An Essay on Christmas Pye

24th December 1760
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LITTLE JACK HORNER, SAT IN A CORNER, EATING OF CHRISTMAS PIE; HE PUT IN HIS THUMB, AND HE PULLED OUT A PLUM (the old word for a raisin) AND SAID – WHAT A GOOD BOY AM I! As published in the Dublin Courier on Wednesday 24 December 1760.

An Essay Upon Christmas Pye

I presume need not say anything of the high and grateful favour, whereby the Christmas Pye recommended itself to the universal taste of both senses; But I cannot forbear wondering, since we can be so well furnished with this rich and nourishing food, that there should be any such thing as a fricassee or ragout in the kingdom; and that we should be so foolishly fond of foreign fashions as at the expense of our constitutions, to imitate the cookery of a fantastical nation whose natural scarcity of provisions puts them upon tossing up the little that they have a hundred ways to supply as well as they can their want of the Irish plenty. 

There is something in the crust of this pye too remarkable to be passed by; that is, the regularity of the figures into which it usually raised; which seem to owe their original to the martial genius of our nation. For in many of them, the rules of military architecture are observed with that exactness, that each of them would serve for the model of fortification; and a board of well-raised pies looks like so many castles in miniature. From whence I conjecture, that it might have been anciently the amusement of our Irish ladies, while their spouses and lovers were engaging their enemies abroad, to describe in paste, the glorious dangers they encountered; and that it might be their custom to form these pies from the public draughts of the towers and castles, against which they expected them to march, that they might have the pleasure of storming and taking them, in effigy. 

As to the reason why this dish is most in vogue at this time the year, some are of opinion, that it is owing to the barrenness of the season that there being little or no fruit remaining for any variety of tarts, and the scarcity of milk denying any affluence of cheesecake and custard, therefore the ladies, being at a lots for dessert, invented this excellent compound. 

But I rather think, from its regularly making its revolutions with the present festivity, that it bears a religious kind of relation to it, and that from thence it had its name. What confirms in this opinion, the opposition it meets with from a particular class of people, who distinguish their feasts this time by a certain sort of Pudding, known by their name, inveighing against Christmas Pie, as a hodgepodge of superstition, the devil and all his works. 

I am particularly concerned to take notice of another sort people, who, while they indulge themselves in the free enjoyment of this excellent food, are for cutting out the clergy from having any share in it; under the pretence that a sweet tooth and a liquorish palate are inconsistent with the sanctuary of their character. Against these persons, the famous Bickerstaff rose up, and with s becoming zeal defended the chaplains of noblemen, attacked in this tender point and asserted their ancient and undoubted right to Christmas Pye. After having exposed the injustice of such encroachment, he rallies those who had been guilty of it, very agreeably. "The Christmas Pye," says he, "is in its own nature, a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction; and yet 'tis often forbidden to the Druid of the family. Strange! that a Sirloin of Beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire, is exposed to his utmost depredations and incisions but if minced into small pieces, and tossed with plumbs and sugar, changes its property, and forsooth is meat for his master.” 

I must beg pardon of the ladies, for presuming to offer them my thoughts upon a subject which they must needs understand much better than myself: But if they think I have been impertinent, they may at the same time take their revenge upon me, and bring my dissertation nearer to its subject, by putting it under the next Pye they raise. 

Yours, &c. Clericus       Dublin Courier (Wednesday 24 December 1760


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