu for our Christmas dinner? Here goes:

Pork Rib Roast
Potatoes Au Gratin
 Roasted Winter Vegetables
Waldorf Salad
Cranberry Sauces
Pickle Plate
Mince Pie
Hot  Spicey Apple Herb Tea Egg Nog

Recipes to come.

Do tell what your favorite Christmas fare is!


  1. Ok, you lost me at the lima beans, but then went on to redeem yourself with bon-bons! LOL!! Whew, it was a lot of work to cook in those days. I can't imagine having to pack your things in ice and salt to freeze them. (with the exception of Ice cream of course) LOL!! Fun post! It's on my list of what we won't be having for Christmas this year. ;-)

    1. Me too! I had to take a break at the "drawing the goose part". Fortunately, our fowl, chicken, goose, etc., come already "drawn" and NOT by a pencil! I looked up the additional recipes for "Orange Sweet Potato Puff" and "Eggplant and Zucchini Casserole". Those look seriously good.


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