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Pass the Christmas Turtle


Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri). Taken in Jacksonville, Florida, by Jonathan Zander, released under GNU Free Documentation License.

Professor Ione D. would be fascinated to hear this one.

I first heard this story on on the NPR program “All Things Considered.” It concerned a chef in the north of England who has been recreating Christmas dinners of centuries past. Ivan Day is a food historian who disdains the “boring” turkey of the modern Yuletide celebration. He collects old cookbooks and food illustrations, and tries out the recipes himself. He even uses the old equipment, such as a wind-up rotisserie.

Among the interesting facts he’s discovered is that in the 1600’s and 1700’s, Christmas was not the one big dinner memorialized in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It was actually a series of dinners, because at the time Christmas was a 12-day drunken celebration. The famed partridge of the song was more likely to be on the menu than in the pear tree. The season was a wonderful reprieve from routine because at that time people often had to eat the same food, such as bread and salted meat, day after day. The dishes tended to be flashy and exotic. Some of those Day described were a sweet version of haggis including raisins – cooked in the traditional sheep’s stomach, of course – and sugar-coated mini-pies that mixed mutton with fruit. Roast beef was the most common main course (a splurge for families in those days) and the Christmas table often featured turtle, swan, and hare. It wasn’t a celebration for vegans, that’s for sure!

See the relevant article here.


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