A Christmas Dish -- At Potton, and the places adjacent, some "sixty years since", when festival feastings were spiritedly maintained by the unchecked zeal of our forefathers (worthy souls, peace to their manes!), if was usual to place on the table, at Christmas entertainments, the "Apple Florentine", a palatable confection, of which the whole of the guests invariably partook. According to parental tradition, this "Florentine" consisted of an immensely large dish of pewter, or such like metal, filled with "good baking apples", sugar, and lemon, to the very brim, with a roll of rich paste as a covering -- pie fashion. When baked, and before serving up, the 'upper crust' was taken off by a skillful hand, and divided into sizeable triangular portions or shares, to be again returned into the dish arranged in formal order round, by way of garnish ; when, to complete the mess, a full quart of well-spiced ale was poured in, "quite hot, hissing hot: think of that Master Brook" - admirable conjunction! as many of the "olde, olde, very olde" sojourners of Potton can testify. The writer well remenbers, in his childhood, spent in an adjacent village, an oval-shaped pewter dish, standing on the upper shelf of the kitchen dresser "for ornament, not use," then pointed at and highly valued as having had the honor (!) of containing "Apple Florentine" at no fewer than thirty festivals. At the period mentioned in the commencement of this "brief notice" of its merits, this ancient "dainty" was in its pristine glory, but succeeding years saw its wonted place supplied by something "more fashionable", and various changes and alterations (not for the better but for the worse) have taken place since it last "smoaked on the Christmas board."
“E.H.B.” in The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information, ed. William Hone (1832)
A giant apple pie at Christmas-time? Served with lashings, not not custard, or brandy cream, but hot, spiced ale? Sounds like my sort of seasonal dessert!
The extract above comes from The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information, a collected miscellany sub-titled Concerning Remarkable Men and Manners, Times and Seasons, Solemnities and Merry-makings, Antiquities and Novelties: on the Plan of the Every-day Book and Table Book, which was compiled by one William Hone and published in 1832.
One contributor to the volume, identified only by the initials E.H.B., wrote in with a selection of anecdotes and oddities from what we must presume is their local area: Potton, which is presumably the small town of that name in Bedfordshire.
By the sound of things those “olde, olde, very olde” people of Potton really knew how to throw a Christmas party, with the enormous “Apple Florentine” presumably a centre-piece of the table. Bearing in mind the date of publication and the detail that the Florentine was in vogue “sixty years hence”, which suggests a late eighteenth century date for the tradition, although it could well have continued longer in Potton, or some of those placed adjacent.
One for The Regency Cook to try next Christmas, perhaps? There’s a modern version of the recipe online on the superb Foods of England Project website, so if you fancy giving it a go in the meantime, please do leave a comment below to let me know how you get on, or send me an email with your notes and photos.