and other Nashville Christmas TraditionsA visit to Andrew Jackson's Hermitage or Adelicia Acklen's Belmont, during the Christmas season, allows one to witness first hand what Christmas was like in antebellum Nashville.
|Christmas at the Hermitage, 1825 - courtesy of TSLA|
Other Nashville homes, Belle Meade Plantation, Traveler's Rest and the Croft house at the Nashville Zoo are also decked out for Christmas and offer special tours at Christmas time.
The following abstracts from various published works on Nashville history relate how Christmas was celebrated in Nashville in times past.
Miss Jane Thomas wrote in Old Days In Nashville,
"For weeks before the old-time Christmas the ladies of the house were preparing for the Christmas dinner: penning up the turkeys to fatten, preparing mince-meat for pies, and making all kinds of pickles, and saving eggs and butter for cakes, making spice rounds, and such things. The week before they would prepare for Christmas festivities by making the pies, jellies, cakes, and plum puddings. They had large fireplaces and burned wood altogether, and on Christmas eve a large backlog that would burn all night was put on the fire. They would all get up about four o’clock in the morning and make a large bowl of egg-nog, and there was merry making by trying to get each other’s “Christmas gift.” At nine o’clock they would have a big breakfast consisting of boiled spareribs, sausages, birds, hominy, light bread, biscuits, corn muffins, coffee, chocolate, and milk."
"A big dinner was always prepared for Christmas. A nice stuffed ham, a big fat turkey nicely roasted, spice round, and pickles and jellies of every kind, and every winter vegetable, and always a plum pudding with rich wine sauce, boiled custard, with whipped cream on it, fruit-cake, pound-cake, sponge-cake, apples, raisins and nuts, and wine, or cordial, and sweet cider, composed a part of most of the dinner. They had such dinners all Christmas week. The young people in the neighborhood would come together and have dances and exchange gifts. The young men would give handsome books to the young ladies, and they would knit the young men pairs of gloves, or give them something that they had made themselves. At night they used to bake apples and put them in sweet cider and ginger-cakes for refreshments. They would play all kinds of games."
"The refreshments at the parties were very different from what they are now: they were very bountiful. There was one table for meat only, and another for candy, cakes, fruit, etc. They always had sillibub and boiled custard. In the center of the table they made a large pyramid of jelly and custards, put up in beautiful glasses. They always had tea, coffee, and chocolate. There was always a large bowl of toddy with baked apples in it, called apple-toddy. Everybody sat down to the table, and at each plate there was a small pie, made in patty-pans. The crust was baked in scalloped patty-pans, and filled with preserves. We had no sardines then, but used chipped beef instead. What was left was given to the servants, and the amount given to them was much greater and much nicer than is prepared now to feed fifty or a hundred people at the parties. At the dinings they had the greatest abundance of everything: meats, vegetables, jellies, and desserts. Boiled puddings of all kinds, with rich sauce, were a favorite dessert."In Journey to Nashville, Alfred Leland Crabb told a story steeped in the rich history of Middle Tennessee . He knew his characters as if he had walked with them. He brought them to life and instilled in many, a love of local history. Food was often a focal point in his books. Crabb's research uncovered just what sort of meal would have been served at various dinners over the first one hundred years of Nashville's existence.
Crabb sets the first big meal shared by the pioneer settlers on Christmas Day of 1799. As the scene begins to unfold at dawn on Christmas morning, we watch through Crabb's eyes. A group of hunters are returning to camp. They were carrying "one of the largest bears any of them had ever seen…." Some of the men were sent ahead to build a roasting pit and light a fire, while others set about to dress the bear and get the meat ready for cooking. The meat was put on spits above wood that had burned to coals, over which was placed lengths of hickory wood. Salt and red pepper was found among the supplies and used as a rub for the meat. Several men take turns making sure the meat cooked properly and does not burn. One man had spied an herb known as "life everlasting" and gathered an armload, to make tea to accompany the meal. After many hours the bear meat was close to done. It was time to make the tea. Men laid stones in the fire and let them heat. A wooden keg was filled with water from a nearby spring. The life everlasting was placed in a second keg. Soon the hot stones were placed into the water and soon it began boil. The boiling water was poured over the herb in the second kettle. Large skillets of corn were being heated on the fire. The meat had been removed from the fire and was being sliced. The men walked up with their tin or wooden plates and were given a slice of meat, and a ladle of corn. Each man dipped his cup into the keg for tea, in which more hot rocks had been placed to keep the tea warm. There was enough meat and corn to fill the bellies of all the men and tea to warm them.Harriet Arnow in Flowering of the Cumberland, tells us
"The Christmas season was marked by firecrackers, general jollity, and above all feasting-turkeys dressed with oysters, baked hams, plum puddings with rich wine sauce, and sillibub*. Country people seldom had the last two or even oysters but there were roasted geese and hams, plates of high stack-pies and cakes of all description, and shotguns and anvil blasts added to the firecrackers."
*(Sillibub, One quart of rich cream beat until frothy, grate one half nutmeg over it, add wine or rum.)
