Kage Baker always planned for a quiet, insular Boxing Day.
Traditionally, in its homeland of Merrie Olde England, Boxing Day was the day employers gave presents to their employees – especially household servants. Those were ordinarily loftovers of food and clothing, and people either prepared boxes to hand out or brought one to work for the give-away. It all depended on which level of the stairs you were on (Above or Below) but boxes were the medium of the exchange.
Americans think it’s the day you return the boxes of gifts you don’t want. Or, conversely, put all the Christmas glitz back in its storage boxes. But traditionally Christmas does not end on December 25th; that’s when it begins – so the season actually runs on until January 6th, unless you adhere to 20th Century American customs …
Of course, this day is noted for other things as well. In England, this used to be the day the fighting season began – back in the days when boxers fought bare-knuckled, in black leather pumps and no shirts or gloves: this is when the formal schedule began. It’s when the horse racing season legally starts, too; and even in sunny California, race tracks were advertising their season openers today. More sources for the Boxing Day appellation, maybe. Or maybe not.
Kage’s personal definition was that it was a day to live out of boxes. New games, new books, new clothes – all had arrived in boxes, and would be set tastefully around her armchair to be serially sampled through the day. The contents of stockings were usually small fancy edibles – those would be in a box, as well, to be nibbled on at her leisure. The leftovers from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners would be in the fridge in yet more boxes, mostly – plastic Tuppers in every size, shape and colour, preserving the broken festive meats (And creamed spinach. And mashed potatoes. And Yorkshire pudding.) for Boxing Day nibbles.
Last night, for Christmas dinner proper, I made the best Yorkshire puddings of my life. Taste in Yorkshire puddings runs to extremes – some people, like Kage, prefer a thick loaf of Yorkshire pudding, like a sergeant-major sort of dumpling. Welsh Grandda Tom served that kind; Kage usually made hers in actual loaf pans, and served it in broad country slices.
(That’s the kind Kimberly made when she actually succeeded in making it in a Dutch oven contrived over an open oak fire – the only person I know who ever made an edible Yorkshire pudding at an outdoor Renaissance Faire.)
But some people prefer little golden hollowed disks of Yorkshire pudding, that look like tiny UFOs and hold a half cup of gravy in their hearts. Those latter examples of Yorkshire pudding are the ones I initially encountered in the writings of English vet James Herriot, of All Creatures Great and Small fame. Herriot comes to hilarious grief over the delectable little morsels, but they have fired me with insane lust since the age of 17 or so. And I have tried ever since to produce them.
It’s not a question of the batter, which is the same for both – a mindlessly easy recipe of flour and milk and eggs and salt and drippings from the beef roast. No matter what you bake it in, you grease the vessel with more drippings. And Kimberly and I, after successfully making almost perfect puddings in muffins tins and popover molds, finally splurged on actual, realio trulio Yorkshire pudding pans this year … they have wide, shallow indentations, and the batter floats in the amber drippings like exotic islands …
When they had baked for the requisite half hour, I tremblingly drew them out – and behold! They were the legendary golden bowls that the lovely Zoe Bennett feeds to a sensorily-overloaded Herriot … I did it! When filled with gravy and conveyed to my waiting mouth, they proved to be as delicate as bone china; crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, but all in a delicious thin curve of biscuity goodness: perfection. With hot gravy and rare beef.
“Pretty good,” opined our menfolk, addressing their plates with workmanlike gravity. Kimberly and I rolled our eyes at one another.
Those Yorkshire puddings were my favourite boxes this Christmas: packed full of literary goodness and wonderful gravy, brought to life from the dreams of books read in my distant girlhood. I’ve been eating the stuff all my life, but this year – Real Yorkshire Pudding. Kage would have laughed at me. But she’d have understood, too.
Happy Boxing Day, Dear Readers. May all your leftovers be as magical as mine.
Your description has left me delirious with desire. There will be Yorkshire pudding on our table before the week is out.
It’s simply wonderful stuff.
Nan Earnheart and I once made the Yorkshire pudding from Joy of cooking. It was an adventure, since we really had no idea what it was even supposed to be like! Fortunately, Joy of Cooking is a good source and we followed the directions, and it was wonderful. But for some reason, I[‘ve never done it since! Now I think I might have to try again.
There’s no way to pretend Yorkshire pudding is a health food – it’s a bread essentially steamed in beef drippings. However, as long as one doesn’t eat it every week, it’s pretty harmless – and as a side with roast beef, it has no equal. Dumplings, dressing, sops and all other period bread-and-gravy dishes pale beside a well-done Yorkshire pudding. And yes, I am a shameless Anglophile: but it’s easy to be partisan about something that tastes so good!
“In England, this used to be the day the fighting season began – back in the days when boxers fought bare-knuckled, in black leather pumps and no shirts or gloves…”
Really? I was under the impression that the early English prize fighting was an outdoor sport, which only came to be practiced indoors in the late 19th century with the advent of gas lighting… “The Police Gazette” in the 1820s-50s was filled with discussions of temporary prize rings erected in various parks or “waste lands” (vacant lots) for fights
Even then in the latter half of the century, the season ran from October to June, according to “Dickens’s Dictionary of London” (1879) among the various athletic clubs including The Clapton Boxing Club and West London Boxing Club.
Sorry, the above should read: “an outdoor *warm weather* sport”
I believe fisticuffs was usually an outdoor, warm weather sport. But I’ve found occasional references from about the middle 1700’s that specified St. Stephen’s Day (December 26th) as being the proper day for local matches to be set – usually indoors. But a lot of sports used December 26th for that: Rugby, fox hunting, various league sports in Australia and New Zealand; plus, the day is usually a bank holiday in the Commonwealth as well. All SORTS of things were supposed to begin the day after Christmas; and at one point in the confusion of prize fighting in England – where it went in and out of respectability – Boxing Day was set as the beginning of matches for local champions. Who knows why? Purely anecdotally, my grandfather born near Angsley and the Welsh border remembers Boxing Day being when the various mining benenvolent societies trotted out their local winners for sparring.
My mother was such a devotee of Yorkshire pudding that she owned a Yorkshire pudding tin. She also used an 18th century recipe that she found in a “Celebrations of the Pudding Age” book. So, we were definitely of the UFOs with gravy preference!
Those bare-knuckle fighters used to be called “Corinthians” back in the rollicking days of the Regency. They fought by London Prize Ring rules and were quite fancy, in their shiny pumps and tight breeches.
Athene – I knew there were lots of reasons I liked your mother. Her taste in Yorkshire pudding was obviously exemplary.
In our family we have a traditional American Thanksgiving – turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, etc. Easter requires Middle Eastern shish-kebab (lamb marinated for 3 days in oil, onions, red wine and herbs) and those fixings. But Christmas Eve, the jewel of the year, we eat traditional English fare, rare roast beast, potatoes, carrots and the best Yorkshire pudding. Ours is made in several flat pans and cut up, not the lovely cups you describe. However, there’s never enough and at least some of every year’s discussion is how this year’s pudding compares to last year’s. It’s great to be a mongrel!
Lynn – I like to think of it as being cosmopolitan. We, too, do the American tradition for Thanksgiving – the east coast version, I think, because parsnips and rutabagas are included. Then English roast beef for Christmas – with Brussells sprouts! I love those things. And then we do a ham for New Year’s, and a leg o’lamb for Easter. With all the attendant leftovers … and then just because all families come up with their own weird traditions, too, we tend toward pizza for May Day.