A Christmas Dinner Without a Maid

from Ladies Home Journal 1905

(The following is sensible advice for the homemaker serving dinner without the benefit of a maid. Maybe they let the maid off for Christmas or didn't have a full complement of hired help. In any case, the housewife was on her own and the work was daunting. In 1905, folks didn't have refrigerators or electric ovens. An icebox was state of the art. Women cooked on a woodstove and stored their prepped food in the cellar or a screened pantry on the back porch. We particularly enjoyed the admonition to carry on quietly. Ed.)

Hoosier Kitchen circa 1910

Hoosier Kitchen Cabinet - 1910

If people in moderate circumstances are to make the Christmas dinner enjoyable to themselves and their guests the must follow the lines of cooking and serving with which they are most familiar.

The housewife usually feels that the success of her company or her special dinners rests on the novel dishes presented; not so, however, with the Christmas dinner. It has remained unchanged for many generations. Christmas dinner would not be attractive or acceptable without the oyster soup, turkey or goose, plum-pudding and sugar-plums; in fact, the perfect Christmas menu uses the luxuries which are in season, without great expenditure of time or money, and such accessible and appropriate decorations as holly, mistletoe, ground pine and partridge berry.

The pudding should be made the first week in December and put aside to ripen. The sand tarts and ginger-snaps are better for a two weeks' standing in a tin box. The candies must be fresh; make them not earlier than the twenty-third, and keep them dry. Cranberry jelly will keep well two days; in fact it moulds all the better if kept perfectly cold. Draw and truss the turkey the day before. Sweet potatoes may be boiled, peeled and put aside ready for browning, celery washed an put in cold water, or, if to be used for salad, cut, put it in a towel, and then in a cold place. Make the mayonnaise, if you have it, the day before, also the hard sauce. Cook the giblets, chop them and put them back into the water in which they were boiled.

Make your plans carefully beforehand

To serve a dinner without a maid requires great forethought and careful arrangement. Do the bulk of the rough work the day before. A light breakfast on Christmas morning will give several hours for arranging the dining-room and finishing the things that must be done at the last moment.


Oyster or tomato soup
Roasted turkey, giblet sauce, cranberry sauce
Browned sweet potatoes
Creamed onions
Waldorf salad in red apples
Salted crackers
Plum pudding, hard sauce

After finishing the usual morning work, arrange the dining-room, set the table, get out all the necessary china, carry the piece to be heated at once to the kitchen and place the others on the side-table. See that the whole house is warm and light. Go then to the kitchen, cut the potatoes into halves lengthwise, put them into a pan with butter and sugar and stand them aside ready to brown. Put the turkey into the pan; peel the onions and put them into cold water. Turn out the cranberry sauce and place it with the serving-dishes on the dining room table. It would save time to mould the cranberry sauce in individual moulds. The could then be turned into small saucers and put at each place. Scoop out the apples and cover the shells with water to prevent discoloration. Cut the flesh of the apples and put it in a cold place with the celery. Open the jar of olives and put them into cold water; drain the oysters; put the coffee into the pot ready to cook at the last moment, pour the cream into the pitcher, if you use it; see that the sugar-bowl is filled, and fix the fire.

To save you steps during dinner

This preparatory work will take about an hour and a half. I know so well about all this, as I have served many such dinners and without a maid. Rest a while and then dress, pulling over your dress a large, long-sleeved apron. Look at the fire and see that there is plenty of hot water. Now arrange the salted crackers and the olives and take them to the dining-room; place the olives and candies on the table. On the side-table place the salted crackers, fruit, raisins, almonds, the salad, dished, and the hard sauce.

Put the turkey into the oven; it will require from two hours and a half to three hours to roast. The onions will cook in one hour; the pudding takes one hour, also the potatoes. Arrange to have all done and hot at serving-time. It will take only fifteen minutes to make the soup, and it may be kept hot over boiling water for five minutes without harm. Dish the turkey and make the giblet sauce in the pan. Dish all the vegetables and put them to keep warm. Carry the bread and butter to the table—that is, if you serve butter for dinner. It saves time and confusion if you put a bit of bread on each napkin; or, if you use bread-and-butter plates, put a ball or square of butter and a bit of bread on each. Turn the soup into the tureen, carry it to the table, take off your apron and announce dinner. Take your seat, serve the soup and enjoy it with your guests. After this remove the plates and slip quietly to the kitchen, bring in the turkey with warm plates, and put both before the host. Put the vegetables on the table. Take your seat, resume conversation, as though you had not left the table. Dish the cranberry sauce while the turkey is being served. The vegetables may be helped or passed.

At the end of this course remove everything from the table except the olives and candies. Of course the salad is on individual dishes; place them quietly and take your seat.

After this course go to the kitchen and turn out the pudding, pour the boiling water over the coffee and bring both pudding and coffee to the table. Place the cups, the pudding and sauce, the coffee and serving dishes in front of yourself. Serve the pudding, and for convenience, place the dessert-plate on a small service-plate. Now pour the coffee; use the service plates for raisins and nuts; You need not get up again; the pudding-plates may be lifted to the side, not removed from the table. Sit and enjoy it all yourself. Under no circumstances remain away from the table while a course is being eaten.

If you carefully analyze all this you will see at once that such a dinner can be easily and quietly served, and be quite as satisfying as the most complex dinner served by a host of servants. The little dinner daintily cooked and served is, after all, the most attractive. A Christmas dinner is the great yearly social reunion, not a mere feeding.

SOURCE: Rorer, Mrs. R. T. "A Christmas Dinner Without a Maid." Ladies Home Journal, Vol. XXIII No. 1 (December 1905) 38.

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