Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Winter Queen by Amanda McCabe

I'm not the only one with a Christmas story out this year. My friend Amanda McCabe's THE WINTER QUEEN will be available November 1st from Harlequin Historicals! If you love the Elizabethan era, as I do, this title is an auto-buy! Amanda is here today to share abit about Christmas celebrations in the 16th century. Take it away, Amanda!

“They both do provide, against Christmas do come,
To welcome their neighbors, good cheer to have some.
Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall,
Brawn, pudding, and souse, and good mustard withal.
Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best,
Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well drest,
Cheese, apples and nuts, and good carols to hear!”
--Thomas Tusser, “500 Points of Husbandry,” 1573

One thing I learned as I research Elizabeth Christmas traditions for my book The Winter Queen is that they really knew how to party at the holidays! The Christmas season (Christmastide) ran 12 days, from December 24 (Christmas Eve) to January 6 (Twelfth Day), and each day was filled with feasting, gift-giving (especially to impress the Queen, who expected elaborate presents from her courtiers), pageants, masquerades, a St. Stephen’s Day fox hunt, and lots of general silliness (including a game called Snapdragon, where a bowl of raisins is covered with brandy and set alight. The players have to snatch the raisins from the flames and eat them without being burned).
(Later in Elizabeth’s reign, she mostly kept Christmas at Greenwich, or sometimes at Hampton Court or Nonsuch Palace, but in 1564, the year my story is set, she spent the holiday at Whitehall in London. It was the coldest winter in memory, so cold the Thames froze through and there was a Frost Fair, so travel was difficult).

Even though there were no Christmas trees or stockings by the fire, we would definitely recognize many of the decorations! Anything that was still green was used—holly, ivy, yew, bay (hence the song, “Holly and ivy, box and bay, put in the house for Christmas Day!”). The Yule log started things off on Christmas Eve, brought in by the men of the household, decorated with wreaths and ribbons, and lit from a bit of last year’s log saved for the purpose. It was a tradition to sit around the fire and tell tales of Christmases past on that night.

Food was just as big a part of the holiday as it is now! Roast meats were big, of course (pork, beef, fricaseed, cooked in broths, roasted, baked in pies), along with stewed vegetables and fine white manchet bread. Sweets were always a favorite with the Queen, including candied flowers, hard candies in syrup called suckets, Portugese figs, Spanish oranges, tarts, gingerbread, and the famous figgy pudding. The feast always ended with a grand piece of sugar art called a subtlety, and in 1564 this was a candy recreation of Whitehall itself, complete with a sugar Thames. All this was washed down with wines (malmsey, Gascon, Rhenish), beer, and ale, with much singing and goofiness predictably following all that liquor! But in 1564, they could work it all off the next day skating and sledding on the Thames, or going for a ride in the country.

On my website ( I have lots more info on historical Christmas, as well as period recipes and lists of sources. (A couple fun reads about the holiday are Maria Hubert’s Christmas in Shakespeare’s England and Hugh Douglas’s A Right Royal Christmas). If you’re feeling brave, here is a very authentic Christmas recipe to try—roasted peacock! This was often the grand centerpiece of a royal feast…

“Take a peacock, break its neck and drain it. Carefully skin it, keeping the skin and feathers together with the head still attached at the end of the neck. Roast only the bird, with its legs tucked under. When it is roasted enough, take it out and let it cool. Sprinkle cumin on the inside of the skin, then wind it with the feathers and the tail about the body. Serve with the tail feathers upright, its neck propped up from within, and a lighted taper in its beak. If it is a royal dish, cover the beak with fine gold leaf. Carry the proud bird to the table at the head of a procession of lower dishes for to be sampled first by the monarch. Serve with ginger sauce.”

If you try this dish, be sure and let me know! How do you celebrate the holidays???

Thanks for being with us today, Amanda.

You can pre-order The Winter Queen at Amazon! But Amanda tells me she'll give away a copy to one lucky person who leaves a comment here today!

And speaking of give-aways, be sure to enter my Merry CHRISTMAS BALL Contest! On December 1st, I'm giving away a $100 B&N gift card!


Carrie said...

I love all the Christmas details! And I really look forward to The Winter Queen! Thanks!

