Christmas Dinner 1699

TCD MUN/P/1/21

TCD MUN/P/1/21

For many of us the highlight of the festive season is Christmas dinner. The Trinity College archives contain a series of accounts detailing the ingredients sourced for banquets, in particular the annual Christmas dinner, and they make for lip-smacking reading.

This bill, from the Bursars’ accounts, is for the dinner celebrated in 1699, a feast for over 100 of the staff and students, provided for the princely sum of £7.9.6 ½, more than a servant’s annual wage.

Despite being over 300 years old, the menu is more familiar than you would expect.

The new-world turkey had become established as a favourite as early as 1550 having ousted the less-tasty swan, peacock, bustard or heron as the Christmas bird of choice. Recipes for turkey appear as early as 1600, with the influential cookbook The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened (1669) giving several recipes for boiled, pickled and roast turkey.

Mince pies had been newly introduced evolving from the larger ‘great Christmas pye’. They became a popular part of the feast; Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for Christmas day 1666 records that his wife ‘sat up till four this morning seeing her mayds making mince-pies’.

We tend to think of the Stuart diet as being heavy on meat and poultry, but it also nice to see that ‘sallet and pickles’ are included on the Christmas menu. ‘Sallet’, or salad, formed a whole chapter in the standard cookbook of the day, Robert May’s Accomplisht Cook (1660).

It is also cheery to see that sprouts were given the Jamie Oliver treatment with bacon and butter!

Estelle Gittins