When I think of Christmas Time, the lilt of bells and the memories I associate with them flood my mind. A warmth grips me, hugging me tighter than my best spencer. To me, bells always sound happy, giving an ethereal lightness and glow to the heart of the hearer. I prefer the sounds of cast bells. Their song is richer and more full-bodied than their thin sheet-metal cousins.
England is steeped in both, and bell-ringing is a part of the culture and history. The tradition of casting English bells predates the Middle Ages. Today, two of her best bellfounders survive, Taylors of Loughborough (1400) and Mears and Stainbank of Croydon (1570).
Moreover, bells and bell-ringing played a role in Regency life. Bells rang to announce a church service. This service would be on Christmas Day as oppose to the Christmas Eve masses we are accustomed to.
I can imagine hearing the peal (the loud prolonged ringing) of St. George’s eight hemispherical bells tolling on the morn of December 25. Maybe the bell ringers would perform a change ringing where they would display a festive pattern of bell tolls. It wouldn’t be a familiar holiday tune but an exquisite series of tones set to a rhythm indicative of the ringers’ skills. Change ringing is still popular today, in England and around the world.
Church bells would also ring for weddings. Although, it would probably be unusual (in my opinion), I couldn’t find any prohibitions to having a Christmas Day wedding. If Christmas fell on a Sunday after the banns have been successfully read, what cleric would stop the couple and delay the ringing of another successful match?
Amidst the joy, bells of London could also possess a seamy side. They are said to have been rung at Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) announcing to gawkers to come stare at the mentally unstable patients. I would hope that Christmas Day would be spared, but not the whole of December.
Perhaps after leaving St. George’s, if I were walking toward a coffee shop, a Morris dancer (or a troupe of Morris dancers) would perform in front of me. The bells strapped below their knees would tinkle with each of their merry steps. The Morris dancer tradition dates back to 15th Century in England. Its earliest notations suggests it was a dance that both men and women could partake in, but at the time of the Regency, it was mostly a male endeavor.
Walking a little farther, I might hear bells strapped to a horse team or the ringing of bells on residences which have not installed a doorknocker. Those households wouldn’t have the advance warning of the importance of their visitor, as a footman’s successive knocks would detail, just the egalitarian jingle for all who darken their thresholds. Well, hopefully these homes are prepared for all coming to sup for Christmas dinner.
Trudging a little farther, I hear a dull peal, one laced with sorrow. Bells were also used to announce deaths. Continuing a tradition started in the Middle Ages, church bells were rung to drive away evil spirits from the departed souls. My heart breaks for anyone losing a loved one, particularly during a season meant for love of family and friends. My continued prayer is for the families of Newtown, Connecticut. Here at Regency Reflections/ChristianRegency.com our hearts are broken, too. The ringing of twenty-six bells are too many.
RWA’s Beau Monde Chapter
Oxford’s City Branch of Church Bell Ringers
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers
Forrest, John. The History of Morris Dancing, 1483–1750. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1999.
I smile as I type this post today, because it is with great fondness that I look back on some of my childhood memories.
When I was six or seven and we gathered around the table on Christmas Eve to eat lamb and fruitcake and Yorkshire pudding, I hardly realized one day I’d be writing books set near the Regency Period of British history. So there I was, a young child scrunching up my nose at the funny shaped golden blobs that didn’t resemble pudding at all but were called pudding, grumbling that the lamb tasted funny, and complaining that thew fruitcake didn’t look much like cake. But my English grandmother beamed throughout the entire meal, telling us how she used to eat these foods every Christmas when she was growing up.
During Regency days, goose, venison and beef would have been the prevalent meat at Christmas feasts, not lamb. Yorkshire pudding was a common food for the lower classes, and wouldn’t have been served in aristocratic households. But these food were around (along with other familiar Christmas foods like eggnog and gingerbread) and somehow they filtered across the Atlantic with my great grandparents and down through the years onto our dining room table when I was younger. The thought makes me want to whip up a batch of Yorkshire pudding and introduce it to my family this year.
We are so used to those luscious candies we justify eating at Christmas time—fudge, Godiva chocolates, cherry cordials, etc.—that we don’t consider how little chocolate was available during the Regency, and certainly not in cream-filled or even buttery forms. Mostly, chocolate was for drinking.
Here, however, are two recipes for candies that might have been made at Christmas time—confectionary and chocolate drops.
