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The Blonde Cucina: Cook up a Victorian Christmas

by on December 07, 2016 5:03 PM

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is in full swing. One delightful event that our county enjoys is the annual Bellefonte Victorian Christmas festivities, Friday, Dec. 9, through Sunday, Dec. 11. this year.

Giving and receiving gifts was not the focus of the Victorian Christmas season. 

The Victorians exchanged a few gifts, but Christmas was still a religious-centered holiday. Back in the Victorian era, church, charity, family gatherings and food were the focuses of the season, rather than gifts and the commercialization we know today. All Victorians were expected to show mercy and love to the needy during Christmas. 

Christmas decorating was not unlike what it is today, but the materials used tended to be all-natural. Fresh-cut garland was hung around houses, along with popcorn strings, and colored paper garlands and baked ornaments.

The Christmas tree became all the rage in the 1850s after Queen Victoria, from Germany where the tree tradition was popular, began having them. 

Another tradition from Victorian times is the hanging stockings by the fire. This tradition started in America, developed from St. Nicholas Day in Germany, which was and is still celebrated on Dec. 6. Children would leave their shoes out by the window and if they were good, there would be candy, fruit and treats the next morning, left by St. Nicholas, who evolved into Santa Claus.

(He was, indeed, a real man, so you’re not lying to your children when you tell them Santa is real.) 

The Victorians were very economical, as well as creative, when it came to making meals, and this especially held true for their holiday celebrations. The Christmas meal was the biggest meal of the year for the Victorians. There was no widespread refrigeration until the turn of the century, so what was on the dinner table varied from region to region, depending on what was available within the season. Most people had a ham and a turkey or some other readily available fowl, such as chicken. Various side dishes included mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato pie, in-season and accessible vegetables, oyster soup and others made from items they had on hand that needed to be used.

The side dish I’m giving you the recipe for includes oysters. Don’t knock it, or the Victorians, until you try it. Who knows? It might become your new favorite holiday side dish or one of those quick, easy and economical dishes you’ll keep in your arsenal for years to come. 


Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 6 

3/4 cup butter

1 cup minced celery (save leaves for garnishing) 

3 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon of minced garlic 

1 quart heavy cream

2 12-ounce cans oysters, undrained

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste

Parmesan Romano cheese for garnishing 

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and cook the celery shallots and garlic until all are tender and translucent. Pour heavy cream into a large pot over medium-high heat. 

Transfer the butter, celery, garlic and shallot mixture in the pot with the heavy cream. Stir continuously.

When the mixture is almost at a boil, pour in the oysters and their liquid. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.

Continue to stir until the oysters begin to curl at the ends; this is your indication that the stew is done and ready to serve. 

Garnish with cheese and celery leaves and serve. 





Ciara Semack is the owner of The Blonde Bistro in Bellefonte. She is the mother of one and a lifelong resident of Centre County. Her column appears every other week in the Gazette. Questions, suggestions and comments can be directed to [email protected]
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