Posted by: A Part of the Solution | November 30, 2010

A Holiday Fantasy: 12 Days of Christmas

Some people want to climb Mt. Everest. Some people want to see their art in great museums. Some people want to be those few committed citizens who change the world. And then there’s my decades-old desire to cater a holiday party with the 12 Days of Christmas as its food theme.

As for the holidays themselves, I’m not  into shopping. I don’t care for tons of drapey frou-frou, or twee knick-knacks. Red and green and gold as a color scheme don’t thrill me (I like the blue and silver/white of Hanukkah better, but still) . However I do love holiday food, and I love working the parties where it’s served. Heck, I love devising clever menus to elevate the party atmosphere past egg nog, stale cookies from a tin and a cold cut platter from the supermarket.

Why the 12 Days? Because it’s a good, not-too-religious holiday song with a long tradition, stretching back into the medieval period. And it has a lot of possible solutions when approached as the template for a gorgeous holiday feast. Plus food in the medieval style is way interesting–they didn’t see savory dishes as being separate (by course or composition) from sweet foods.

1st Day: Pear-black peppercorn–allspice caramel cages with a pear-wood spit roasted partridge inside (make the caramel cages in two halves, and ‘glue’ them with a little molten caramel at service). I see a huge tray covered with a thick layer of florists’ foam into which the stakes may be stuck. It will look like an orchard, especially if each of the ‘trees’ is decorated with a pear leaf made of the caramel.

2nd Day: Turtledoves are squab when they’re on a plate. Doves were the bird first of Venus, then the Virgin Mary. I would stuff them with rice cooked in rosewater, almonds and dates–these foodstuffs were emblems of both goddesses, and quick roast them on a bed of myrtle branches. They ought to be served with a garnish of sugared Damascus rose petals (from which rosewater is made).

3rd Day: The traditional preparation for a French hen would be sliding butter under the skin, into the cavity and over the skin along with plenty of minced tarragon. Cover closely and serve with butter braised cardoon (a northerly relative of the artichoke) puree.

4th Day: Calling Birds are really Colly Birds, which is a dialect variant for Blackbirds (remember the four and twenty?). But they have a lot of bones, and we’re not used to crunching them right down as our medieval forebarers did. However ‘birds’ is used to indicate little stuffed bundles of a larger, flattened piece of meat in cooking terms (hence, Veal Birds). And we just had three kinds of bird in a row… sooo, pork birds stuffed with marsala stewed prunes and pumpernickel bread crumbs.

5th Day: Five large Saffron Panettone  Rings, brought in by waiters who juggle with them (in gloves, of course). I want these full of chopped citron, nuts, dried fruits and one golden token to be found by the Lord or Lady of Misrule.

6th Day: Geese a laying allows one to serve the ultimate British Christmas dish, goose with bread stuffing. The platter garnish should be goose eggs wrapped in sausage, dipped in more bread crumbs and deep-fried, then sliced into thick circles. If desired, the Scotch Goose Eggs may be gold-foiled (you can get the edible gold foil at ‘Indian’ bakeries and grocery stores).

7th Day: Swan was a popular status food back in the day, though no one ever said it tasted real good. I would definitely go medieval on this bird: wrap it back up in its feather cloak after cooking (stuff it with small, filleted fresh water trout, themselves stuffed with crayfish mousse) and present it floating on a bed of thick, green aspic with seaweed fronds, calamari and shellfish all artfully arranged therein. The neck would be a sausage of the swan’s ‘inwards’ plus more pork–heavy on the fennel and allspice.

8th Day: Maids of Honor tarts are lovely little pastry shells filled with a spoonful of raspberry jam, and topped with a tiny sponge cake hat–almond flavored. They’re usually served with whipped cream (and that would do for the ‘milking’ of the Maids).

9th Day: I like miniature Lady Baltimore cakes here. It’s a cake made without egg yolks, so it’s very white. It has a thick white, seven minute frosting. It is filled with a chopped dried fruits-nuts mixture (and therefore a natural for the medieval palate).

10th Day: Quick French lesson: sauté=jump. I’m thinking sautéed frogs legs with a vivid white currant-quince dipping sauce (like a duck sauce, only tangier and more aromatic)

11th Day:  Rolled crisp, thin cookies piped full of a cherry cream and mini-chocolate chips (even though chocolate is a New World food and not ‘period’).

12th Day: Duck drumsticks a l’orange. You know I’m right. You know you want them.

Beverages: Spiced wine, cider and beer, and single malt scotches to drink. Also hot mulled punches combining most of the above with dried and seasonal fruits and loads of aromatics and spices.

But I’m open to suggestions.



  1. Don’t ask me why, but the swan dish reminded me a bit of the tandori-shrimp stuffed ‘coon idea…

    • The cooks in olden times got the idea (or maybe they just kept it on after the Empire was long fallen) from the Romans who loved stuff inside of stuff inside of other stuff. Sick-playful was a typical characteristic of your average medieval feast. Like the chocolate bunny with its ears bitten off saying to the other chocolate bunny “What? I can’t hear you!”.

  2. AND, I think the hens are a little boring, but if they were shaped (as a mousse) around the puree into the form of a hen, deep fried and then re-feathered with shaved white and or black truffles, that might be nicer.

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