To Make Confectionary Drops
Take double refined sugar, pound and sift it through a hair sieve, not too fine; then sift it through a silk sieve to take out all the fine dust which would destroy the beauty of the drop. Put the sugar into a clean pan, and moisten it with any favourite aromatic…Colour it with a small quantity of liquid carmine, or any other colour, ground fine. Take a small pan with a lip, fill it three parts with paste, place it on a small stove, the half hole being the size of the pan, and stir the sugar with a little ivory or bone handle, until it becomes liquid. When it almost boils, take it from the fire and continue to stir it: if it be too moist, take a little of the powdered sugar, and add a spoonful to the paste, and stir it till it is of such a consistence as to run without too much extension. Have a tin plate, very clean and smooth; take the little pan in the left hand, and hold in the right a bit of iron, copper, or silver wire, four inches long, to take off the drop from the lip of the pan, and let it fall regularly on the tin plate; two hours afterwards, take off the drops with the blade of a knife.
To Make Chocolate Drops
Scrape the chocolate to powder, and put an ounce to each pound of sugar; moisten the paste with clear water, work it as above, only take care to use all the paste prepared, as if it be put on the fire a second time, it greases, and the drop is not of the proper thickness.
Note: A pound of sugar is about 2 cups by modern measurements. I have no idea how much an ounce of cocoa powder is, but this would be like Hershey’s cocoa powder for baking.
And if you want something a little more nutritious to serve before the chocolate, here is a recipe for White Soup that says it is good for all seasons:
1/4 lb. of sweet almonds, 1/4 lb. of cold veal or poultry, a thick slice of stale bread, a piece of fresh lemon-peel, 1 blade of mace, pounded, 3/4 pint of cream, the yolks of 2 hard-boiled eggs, 2 quarts of white stock.
Reduce the almonds in a mortar to a paste, with a spoonful of water, and add to them the meat, which should be previously pounded with the bread.
Beat all together, and add the lemon-peel, very finely chopped, and the mace.
Pour the boiling stock on the whole, and simmer for an hour. Rub the eggs in the cream, put in the soup, bring it to a boil, and serve immediately.
It’s three ingredients, and they are so good. I love to cook, so you’ll often find me in the kitchen. I like elegant great tasting easy to create recipes. So this is one of my personal favorites.
1 cup of peanut butter, the crunchy type with peanuts
1 egg white (You need to cut the cholesterol somewhere.)
1 cup of sugar (I use raw cane sugar, sounds healthier, but you may eat so many that this doesn’t help)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking tray with parchment or a silicone mat. They will stick to your tray if you don’t, not good eats, a big mess. No one has time for all that cleaning.
Combine all three ingredients together mixing until you have a smooth dough-like consistency.
Take a scoop of it and form a small ball. Flatten it out onto the tray.
Get fancy and make crisscrosses with a fork’s tines. Place the cookies at least an inch apart.
When your tray is full and your oven is ready, pop these into the oven for about 7 minutes. Be careful not to overbake and adjust your timing based on your oven. They should be a light golden brown. You want these to be chewy.
When you take them from the oven, let them cool on the tray for about 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack. I usually just pick up the parchment and set it on the rack to cool completely.
Your patience will be reward with chewy yummy goodness.
Frederica is quite the hostess and loves to make sure her guest has the right treats. Find out more about her in The Butterfly Bride:
Welcome to this 5th stop on the Wassailing Tour. If you’ve missed some of the others, please don’t hesitate visiting. Here are links to all of the Belles’ holiday wassailing stops, with different Regency era Christmas carols, dinner selections, beverages including wassail recipes at every blog hop.
16 Dec: Caroline Warfield: The Sixth Course, Jerusalem Artichoke a la Crème
18 Dec: Sherry Ewing: The Seventh Course, Mince Pies
21 Dec: Mariana Gabrielle: The Eighth Course, Christmas Pudding
Bonus Question for Belles’ Give Away: Which member of Lady Pendleton’s family suggested they sing “I Saw Three Ships.”
The Belles’ Holiday Wassailing Tour: Course #5
Welcome to the 5th stop of the
Belles’ Holiday Wassailing Tour!
14th of December, 1819 Port Elizabeth Colony, South Africa
Precious Jewell swatted her brow as she stirred the huge pot of wassail swinging upon the hearth. It smelled better than it looked with the flecks of cinnamon swimming in the murky brown liquid. Anything had to be better than the ginger beer Gareth brewed at the blacksmith’s. The two were going to lug it here for tonight’s dinner which would be serve to all of the Margeaux’s crew.
Christmas in Charleston or London was cold, double shawl, stiff britches cold. This was so different. Most of the men Gareth captained were as new to this place as she. Would they like the spending the Yuletide here?
Stirring again, she shook her head. Men and beer. The crew would enjoy themselves.
Pour the water boiling on the ingredients, then add two spoonfuls of good yeast; when cold bottle it in stone bottles, tie down the corks. It is fit to drink in 48 hours– a little more sugar is an improvement; glass bottles would not do.
Recipe from: Martha Lloyd’s Household Book With thanks to the Jane Austen Society.
