An American Victorian Thanksgiving

An American Victorian Thanksgiving

I. Candied Citrus

Hello, and welcome to this week’s internet-based installment of One Woman’s Descent into Madness, Part 47. How was your Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it? I had a very nice day overall, except for the fact that I wrote and swilled coffee all morning in lieu of eating, which guarantees that I will and did have acid stomach by the afternoon. I took remedies all afternoon–NONE recommended by Beeton, however, who mentions calomel and TOMATOES (this just in, folks, gasoline is excellent for putting out fires). Lucky lucky lucky for me it subsided exactly five minutes before I got dinner on the table and I got to enjoy the feast, and so I have learned my lesson again until next time.

Chicken Foot Crown

I have been busy here with a few things. One is making vast amounts of candied citrus peel. I took apart a buddha’s hand, and you know, nothing was in it! I thought there would be some small amount of useless vestigial fruit like there is in the round citrons, but it was just pith. I also candied orange and lemon peel.  (You might be interested to learn that I have collected all my Victorian experiment pictures in a set, including ones I have not written about.)

Brigid Keely asked me about candying citrus. Really, it could not be easier. First, peel the zesty part off of your citrusy victim, trying not to skim off the pith. I like a vegetable peeler for this as pictured here. If you want fat slices then you are done, but I usually like to use a chef’s knife to slice them down into skinny strips that would make a cute pile of shavings on a cake or fancy drink. If you want to mince them later to go into a cake or pudding you can do this as well after they are done.

Then, heat a simple syrup solution until the sugar is melted (1 part sugar to 1 part water, usually for one fruit a half-cup of each is enough), then simmer the strips for 10 minutes, after which they should look slightly translucent. Strain out the syrup. I also lay the drained strips out on paper towels so they cool just slightly, then sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over them and toss them to coat. Then eat one. YUM! They store in the fridge for a long time, at least all through the holidays.

II. Thanksgiving

So, the interesting thing about American Thanksgiving, foodwise, is that it has barely changed since its official founding in 1863 by President Lincoln. It is kind of a late harvest festival, which is in keeping with what the Pilgrims supposedly ate almost 400 years ago. I decided to mix things up a bit, since the modern food I serve every year is a lot like an American Victorian-era Thanksgiving–turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, seasonal vegetables like squashes. Since it was just three of us this year, I also decided not to make 4 frillion side dishes like I usually do and just focus on experimenting with various dishes.

First, I eschewed a turkey and ordered a goose. I have never had a goose. I assumed they are a lot like turkey, but when I looked into it I was delighted to discover the flesh is, of course, a lot closer to duck, which I love. I have also heard they make a vast amount of grease while they cook, also a bonus, since I am going through grease like water right now, and I knew I wouldn’t have to fuss about the breast drying out like you do with turkeys.

Beeton, of course, instructs us on the removal of feet, how to snip the wings down, and says

Beat the breast-bone flat with a rolling-pin, put a skewer through the under part of each wing, and having drawn up the legs closely, put a skewer into the middle of each, and pass the same quite through the body. Insert another skewer into the small of the leg, bring it close down to the side bone, run it through, and do the same to the other side. Now cut off the end of the vent, and make a hole in the skin sufficiently large for the passage of the rump, in order to keep in the seasoning.

What the…this is way too much like math for me. Smash the breast bone? Can we not just stuff it and roast it? She goes on…

Be careful to serve the goose before the breast falls, or its appearance will be spoiled by coming flattened to table.

The breast might fall, perhaps, because you smacked it with a rolling pin? I decided to follow the modern technique of simply pricking some holes in the skin to allow the grease to drain adequately, and stuffed it with Beeton’s sage and onion stuffing. Beeton called for bread “crumb,” which might mean cubes and might actually mean crumbs. I opted for cubes, since I didn’t want the stuffing to turn into a soggy mass. I often put a LOT of  ingredients into stuffing, following modern recipes, but a nice loaf of bread, some fresh sage, a couple of sauteed onions, and salt and pepper was perfect.