EmilyBryan said...

The Elizabethans did know how to party. But I think I'll pass on the peacock!

Amanda McCabe/Amanda Carmack/Laurel McKee said...

LOL--no peacock for me, either. I also have a recipe for Twelfth Night Cake, which sounds a bit like modern fruit cake--much more my speed. :)

Jerrica Knight-Catania said...

Amanda, this is a definite must-read for me! I absolutely cannot wait! Christmas is my favorite time of year - my husband thinks I'm crazy because I actually start playing Christmas music is October (okay, it was late September this year). Typically, we go south to Atlanta to celebrate the holiday with my family, but this year, Christmas is about a week away from my due date, so we're forced to stay in the north. It will be hard to be away from my family, but I think it would be pretty great if our first born (it's a girl!!!) came a teensy bit early and gave us a nice Christmas surprise :)

Jane L said...

Good Morming ladies!

It has been fun and exciting to follow the writers through the Christmas journey this year! I was feeling a little sad about the holidays yesterday. I had dropped off a big bag at our local food shelf and it made me think of how elaborate our holiday dinners are and how others are not so fortunate. So if it is ok Emily I am going to request everyone please donate to your food shelf this year, excpecially this year in this bad economy!
My favorite Christmas tradition BAKING!! But no baking Peacocks at my house! LOL!

Barbara Monajem said...

If someone will give me the peacock, neck already broken, drained and skinned, I'll bake it, no problem! You're all invited to partake. Someone else will have to provide the not-so-subtlety, though.

Actually, I've always wanted to try a turducken (a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey). Well, except for the deboning part, but you can buy them ready to bake for $80 or so. I'm pretty sure they did this sort of dish in Elizabethan times -- the Shakespeare club at my college did something of the sort one year. Pigeon inside of chicken inside of goose inside of lamb inside of boar inside of ox...

Love the cover on your book, Amanda!

J said...

I always enjoy reading about various Christmas traditions. There are so many of them. And Christmas is a fun setting for books. Looking forward to getting the chance to read The Winter Queen!

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily & Amanda :)
Thank you for the great post.
I love learning about the past.
All the best,

CrystalGB said...

Great post. My family all celebrates Christmas at my parents house. It is always a lot of fun.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

Wow, how interesting with all the Christmas tidbits, but I'm with Emily, I'll skip the peacock. Best of luck with your Christmas release!

Susan/DC said...

The peacock recipe made me think of the deboned duck that almost does in Julie in "Julie & Julia". She saves it for last of the 500+ Julia Child recipes she cooks in one year, but, in the end, it's worth it. Wonder if the peacock is also worth the effort?

Love the cover of "The Winter Queen" and look forward to seeing it on the bookshelves on the first.

I work in a very international group, where only a minority are Christians. As a result we don't much go in for Christmas cookie exchanges and such, but the upside is that among the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. in the department we have many holidays to acknowledge and enjoy. Happy holidays, no matter which ones you all celebrate.

EmilyBryan said...

Jerrica--Sounds like you've got the best gift on the way to your house! Have a happy baby!

Jane L--I so agree. The need is great and we'll all feel better if we share. I love the opening to LITTLE WOMEN, where the girls take their own breakfast to the hungry family. We're not used to that level of sacrificial giving, but we'd be better for it.

Barbara--Looking forward to your visit here next week!

J--Christmas has always seemed romantic to me because it's my parent's anniversary as well!

RK--Part of the joy of writing historicals is the research!

Crystal--I'll be celebrating with my parents this year too.

Stacey--It's those little details that really transport us to another time, isn't it?

Susan--I respect the belief systems of others, but enjoy celebrating my own. Since I've been in Boston, I've been wished Happy Hanukkah many, many times. I always smile and return the wish in the spirit it's meant. Which is what I hope folks will do when I wish them Merry Christmas.

Linda Henderson said...

I love Christmas books and I really enjoy learning about holiday traditions from the past and present from other countries or cultures. I think I would have to pass on the peacock too. My mother used to raise them. Although after listening to them for a while you might want to wring their neck. They are great watchdogs. Anything moves, they make noise. We always have a big feast early afternoon on Christmas day after opening presents.

Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda, I love Christmas books and can't wait to get this one. I don't think I want a bird of any kind cooked with the feathers on it, so I'll pass on that too. What I love most about Christmas is having Christmas dinner with my family and we have a little of everything. Your book sounds great.

Amanda McCabe/Amanda Carmack/Laurel McKee said...

LOL on the turducken, Barbara! I actually watched Paula Deen cook this on her show not long ago, and it looked--bizarre. At least it didn't have feathers on it, though.

One of my very favorite parts of the holiday is the music (I listened to the Baltimore Consort's CD of Renaissance Christmas music a lot while writing this book)

Shelley said...

Fantastic details! They make me even more excited to read this book. I do believe I will pass on the peacock, though....;)

Amy Kathryn said...

I love christmas...the music, the smells, the time spent with family, and the movies! Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th street, Tim Allen's Santa Clause, any version of Silver Bells and O Holy Night, cinnamon, peppermint...

I wonder what the peacock smells like?

Amanda McCabe/Amanda Carmack/Laurel McKee said...

Hmmm--maybe like chicken? :)

Patricia Barraclough said...

I knew they served peacock and swan with the head and feathers on display but had not seen the directions. I have 2 peacocks, a peahen and a chick, but none of them will be gracing a table any time soon. We have fixed a variety of meats for Christmas, depending on our plans. We've had ham, crown roast of pork, a standing rib roast, to name a few. Not sure what we will do this year.
I love Christmas historicals. I buy new ones each year and add them to my pile. Every year I reread them.
Good luck with The Winter Queen. I'll be looking for it.

The Brunette Librarian said...

Isn't it funny how different life is but how similar it is too? Decades have went by and still we have the same festivals...although the menu has changed a bit. :) Loved today's post...not sure if I'm gonna try the recipe but I may get ambitious!

rachie2004 @ yahoo (d0t) com

Caffey said...

I adore Amanda's book and so love those set in the holidays. This book cover and blurb is just so beautiful!! I got goose bumps reading about this! And reading about the traditions and history then! I learn so much from reading historical romances! I'd love to be in the contest! Thank you!


Caffey said...

I was so excited that I didn't add about my Christmas traditions! Since losing my mom near Christmas a few years ago, I had a friend who gave me an Angel ornament to help me through the holiday in memory of my mom. Ever since, my kids/hubby have gotten me a new angel ornament to add to the tree and we add memories of my mom and others that that angel is dedicated to.

Lyoness2009 said...

Who doesn't enjoy a Christmas story? This one sounds fun and I'm definetly in the mood. Fun interview too, enjoyed hearing about Christmas festivities that have happened in the past.

lyoness2009 AT hot mail **dot** COM

Carol L. said...

Thank you Amanda for all the info. They sure did know how to party. But there is no wayyyyyyyy I would cook that Peacock. uugghh I'm gagging. lol My God didn't they eat Pidgeon too ?

I'm going to go to your web site and read more and check out your recipes.
I love Christmas and everything about it. The sounds and smells are so prominent in my mind once the holidays start. Thanks for sharing.
Carol L.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks so much Amanda for sharing this fascinating history with us. We'll look forward to THE WINTER QUEEN!

Everybody else--I'll be in touch with AM and will post the winner here soon, so please check back! Thanks for commenting!

Glynis Peters said...

What a wonderful post! So full of delightful tidbits of history. Another book for my wish list!

I have a neighbours Peacock that needs its neck breaking...I will let you know what it tastes like. :0 LOL

We try and keep Christmas as we would have done in the UK. Turkey and the trimmings. We also introduce a few Cypriot ideas, such as the Christmas breads and cake. Oh and village wine. ;0
Giggling Glynis @

robynl said...

we do the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, jelly salad, buns, etc. Mom's fruit cake followed as dessert. Sometimes we had Trifle.

I'll pass on the Peacock.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

The Peacock Recipe would be daunting. The book sounds delightful. THE WINTER QUEEN, the name is great.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog!

Amanda asked me to pick a winner and my DH drew a name out of the hat:

Stacey Joy Netzel!

Please contact me through with your mailing info and I'll pass it on to Amanda!