A Christmas Carol for Food: Enjoying the Food and Wine Pairings of Christmas Past

With holiday traveling this year being ill-advised, to say the least, people are staying home in droves. But if you’ve stayed home all year, you might be tired of just being home and just watching the same things over and over again, even if they are your holiday favorites.

Why not use this year as an excuse to try something from a different time?

Since its serialized publication in 1843, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas”* has gone on to capture the hearts and minds of countless individuals, as well as enjoying (or wallowing in) numerous adaptations, featuring everyone from George C. Scott, to the Muppets, to Sir Patrick Stewart and Bill Murray**. 

Despite the fact it was made for TV, this is easily one of the best and most overlooked versions of the classic tale. (Picture credit: TNT.)

And while everyone remembers the critical plot points and characters (Jacob Marley, Ghosts of Past/Present/Future, “You there, boy, what day is it?”) something that gets overlooked all too often is how Dickens describes and talks about food. 

Growing up as a food-insecure young man in England, Dickens often enjoyed long and luxurious food descriptions in his writing:

“Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

`Come in.’ exclaimed the Ghost. `Come in, and know me better, man.’”

For years, artists have nailed the warmth of this scene, and this picture is no different. (Picture credit: https://hiltonheadwineandfood.com/ghost-of-christmas-feasts-past/)

So trapped at home this Christmas and looking for something new to do, why not shake things up and try pairing some classic Christmas Carol dishes and wine?

Christmas Turkey

“Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”

Buddy Hackett as Scrooge in Scrooged, excited to order a Christmas Turkey for Bob Cratchit. (Picture credit: Paramount Pictures)

After finding himself alive after encountering numerous spirits, the first thing Scrooge does is order a Turkey for his star employee, Bob Cratchit. If that does not speak to how closely tied Christmas and Turkeys are, we don’t know what would. 

Debuting as a Christmas dish in the 16th century*** for King Henry VIII, Turkey is one of the most beloved Christmas Dishes. While we’ve covered traditional and modern Turkey and Wine Pairings before, we wanted to highlight another pairing off the beaten path: Aged Bordeaux. 

The balance of acidity, fruit, and tannins partnered with the flavors of your Turkey can transform every bite into an explosion of Christmas flavor in your mouth. 

Christmas Pudding/Plum Pudding

A festive Christmas pudding on fire.

“In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered: flushed, but smiling proudly: with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

Originally just called Plum Pudding, after Dickens included this dish in A Christmas Carol, the dessert was quickly adopted as a Christmas staple of the time and renamed to Christmas Pudding. 

While English Fruitcake does not completely and accurately describe what a Christmas Pudding is, it gives you a pretty close approximation of Christmas Pudding. Christmas Pudding often takes much longer to steam and let rest, giving it a much more crumbly and moist texture than Fruit Cake, but shares the use of various fruits, nuts, and earthy spices. 

Pairing the right wine with this dish is a challenge, given a proper Christmas Pudding is absolutely sloshed with Brandy. A challenge, but not impossible. One of the most highly recommended pairings for Christmas Pudding is the right Sauternes. Its light flavors won’t overwhelm the pallet with sweetness, and you can find one with the right combination of fruity notes to harmonize with the sweetness already in the pudding. 

Smoking Bishop

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”

Ebenezer and Bob enjoying a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop. (Photo credit: https://occasiowinery.com/smoking-bishop/)

If it’s good enough for a reformed Scrooge, then it should be perfect for the rest of us!

Smoking Bishop owes its namesake to how it was served, often in dining halls, out of a bowl that bore a resemblance to a Bishop’s Miter, or ceremonial headdress.

This Victorian mulled wine punch also integrates lemons or sour oranges, making the experience of drinking a Smoking Bishop akin to enjoying a Hot Toddy. 

Smoking Bishop makes the perfect holiday drink to warm your bones and bring your loved ones closer.

May your Holiday Season be cheery, bright, and safe!

Don’t give the Ghost of Christmas Past a reason to visit you, give our VR Demo a try or give us a call at (800) 659-WINE (9463) today!

*Say that three times fast!

** Bill Murry plays Frank Cross, but the movie is literally called Scrooged. 

***An interesting aside: some inaccurately peg the inclusion of a turkey as anachronistic despite its appearance as a holiday staple in the court of King Henry VIII.

Posted in Cooking, Wine Pairing

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