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Eat, drink and be merry

The food served on special occasions at St John’s in the latter part of the nineteenth century was meticulously recorded by the aptly named College chef, Mr Parsley, in his Feast Books. Those dining in College on Christmas Day in 1892 were treated to a starter of dumplings followed by fried sole. The main course consisted of roast sirloin of beef, roast turkey and sausages, with potatoes, spinach and stewed leeks, not perhaps the traditional Christmas vegetables served today. The meal was rounded off with plum pudding, apple pie and mince pies.

Christmas Day menu 1892
The Christmas Day menu, 1892

The festivities of Christmas Day paled into insignificance just two days later, the Feast of St John falling on 27 December. Then a veritable feast was laid on. Canapés of cheese and olives were followed by a choice of soups, two different fish dishes, then oysters. Roast beef and York ham sautéed in champagne were among the three main meat dishes on offer, accompanied by sea cabbage, artichokes and cauliflower gratin. The next course involved young swan and plovers with shavings of potato.  Christmas pudding, rhubarb paté, and an orange dessert were topped off with pastries with glacé raspberries, eclairs and ‘desserts etc.’

Menu for the Feast of St John 1892
Menu for the Feast of St John 1892

While the Fellows were dining so lavishly, they were entertained by the College’s choristers. What the boys of the choir may have felt about breaking off their own family Christmas festivities to come into College and sing, we do not know, but they were at least rewarded with a bumper supper.

Choristers' Supper 1892
Choristers' Supper 1892

Between them the boys packed away a sirloin of beef with Yorkshire puddings and horseradish sauce, two Norfolk turkeys with bread sauce and three-inch sausages, four large boiled fowls in a béchamel sauce, and 12 dishes of vegetables. This was followed by two plum puddings, two blancmanges, three orange jellies and two apple pies, topped off with custard and sugar. They also ate four long loaves of bread with a pound of cheese and two heads of celery, two dishes of apples, two dishes of oranges and two dishes of almonds and raisins, all washed down with a gallon of lemonade. This impressive spread cost the College six pounds and sixpence. It is not recorded how many choristers there were…

 

This Special Collections Spotlight article was contributed on 10 December 2019 by the Special Collections Librarian.