Traditional Christmas Foods and Why We Eat Them

Dec 16, 2022

Traditional Christmas Recipes

Some holiday traditions are rooted in history—the Christmas tree, for example, dates all the way back to the 4th century C.E., when early Europeans would hang evergreen branches around their homes in order to bring in color and light during the winter.

And the same goes for what we eat at Christmas—foods from holiday ham and eggnog to panettone and gingerbread are all rooted in tradition. Where did these come from and why do we eat them?

We’re going to break down the history of some of the most popular and traditional Christmas dishes in the United States and offer up of few of our favorite recipes—with a modern touch, of course.

 

Hungry for more? Explore our library of recipes for more traditional and non-traditional takes on iconic Christmas dishes!

Explore Our Recipe Library

TURKEY

Modern Recipe: Classic Herb Roasted Turkey

The Christmas turkey tradition can be traced back to Henry VIII, who decided to make the bird a staple for the festive day.

For centuries afterward, turkey was an important fixture in the upper-class Christmas feast. While we often reserve turkey for Thanksgiving, this recipe is packed with fragrant, fresh herbs nestled in vegetables, making it a delicious centerpiece for the holiday.

Get the Classic Herb Roasted Turkey Recipe!

HAM

Modern Recipe: Pork Loin with Ginger Pomegranate Sauce

The holiday ham dates back centuries.

Both the early Norse and Germanic peoples traditionally ate boar at their celebrations, honoring fertility, harvest and prosperity. One of the most well-known festivals, Yule, grew in popularity and the tradition of eating ham along with it.

You can stick with tradition and dress up your ham with a savory or sweet glaze or flip it on its head and serve a Pork Loin with Ginger Pomegranate Sauce. Equally elevated and definitely delicious.

Get the Pork Loin with Ginger Pomegranate Sauce recipe!

GOOSE

Modern Recipe: Seared Duck Breast with Figs and Pinot Noir Shallot Sauce

Your first thought probably isn’t goose when planning Christmas dinner, but it was the poultry of choice for centuries.

From medieval days to the Victorian depiction in Charles Dickens, goose was the ubiquitous Christmas bird throughout Europe. Our modern interpretation of this dish is duck, which gives you that same sweet, fatty, dark meat and robust flavor. But we add figs and a red wine sauce to enhance its gorgeous, crispy, deep caramel color.

Get the Seared Duck Breast with Figs and Pinot Noir Shallot Sauce recipe!

PANETTONE

Modern Recipe: No Knead Cranberry Rosemary Bread

Panettone has been a long-time Italian Christmas essential.

The story goes that a baker working for the Duke of Milan accidentally burnt the cake intended for the Christmas feast and created an entirely new recipe with leftover scraps of orange peels, raisins and dough from the intended dessert. They say the cake was so well-received that it was named “Pan de Toni” after the scullery boy who assisted the baker, and later became known as panettone.

Our no-knead modern twist is a little more savory than sweet, opting for more of a traditional bread dough than an enriched one and highlights the season’s festive yet earthy flavors of cranberry and rosemary.

Get the No Knead Cranberry Rosemary Bread Recipe!

GINGERBREAD

Modern Recipe: Gingerbread Cookies

The story of The Gingerbread Man has delighted children at Christmas since 1875 when it was first published in St. Nicholas Magazine.

Legend traces gingerbread cookies even further back to Queen Elizabeth I, who had her private chefs mold the pastry into edible caricatures that she would give to her VIP guests. An idea we love, by the way! And since the tradition of making gingerbread cookies never really went away, it’s always nice to have a solid, tried-and-true recipe in your arsenal.

Get the Gingerbread Cookies Recipe!

EGGNOG

Modern Recipe: Homemade Eggnog

Love it or hate it, eggnog is a Christmas tradition that’s here to stay.

Many historians believe it gets its origins from a warm milk and ale drink reserved for toasting to good health and fortune among the upper class in early medieval Britain. Our recipe is sans ale—not sure if that’s enough to win you over. But it’s a frothy concoction of eggs, milk, sugar and spice—spiked with rum—that’s worth a try.

Get the Homemade Eggnog Recipe!

FRUITCAKE

Modern Recipe: Pear Tarte Tatin

This heavily fruit-laden, sometimes boozy cake we associate with Christmas comes straight out of the Middle Ages.

Dried fruits and sugar were expensive imports, so using them in large quantities was strictly a special-occasion endeavor. But we all know fruitcakes can be as polarizing as eggnog, so we often swap ‘em out for something like a Pear Tarte Tatin. Despite the name, it’s still technically a “fruit” “cake”, but gooey, caramelized and flaky—all the yummy things you don’t get in a traditional fruitcake.

Get the Pear Tarte Tatin Recipe!

PLUM PUDDING

Modern Recipe: Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

The tradition of eating plum pudding on Christmas dates as far back as the Middle Ages of Europe where it started as “plum pottage,” a thick, porridge-like substance containing dried fruits and spices.

But “plum” stood in for any dried fruit, as reflected by Victorian pudding recipes that included raisins, currants and others. With that permission, we chose to use apple instead. And you’ll thank us for it.

Sautéed apples in brandy and butter, soaked alongside brioche in a heavy cream is heaven on earth. We promise—no plums will be missed.

Get the Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe!

 

Hungry for more? Explore our library of recipes for more traditional and non-traditional takes on iconic Christmas dishes!

Explore Our Recipe Library

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