A Field Guide to British Christmas Dining
If you're new to England this Christmas, have found yourself visiting family in the U.K. or are simply looking to decode some terms from your favourite British Christmas movies, use this handy guide to help you navigate your way around the Christmas dinner table like a local.
1. CHRISTMAS PUDDING | The Christmas Pudding is the queen of all Christmas desserts- though, confusing to Americans- it's not a "pudding" like you may think of in all it's Bill Cosby-piano-playing glory. Pudding refers to dessert here, so this is a cake that has dried fruits and is soaked for months in booze. It is covered in some sort of cream and then, for dramatic effect, lit on fire when served.
2. MINCE PIE | A Mince Pie. Not a "Mince Meat Pie," because meat in this pie is disgusting. Even if my Southern grandfather may have loved it- something about the idea of meat in a pie always made me gag. Now that I eat (too regularly) the real mince pies, the idea of meat in it really makes me shudder. A classic mince pie is nearly bite-size and full of dried fruits and spices. They're best served warm, in quantity of 2-3, and alongside a big mug of tea. These appear in every store in late October, are eaten by the millions in the lead up to and on Christmas, and then magically disappear from existence by the start of the New Year.
3. BRANDY BUTTER | This is the aforementioned cream that is poured on top of Christmas puddings- but, as the name may imply, has brandy worked into it. Typically, the final product is served alongside a glass of brandy.
4. TRIFLE | There isn't one specific recipe for a trifle, but assume it will come from a general pool of ingredients including: fruit, whipped cream, jell-o (or "jelly" as it's called here) sponge fingers and sherry. Imagine it layered up in bright layers and served in a big glass bowl to show off each layer.
5. GOOSE-FAT POTATOES | While much of the British Christmas dinner seems similar to a US Thanksgiving- they skip mashed potatoes and roast theirs in chunks in a pool of goose-fat. The result is a crunchy, golden potato that resembles a hoof more than a vegetable. It's the perfect consistency for absorbing gravy.
6. PIGS IN A BLANKET | These aren't the same crescent roll stuffed hot dogs you might be thinking of... but they are slightly similar. Small sausages ("chipolatas") are wrapped in bacon ("streaky"- just like us Americans like it) and roasted. These are served alongside the turkey to add saltiness to, what some consider, a bland meat. These are often also served as nibbles in the holiday season.
7. WASSAIL | This warm holiday beverage can either be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The non-alcoholic will typically be a version similar to our cider. (Though ordering a "cider" will get you a cold, alcoholic beverage- so beware!) It can also be mulled wine which is wine that is cooked over the stove and, often, has fruits, cinnamon sticks and other spices added to it. It's for sale in most pubs and passed at most holiday events.
8. CHRISTMAS CRACKER | This isn't a pretty tin of saltines that is passed around- a Christmas cracker will sit on the the place setting of each guest. At some point in the meal (often debated as when the official time is- though I prefer sometime around the arrival of the main course!), these will be cracked with a loud bang, and everyone will then rifle through the insides of their cracker and share their findings with the table. The standard lineup of contents include: a paper crown (mandatory to wear), a silly joke that everyone loves to groan at, and a cheap toy or gift.
9. BREAD SAUCE | This is a sauce not for bread- but made of bread. It's really thick and clumpy, but it actually goes really well with roast chicken or turkey. Combined with cranberry sauce- it's definitely worth trying.
After you've made it through the meal, pat yourself on the back and get ready to cozy in for the Queen's Christmas address which broadcast every year on Christmas Day. The Queen will discuss the year gone by and it, somehow, makes the day feel perfect. (Even if you do quietly chat through the whole thing with your sister.)
*images original to Aspiring Kennedy