Combine all ingredients in a large pan. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat and continue simmering for 45 minutes. Ladle into cups or mugs and enjoy!
With a final stir, Precious wiped her damp hands with her apron. Her gaze went to the window. The bright green grass and distant palm trees and no snow didn’t quite look like Yuletide either. Well, this is what Gareth wanted and truthfully, she do anything to help him. How could love be so much, so overwhelming, so covering and smoothing all the scarred places.
“Precious, how are things in here?”
Speak of the devil. Gareth, and that deep voice of his, dared to enter her kitchen again. The second time in twenty minutes. Weren’t there some Xhosa to go chase, or something?
She turned to him, waving her big wooden spoon. “Things are as good as the last time you dragged in here. You’re probably ready to spout some more nonsense about English vittles.”
Folding his arms against his brilliant white shirt, he leaned against the door frame. “You sound a little perturbed, my dear. Are you sure nothing is amiss?”
“Nothing. Now go on.” She waved her hand to shoe him like chickens, but that dumb old rooster came forward.
Close to her side, he flashed that pompous, wonderful heart-in-her throat grin. “You seem a little on edge.”
Lowering her spoon, she released a sigh and turned back to her pot. “I know how to cook, you know. You’ve been eating well haven’t you? Don’t have to keep checking up on me.”
He stood directly behind her now, and lightly fingered her neck and gave a rub to her sore shoulders. “You do many things well, my jewel. But this is an English meal, and my men are looking forward to it. It’s a touch of home for them.”
“Do you miss London, Gareth?” Her pulse stopped moving. She could hear every creak of floorboards of the sailors gathering in their parlor. If he missed London, maybe he didn’t like it here, or maybe he had regrets. She stiffened and edged away. Tossing the spoon into her apron pocket, she picked up her oven paddle and went to the fiery brick oven. Sticking it into the hot box, she stabbed at her loaf pan and removed it. “Is that why you keep checking, so you can tell me you want to return?”
He followed and took the paddle and set the steaming loaf on to the table. “You’ve done well with the English Bread. The men will enjoy it, and the rest of meal. Collards and whatever else you’ve created. You’re food is always delicious.”
Recipe from The New London Family Cook; Or, Town and Country Housekeeper’s Guide, by Duncan MacDonald
Put a bushel of good flour into one end of your trough, and make a hole in the middle. Take nine quarts of warm water by the bakers called liquor, and mix it with a quart of good yeast; put it to the flour, and stir it well with your hands till it is tough. Let it lie till it rises as high as it will, which will be in about an hour and twenty minutes. Watch it when it comes to its height, and do not let it fall. Then make up your dough with eight quarts more of warm liquor, and one pound of salt: work it up with your hands, and rover it with a course cloth or sack. Put your fire into the oven, and by the time it is heated, the dough will be ready. Make your loaves about five pounds each, sweep your oven clean out, put in your loaves, shut it up close, and two hours and a half will bake them. In summer time your liquor must be lukewarm; in winter, a little warmer, and in hard frosty weather as hot as you can bear your hand in it, but not hot enough to scald the yeast, for should that be the case, the whole batch will be spoiled. A larger or smaller quantity may be made in proportion to these rules.
Precious laid a thin cloth over the bread allowing it to cool, but not dry out. “You didn’t answer my question.”
A smile kissed his lips, and he hummed a tune. What was it?
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Precious plodded back to hearth and started stirring again. The clove and cinnamon smell of the wassail wafted. It stung a little bit upon her weak eyes. And that poor her heart of hers had lodged right against a rib. It was probably the the only thing keeping it from falling out onto her freshly swept floor.
Gareth’s big hand clasped hers, and he spun her to him. “I have Christmas everyday with you and Jonas, but my men don’t. I just want to give them a special day.”
It was Christmas everyday, being loved by the good captain in Port Elizabeth.
Don’t miss the next stop.
Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem: A Bluestocking Belles Collection
In this collection of novellas, the Bluestocking Belles bring you seven runaway Regency brides resisting and romancing their holiday heroes under the mistletoe. Whether scampering away or dashing toward their destinies, avoiding a rogue or chasing after a scoundrel, these ladies and their gentlemen leave miles of mayhem behind them on the slippery road to a happy-ever-after.
When the topic of Christmas and other holidays in regency genre books came up, I merely opened the hutch of my escritoire (regency for desk) and pulled out four collections (see below)
These are not CBA (inspirational) fiction, but rather ABA (general market, not inspirational, and probably a little racy).
I hope our inspy Regency genre grows to the point where collections like the above will be highly sought-after and we will have a chance to have a chance for our faith-filled novella to be published in such a collection.
What do you like best about Christmas-set fiction?