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Victorian Xmas cooking comes to the Old Library

by Joan Hellyer

The sweet smells of spice nuts, plum pudding and sugar plums filled the air at the Old Library by Lake Afton in Yardley Borough recently during a historic look at the delicacies commonly enjoyed in the Victorian Era.

Local food writer and historian Becky Diamond shared tidbits about treasured holiday foods from the 19th century that are still served today with the estimated 75 people who attended ‘A Very Victorian Christmas’ on November 17th.

For instance, a plum pudding, she said, “typically had no plums.”

Instead, it was made over several weeks time using beef-suet, dried fruit, prunes, currants, raisins and dates.

It was brushed with a liqueur to help preserve the delicacy. 

A family would share in the preparation of the highlight of the holiday meal, Becky said.

After returning from church on Sundays family members would say prayers while stirring the pudding. “Every person would take a turn stirring and each would close their eyes and make a wish,” she said.

A coin was often folded into the batter as a wish for wealth in the next year. 

The thick pudding was wrapped up for several weeks before Christmas and left to jell in the family’s kitchen.

“I do it differently today, I do it in a crock pot,” Becky said to a round of laughter from the audience.

The author of “The Thousand Dollar Dinner” made samples of the different treats in advance of the event for audience members to sample after her presentation. Members of the Yardley Historical Association and the Lower Makefield Historical Society served up the confections in the 1878-built historic building off Afton Avenue in the borough.

“It is a very sweet treat,” said Helena Dewees of Bristol Township after sampling the plum pudding. “It would be a nice finish to the holiday dinner.”

The two non-profit organizations jointly hosted the event to help attendees get the ball rolling with their holiday preparations.

“It was great,” said Joyce Anderson of the Lower Makefield Historical Society. “It was a joy to listen to. (Becky) does extensive research into everything she does.”

Upcoming holiday-themed events at the historic library include an open house on December 7th and a combination open house, tree lighting and celebratory meal on December 14th.

Visit yardleyhistory.org for more information.

To learn more about the food from the Victorian Era visit beckyldiamond.com.

PHOTO CAP: Becky Diamond made sugar plums for attendees of “A Very Victorian Christmas” to sample.