Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Victorian Christmas

Charles Dickens wrote his famous "Christmas Carol" in 1843, an era when stylish Christmas dinners were de rigeur in merry old England for those who could afford them. I set out to recreate that Victorian elegance in the form of an old-fashioned dinner for nine friends at my rustic farmhouse in rural Baltimore County, Maryland, on Christmas night. I planned my menu around a traditional entrée of roast goose, special-ordering the bird fresh from my favorite butcher at Wegman’s (, a New York-based grocery chain that has become my go-to supermarket in the northeast for quality, variety and price.

In the weeks leading up to the holiday I dressed the eaves of my foursquare farmhouse in white icicle lights and positioned a pair of lighted deer at one corner of my property. I decorated the umbrella-like branches of a tiny weeping redbud tree with colored lights and placed lighted faux greens in each of my window boxes. I wound evergreen roping mixed with aromatic juniper around the columns lining my front porch and let it drape along the railing, setting pillar candles among the greens for added romance.

Inside, I erected a ten-foot Frasier fir in one corner of my living room and strung it with a thousand colored lights. I adorned the fragrant evergreen with ornaments I’ve collected across the decades, including heirloom globes from the 1950s that belonged to my late parents, and finished with frosted glass icicles and striped peppermint candy canes, the latter of which I will feed to my horse after the holiday. I sprayed the tree well with boundary spray to keep my three kitties at bay (I also tie the tree securely to an eye screw in a wall stud) and hung a bell-shaped ornament that jingles at the slightest disturbance from a bottom branch to warn me of any feline incursions. I draped a lush, heavily embroidered velvet tree skirt that had belonged to my grandmother around the base of my tannenbaum and set out carefully wrapped gifts for friends who would be coming to dinner Christmas night.

A potted red poinsettia took its place on each riser of my winding staircase. Faux-frosted greens were woven through my balusters. I fashioned rustic displays of live greens and pine cones across my fireplace mantel, atop my grandfather clock and in a wall niche, and draped my dining room chandelier with greens, gilded baubles and gold fabric tassels. With my country farmhouse dressed in holiday finery inside and out, I turned my attention to the menu.

Wild rice dressing with dried apricots and other fruit seemed a fitting accompaniment to the roast goose. A crispy Waldorf salad and Brussels sprouts with vinegar-glazed red onions lent themselves nicely to an old world meal, all recipes courtesy of Martha Stewart Living. My favorite librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., Peggy Clifton, gave me a recipe for a fabulous punch she served at Thanksgiving, named after the USS Richmond, a wooden steam ship built in 1860 for the Union Navy just two years before my farmhouse was constructed – a perfect libation to launch my period menu. For dessert I chose my mother’s old-fashioned (and quite labor-intensive) persimmon pudding, which I cooked for three hours in a slow oven, stirring every twenty minutes, and a traditional Yule Log from Pâtisserie Poupon Bakery (, a most generous contribution from my dinner guests and dear friends, Robert and Jan.

As the time approached for my guests to arrive, I donned sleek black leggings by HUE for Macy’s, a long-ago gift from my best friend, Kari’s, mother in Spokane, and a stretchy, sparkly White Stag top which I’ve owned for well over a decade. I pulled on my most comfortable high-heeled boots by Pleaser, black beauties that I’ve owned for almost thirty years, and chose delicate filigreed silver necklace and earrings by Fire & Ice Jewelers of Baltimore (, gifts from Robert and Jan on my birthday in September.

I set my table with my grandmother’s gold-patterned china and flatware and tucked fresh greens from my yard into folded napkins. I wrapped my dining chairs in gold velvet "dresses", tucked more greenery into bows tied behind each seatback, and lit candles all over the house.  Having carefully hollowed out nine tiny white pumpkins, I filled each one with jewel-toned cranberry-orange relish, placing one beside each dinner plate.

As my guests arrived, I set out baked camembert drizzled with pear brandy and maple syrup and sprinkled with chopped marcona almonds, and provided slices of ripe bosc pears to serve as a vehicle for the melted cheese instead of toast points.

Once the goose was carved and the Waldorf salad was tossed with a zesty yogurt-lemon vinaigrette, I called my guests to the table. Before a crackling fire in my formal dining room, we savored a festive yuletide meal and a special time together, relishing our longstanding friendships, and took joy in introducing the 24-year-old nephew of one of my guests, visiting his aunt from their native Thailand, to his very first American Christmas.  We toasted our meal with a fine Gewurzstraminer, a delicious contribution from dinner guests Ralph and Ging, and a French Cote Rotie, generously provided by my dinner guest, Jesse.  

When the meal was a memory we retired to the living room, where we took well-mannered turns opening gifts from one another before returning to the dining room once more for warm persimmon pudding topped with heavy cream, a slice of Buche de Noel, and a sip of aperitif, a surprise gift from Robert and Jan in the form of a very tasty Moscato D’asti, which complemented the rich desserts beautifully.

Little compares to the satisfaction I derive from creating a romantic atmosphere for my guests, and Christmas is one of those special times when I want everything to be perfect. The fact that my refrigerator-freezer stopped working on Christmas Eve, when I had no hope of getting a technician in to fix it until after the holiday, didn’t faze me. I had no extra moment to be "fazed". I moved everything to the spare fridge in my guest house, extremely grateful that I had one, and carried on as if nothing was amiss.

And now, looking back on a wonderful repast filled with glad tidings and joy, I will savor the ambience of such a magical evening for many months to come. Dickens would have been pleased.
Merry Christmas, everyone.


  1. Your decorations and table were gorgeous! Well done!

  2. You absolutely go over the moon lovely! I am impressed that your refrigerator-freezer failed but you didn't skip a beat and took it in stride with 9 for dinner! Truly impressive menu and all your efforts looked like a dream. Wishing you a breather and repairs for the New Year.