The letters of Johanna St.John to her steward at Lydiard, Thomas Hardyman, give us a fascinating insight into the menu for a couple of Christmas meals at Lydiard Park on 27th December 1661. In 1652 the Puritan Long Parliament had brought in legislation to ban all Christmas celebrations including mince pies, decorations, church services, games and entertainments. After the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, celebrating Christmas became legal again, and the Court led the way with fairly rowdy seasonal celebrations.
The family were not in residence at Lydiard for Christmas 1661 and it would be intriguing to know who these meals were for; they were certainly quite elaborate. Dinner, in the Great Parlour, would have taken place at noon and there were twenty two items in the first course, including roast beef, roast Venison, pork, goose, swan (which was a particular Christmas delicacy), turkey, roast veal, “hens and bacon” and tongues and udders!
The second course comprised twenty items and included three dozen larks, woodcock, duck, neats tongues (smoked and dried beef tongue), salad, tarts, plum porage and custards. A two-course dinner was also served in the Little Parlour with a smaller choice of dishes including soused pork and fricassee of rabbit.
If anyone was feeling hungry by supper time, which was 10pm, another meal was served that included pettytoes (which were pigs’ trotters) followed by hot apple pie and mince pies. The seventeenth century mince pie was a big savoury, meat-based pie rather than the sweet, fruity little pies we’re accustomed to today. As we tuck into our own Christmas dinners we might reflect that no matter how much we eat these days, it cannot rival the spread that was provided in the 17th century!