A look back at an Irish Christmas dinner table 110 years ago

Irish Christmas dinner table 110 years ago.

Share On:

On Friday, 19 December 1913, The Freeman’s Journal, a leading nationalist newspaper printed in Dublin, featured an article titled “The Christmas Dinner Table”, which we’ve reproduced in full here. It expertly guides readers on how to create classic Christmas table decorations, offers advice on selecting the finest turkey or goose, presents menu suggestions and includes a couple of enticing recipes.

The Christmas Dinner Table

Christmas is still nearly a week ahead, but if I do not present you with our Christmas number to-day, I shall have no other opportunity. Let me then begin with the Christmas table.

Though there have been many innovations in decoration, a scheme of red and white is always first favourite. We may not have snow out of doors, but at least we can have it on the dinner table and the Christmas tree.

In place of flower or ferns, a tree may be used as centre-piece, or better still perhaps, old Father Christmas himself. His size must be in accordance with the size of the table; his dress is made of bright scarlet trimmed in swansdown, and he has a lovely long white beard, his white hair being cowled with a red-peaked cap edged with the white fur.

Sign up to our newsletter

Arrange round him trails of ivy (the small pointed variety is lighter and prettier for the table than any of the larger sorts) and if this is brushed over with a thin solution of gum water and sprinkled with crystal frost, the effect will be all the more “Christmassy.” Form the trails of ivy into diamond shape and here and there on the ivy place little knots of holly berries.

On the white cloth between the ivy put little robins filled with chocolates and to complete the bright effect place scarlet crackers here and there amongst the decorations. Little tofts of frosted cotton-wool may also be added, and though there seem to be a great many items used for this centrepiece, the effect is really very bright and gay, and not at all intricate.

Browse our collection of Irish heritage stories this Christmas season!

By those who cannot possibly get fresh ivy and holly, or who would like to depart from the orthodox decoration, a very pretty effect may be carried out with very little expense with the poinsettia flowers, and it does not require very many of those to form quite an elaborate centrepiece. The flowers can be easily and quickly made at home, or they may be bought at this time from any shop where artificial flowers for decoration are sold.

To make the flower centre take four double-headed berries, also to be bought at any artificial flower shop, and wire them closely together on to a thick wire stem. Cut eleven petals out of scarlet crinkled paper each from seven inches to four inches long and pointed much after the shape of a laurel leaf. Fix, with seccotine, a thin, wire down the centre of each petal, then take the shortest of the petals and place them round the centre, the medium size next, then the large ones. Twist them into a natural shape with the fingers; but as the petals should hang fairly straight, do not bend them too much. Cut a few green leaves out of green paper and after they are wired, fix them a little way down the stem. The leaves should measure about seven inches by three and a half inches. Twist round the stem a strip of green paper and this will hide all the joins of flowers and leaves. Of course, if desired, the petals may be cut much smaller.

Ordinary white ramekin cases for holding bonbons, jellies, or creams may be decorated with poinsettia petals with very happy results. After wiring the scarlet petals, fit them round the case bending the wire a little to make them curl back slightly.

The menu

The Christmas fare is easily chosen. Our puddings and pies are already made, and we wish to make the service of the day as light as possible. Soup made from the giblets of the turkey (according to the recipe given by “Bridget” in the “Evening Telegraph” last night) may be the first course, or hare soup, or mulligatawny soup, which is not so difficult to prepare, may be chosen. If fish is not to be served, you may begin with oyster soup. The fish (if there is any) should be simple and light; it is indeed the one occasion dedicated to boiled cod and oyster sauce.

“A turkey-boiled is a turkey spoiled” is an old maxim, and one that we will do well to remember when choosing our Christmas turkey. Make sure you do not pick a veteran for if you do so, boiling may prove the only means of rendering it fit for the table. A good turkey can be recognised by the whiteness of its flesh and its smooth black legs, and the wattles should be of a bright red colour. Choose a moderate-sized bird, young and plump, and a hen is considered the better; but if a cock turkey is bought, the length of the spurs will show whether it is a young or old bird. The turkey should be hung for a week before cooking, and if there is any chance that, it has been frozen it should be kept in a warm kitchen for several hours before dressing it.

When a goose is to occupy the place of honour on the festive board, quite as much care in choosing the bird must be exercised. A young goose has yellow bill and feet and the feet are very pliable, while an old goose may be recognised by its red, stiff feet.

The turkey

Truss the turkey and stuff it with sausage meat or forcemeat. Fasten a piece of well buttered paper on the breast, and cook in a moderate oven for two or three hours according to size. A quarter of an hour before serving, remove the paper from the breast, dredge the turkey lightly with flour and pour some melted butter over it. Serve with a good bread sauce and its own gravy. Stewed celery and Brussels sprouts, as well as potatoes, are the usual accompaniments.

Donate to Irish Heritage News

My own favourite stuffing is one of sausage forcemeat and chestnuts in equal proportions, well mixed together with a half quantity of bread crumbs, seasoning to taste, and one beat-up egg. This I find is much appreciated.

As to the sweets, there may be a trifle and jellies, but they will not be eaten, the orthodox fare being naturally the plum pudding and the mince pies, both of which should be as hot as possible the pudding having been cooked again for at least two hours. Many persons like …

Brandy sauce for the pudding

Take three ounces of butter and work into it one tablespoonful of flour. When quite smooth stir in one pint of boiling water and a tablespoonful of castor sugar. Boil gently for ten minutes, then add a wineglassful of brandy.

Wine (sherry) may be added to a good milk sauce to give it flavouring. I often like American hard sauce, which is made by working a quarter of a pound of sugar into two ounces of butter and flavouring with brandy or rum.

Sign up to our newsletter

Subscribe to the Irish Heritage News newsletter and follow us on Facebook, X and Instagram for all the latest heritage stories.


The heron in Irish folklore

Tracing John F. Kennedy’s Irish ancestry through Wexford, Limerick, Cork and Fermanagh

New campaign to protect archaeological heritage encourages landowners to “check before you dig”

Bronze Age horns: Ireland’s oldest musical instruments

Share This Article


Related Articles

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Irish Heritage News is a participant in Amazon Associates – Amazon’s affiliate marketing program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.



Breaking News

Join Our Newsletter