Goose Out!

Cutting the Goose

While the goose was setting up after cooking, I pulled it off its drip pan so I could get access to the yummy lake of grease that had formed under it. I put a couple of generous spoonfuls onto the leftover stuffing I had in a pan waiting to go in after the goose went out.

I also used a few more large spoonfuls to fry up the rissoles. I have made potato rissoles before, but I think they reached their apex of deliciousness this time around. Fowl fat was much better than lard for cooking them in, and I sauteed the shallots they were filled with and used minced ham I had leftover from making white broth.

Rissoles Frying

Barely visible in the above picture, behind the rissoles, is the gravy, also made with some goose fat, rich stock, and a splash of gin. I have become very, very good at making gravy this year, which is one of those “simple” operations that a person can do adequately once a year on Thanksgiving, but to really get a feel for gravy, it helps to do it a couple of times a week for, you know, a year.

This little websitelet I found when doing research on making really kick-ass gravy has one of my most favorite phrases I have ever read on cooking ever: “After you have made gravy maybe 50 times, you will develop your own eye for how dark you will like the roux.” I like it when people take the long view towards perfecting simple tasks. And because it is cooking, you will still fail sometimes.

Scullery maid Jane surveys rissole-pyramid

A Simple Table This Year

The Plate

As a concession to my victims, I served a modern typical winter salad topped with cranberries, pecans, and blue cheese with a mustard vinaigrette I knocked together at the last minute. Instead of cranberry sauce, I sent a store-bought red current jelly to the table, which we have been eating a lot this year, especially with hashes and rabbit.

III. Dessert

For dessert I decided to use my delightful turkey pan my sister gave me for my birthday this year. I have been intrigued by a poundcake recipe in Beeton’s that calls for no liquid, except eggs, and no leavening agent, except whipping the eggs.

It turned out fairly dreadfully, as you might expect. The center was underdone and the outside was crispy like a biscuit. We discussed shallower pans and lower cooking temperatures, but I don’t think it’s really worth salvaging. Many of the recipes just aren’t worth it, especially when there are modern ones that are perfected already. I could take a nice pound cake recipe and add currents and candied peel, but EH.

I also decided to make a couple kinds of gingerbread, thick and white. The white gingerbread was a lot like a scone, and not very appetizing. The thick was made with treacle and turned out more like traditional gingerbread, very dense with good spice balance.

White Gingerbread

Gingerbread Batter

Gingerbread with too much egg wash!

Out of three desserts, I’d say one was a keeper, the thick gingerbread. I was pleased with Thanksgiving and despite the time an energy it takes to make things like stock from scratch, it felt a lot simpler than what I normally make.

49 Responses to “An American Victorian Thanksgiving”


  • Mmmm chicken feet head-dress just needs one chicken foot clutching a flower as a brooch to complete the look. :-)

  • I should have consulted with you on flowers!

  • I don’t know what it is about turkey, but I have never made it and had a dry breast. I’m always surprised by how good it turns out,and I know so many people who are all “OH NOES TURKEY IT IS SO HARD AND GETS DRY WHY BOTHER.” (I can also do gravy and rouxes really really well and have always been able to, possibly because I simply don’t admit to cooking fear.) Meanwhile, I really dislike duck and goose because it’s so very fatty. I don’t like dark meat chicken or turkey either. It just tastes so metallic. Your goose looks amazingly pretty, though.

  • PS thanks for the candied citrus update! That was super helpful!

  • I love turkey, and I will be excited to go back to it next year. Around this time period it was pretty typical for people to make a Christmas turkey (my family’s default was turkey in November, ham for Christmas), but I am still working on more unusual birds, so i will be making duck (not that duck is so exotic, but I want to try what Beeton says).

    I know what you mean about cooking fear. I felt the same way when I blundered into puff pastry. “Full steam ahead!” I mucked that up, but I had no problem with things like risottos, hollandaise, etc.

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