Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas, 1803 in the Colonies

CHRISTMAS. (1871, January 2). Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic. : 1867 - 1875), p. 1 Supplement: SUPPLEMENT TO THE ILLUSTRATED AUSTRALIAN NEWS

Merry Christmas, cookery friends!

Preparations for Christmas lunch are in full swing here at my Colonial cottage. As I've researched some of the earliest Christmas celebrations in the Australian colonies, I've come to see just how much my family's traditions are actually those of our nation.

We enjoy roast ham, pork and turkey, and serving platters piled high with roasted and steamed vegetables. The meal concludes with Wild Colonial Grandma's famous Christmas pudding, complete with sixpence coins. She always tries to put enough in for everyone to get one for luck, but probability being what it is, there is always one poor family member who ends up penniless and out of luck.

We are, however, all lucky to not be living in the Sydney colony in 1803, at Christmas-time.

Here are the General Orders from the Acting Secretary about Christmas rations, printed in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser:

Tuesday next being Christmas Day, the Commissary is directed to issue an extra Ration to each person on the Civil and Military Establishment, Constables, Watchmen, and Overseers ; One Pound of Fresh Beef, Half a Pound of Suet, with the addition of Half a Pound of Raisins to each Soldier's Family victualled from the Stores. To such Prisoners receiving a Ration, One Pound of Salt Pork, and One Pound of Flour or Wheat equal thereto,

By Command of His Excellency,

G. BLAXCELL, Acting Sec.

Government House, Sydney,

Dec. 22d, 1804.
General Orders. (1804, December 23). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842), p. 1.

So what festive dishes would you be able to make with these ingredients?

Early colonists, like my family, enjoyed roast meat at Christmas-time; although those prisoners who only got salt pork may have enjoyed it somewhat less.

Suet was most commonly used in puddings, and the presence of raisins makes it a near certainty that most settlers would have cooked themselves a Christmas pudding with these rations.

It gives me a warm historical glow to think that on Christmas day, we too will sit down to a meal of roast meat and Christmas pudding, even if we will have greater variety and abundance of dishes than our Colonial forebears.

What are your family's Christmas food traditions? Are they similar or different to the nation where you live?

P.S. As a little Christmas extra, you can see the earliest mention of Christmas in Australia (that I could find) over on my twitter feed @thecolonialcook.