Williamsburg provides old-fashioned Christmas
If you have been itching to get away during the past several months but the nod to do so wasnât there, let now be that time. If not this year, file the thought for another December to visit one of my favorite yuletide places. It may not have snowy rooftops, but there are sure to be minced pies, plum puddings and mulled wines to help you slip back into the colonial days to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas.
History never gets old in Williamsburg, Va. Itâs where candles flicker after dusk in windows of quaint old homes draped in swags of fresh evergreens. You can hear the jingle of bells on horse-drawn carriages as if keeping in time with the sounds of Christmas carolers. Thereâs always a seat at a table that awaits you to enjoy the traditional fare of an 18th century dinner of duck, turkey or roast beef served with Yorkshire pudding. Guests to the colonial city during the holidays have come to expect special foods, decorations and unique events that arenât available during the rest of the year.
The fragrant pine roping that decks out the place and dazzles the senses is changed about every couple of weeks during the month-long Christmas season in order to keep it staying fresh and looking good. A different kind of wreath adorns each of the old houses, always made of natural materials that would have been found growing in colonial gardens or a product of the period. There will be pine, fruits and berries, magnolia leaves, even tobacco leaves, lotus pods, dried flowers, boxwood, cotton balls and scallop shells woven into the time-period decorations.
When strolling the cobblestone streets, take time to watch the Lighting of the Cressets on Historic Duke of Gloucester Street. Stop to break bread at one of four colonial taverns where costumed waiters and menus serve up Christmas cheer as well as traditional colonial food. Be prepared, even with reservations, that the wait to dine can be a spell since the cozy taverns are small and popular. Should you decide to eat at a tavern, know that Christiana Campbellâs Tavern is famed for its seafood and is said to have been a favorite eating spot of George Washington.
Shieldâs Tavern caters to casual Southern-themed dishes. Chowningâs has maintained its ale house appeal over the years, offering pub fare, and Kingâs Arm Tavern is a chophouse known for its peanut soup.
Prices vary; best to check out the posted menus for what appeals to your taste buds as well as the amount of cash in your wallet.
Be warned; walking is required. Wear good shoes and begin your day early. Parking is limited. Of course, no admission pass is required to stroll the streets or browse the historic shops scattered among the old houses, but itâs a good idea to purchase such a pass that includes the Governorâs Palace, especially if itâs your first visit to Colonial Williamsburg.
This passport of sorts enables you to enter several of the original 88 structures where you can inspect the interiors and take away lots of facts shared by staffed interpreters. Inside the historic shops youâll find sale items such as sealing wax, pottery, crocks, chimney lanterns, tin ware, soaps, teas, wooden utensils, threads, printed paper, colonial cookbooks, candles, colonial hats, replica dinnerware and a mix of board games and jigsaw puzzles.
The Governorâs Palace is a must stop for it is where 18th century opulence reigned and time period cooking demonstrations happen. This residence was once known to house the finest kitchen in all of Virginia. The cooking demonstrations tend to be interesting and varied. I once found myself observing how to clean and prepare a freshly killed wild rabbit.
Find time to grab a colonial-inspired cookie to dunk into a cup of hot chocolate or cider from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop. Cookie flavors include oatmeal, sugar, chocolate chip and, of course, the shopâs famous gingerbread cookies, which sell out quickly. At one time, lantern tours stopped in the dark of the evening at the bakery to allow guests to dive into a wooden barrel to retrieve one of the bakeryâs flour-dusted treats.
Christmas concerts happen at Bruton Parish Church, still an active Episcopal parish dating back to 1715. Check early in the day for performance times as pews fill up quickly.
Donât count on a white Christmas in Williamsburg since average daily highs are around 50 degrees and lows hover in the 30s in December. The Grand Illumination usually takes place the first Saturday in December. Be prepared to enjoy fireworks and holiday sounds that include the fife and drum. Itâs best to arrive early even though most of the dayâs fun doesnât get underway until the afternoon or dusk. These events tend to be well attended.
Food bite: Due to the pandemic, itâs best to check before packing the suitcases for exact dates and hours of events. My most recent visit was this past June. Visitors were returning, but a few of my favorite shops were gone.
May Ball Washington, mother of George Washington, was known to have served this first recipe especially at Christmastime at Mount Vernon. It was believed to have been a favorite of her son, the president.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup brandy
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 orange, grated zest and juice (at least 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup seedless raisins
Grease and dust with flour a 9×13-inch pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream (go on and use the electric mixer) butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add molasses, buttermilk, spices and brandy. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Sift together flour and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs to the flour mixture, alternating with the molasses batter. Juice orange and include zest in another bowl (donât skimp on the orange; you need every bit of the zest and juice to cut the richness of the molasses). Add juice and zest to the batter; mix lightly. From here on out, all mixing is done by hand. Dissolve baking soda in 2 tablespoons warm water and add to batter; blend thoroughly. Toss raisins in a small amount of flour and fold into batter (keeps raisins from sinking to bottom, hopefully). Pour into baking pan and bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool. Serve with whip cream. Yields: 6 to 8 servings.
This next recipe is an easy, tasty addition for holiday entertaining.
CHEESY SHRIMP DIP
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 pound medium fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sliced green onion
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add red bell pepper and cook 3 minutes. Stir in shrimp and green onion; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until shrimp are firm and pink. Stir in sour cream, cheeses and mayonnaise; spoon mixture into a 2-quart baker. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly brown and bubbly. Serve with crackers.
Hereâs a make-ahead holiday treat.
BLACK RASPBERRY CHOCOLATE CHIP
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup Smuckers black raspberry Simply Fruit
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
In mixing bowl, combine everything but the chocolate chips and beat until blended. Add in 1/2 cup chips and mix to distribute. Place mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and twist to form a ball. Freeze for up to 24 hours until it holds its shape. Pour remaining chips into a shallow dish; unwrap ball and roll it in chips to completely cover. Place on plate, cover and freeze for several hours to firm. Serve with vanilla wafers and graham cracker sticks.
When âholiday busyâ sets in, try this quick and easy entrĂŠe.
KAIMU HONEY CHICKEN
Chicken (white or dark meat, boned)
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon mustard
Heat honey, butter and mustard in frying pan. Once heated and mixed together, add chicken and coat all over. Transfer contents into a baking dish and bake 40 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees. White meat takes less time, so donât overcook or the meat will be dry. Serve with steamed rice or potatoes. Itâs easy to increase recipe as needed.
Editorâs note: Last monthâs recipe for Garlic Shrimp Pasta incorrectly listed 12 cups dry white wine as an ingredient. It should have been 1/2 cup dry white wine.
Christmas cheer to all!