Nashville in the 1890's by William Waller shares this memory,
December 23, 1898, Christmas dinner menus from the Maxell House, Duncan, Tulane hotels… printed in Nashville American. And this, December 23, 1899. Christmas prices at the market house quoted; turkeys, 10 to 12 cents a pound; prime beef, 25 cents; potatoes 20 cents per peck; partridges, 15 cents each. Dinner at the Tulane, included Green Sea Turtle soup, Turkey with Chestnut Dressing, Sweet Breads, Frozen Eggnog and Mince Meat Pie. Click here to see a Maxwell House Christmas menu from 1879.
Nashville union and American, November 26, 1868
|Nashville Union and American, December 1868|
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The following description published in the Knoxville Argus appears in Old Times in Tennessee by Josephus Conn Guild. "Christmas is just upon us again," says the contributor to the Argus, "and its return will awaken in the recollection of many an old settler a melancholy reminiscence of the way it was kept in auld lang syne. What would you give, Mr. Editor, to see a real old-fashioned backwoods Christmas frolic? or a Christmas country dance? or a Christmas quilting? or best of all, a genuine Christmas wedding? I mistake you much if, with all your known appreciation of modern improvement, the bare mention of it has not excited your enthusiasm; and he must have little veneration, indeed, who can think of it without emotion. Why, your town parties, and balls, and soirees, and all that, are nothing in comparison. There is no heart about them—there is still less of nature. But the contrast makes me sad, and I leave it. . ."Nashville union and American. (Nashville, Tenn.) December 27, 1871
Capt. Thatcher, the accomplished and obliging agent of the Adams Express in this city, presented the Union and American with a fine supply of choice, fresh Christmas oysters, which the tasting editor pronounced equal, if not superior, to anything ever imported, while others participating, decided them unsurpassed and entirely wholesome. For these and many other favors we gratefully acknowledge our obligations, wishing the Captain unbounded success and much happiness.
The Christmas Tree Festivals of the Presbyterian, Baptist and St. Anne's Sunday Schools, all of Edgefield, will take place on Thursday night. In connection with the Presbyterian Festival, there is also to be a Concert, in which the two hundred and fifty scholars belonging to that school, and one hundred of the Mission school in North Edgefield, will participate. This reunion will take place at McClure's Hall, and the other festivals at the respective churches.Nashville union and American. (Nashville, Tenn.) December 24, 1872
Yesterday was a busy day in Nashville. Although the mercury in the thermometer manifested a disposition to "get at the bottom of things," the streets were lined from an hour in the morning, with crowds of persons eagerly interested in buying all sorts of articles intended to play a conspicuous part in the festivities of to-day. Respectable heads of families might have been seen passing along the streets, homeward bound, heavily-laden with a heterogeneous collection, picked up at a dozen different establishments and all intended to bring joy and happiness to the hearts of the little ones at home. " Small boys were "abroad in the land" with their stock of stamps, the gradual increase of which has been closely watched for days and weeks past.
Dutiful sons and daughters, who have the good sense to keep in fresh remembrance the Bible injunction to "Honor thy father and mother," visited bookstores and, other establishments and secured the very things which father and mother needed, the gifts being duly presented at an early hour this morning.
Young men who have no homes, or family ties, feeling the instinct of giving strong within them, invested a certain amount of lucre in various and sundry articles to be presented to-day to somebody else's sister.
Then again, there were to be seen here and there upon the streets, an individual who had no thought of spending money upon any one but himself. These chaps required considerable room, as they walked, and it was interesting to observe the look of calm dignity with which they pursued their winding way. It was quite evident that they realized the responsible social position that they filled, and that they were not going to forfeit the respect and esteem of their friends by getting drunk, or doing anything Immoral. A large number of these individuals slept in the calaboose last night.
There was another class upon the streets young men who collected together in groups, as the day closed, for the express purpose of having a "high old time" "jolly young dogs," whose fathers are provided with a sufficiency of funds, which the sons know how to get hold of. These perambulated the streets, visiting this saloon and that, becoming a little more tipsy with each visit, until they were in condition to bring their "high old time" to a termination by indulging In a free fight, which would probably end in their being applicants for the unoccupied bunks in the lock-up.
Christmas eve was generally observed in the city, a vast amount of enjoyment being obtained from numberless entertainments, both private and public.
From the Tennessean Jan. 1, 1910
Georgia boasts the roast 'possum; Virginia, its hoecake; and nearly every other State has some delicacy which is featured especially at holiday time. In Tennessee spiced round is the dish that graces the bountiful Yuletide table. It is essentially a Volunteer State dish.
Middle Tennessee is the home of this delicious meat, and though it has spread to other parts of the state, little is known of it elsewhere. French chefs and schools of domestic science may never have heard of this rare dish, but if they haven't there is a great surprise in store for them. They may well come to Tennessee and learn how to prepare the most delicious cold meat dish ever invented.
For the unfortunate who have never been privileged to combine slices of spiced round with their Christmas turkey, a description of how the meat is prepared may not be amiss.
Choose a select round cut of beef, four of five inches thick, and pickle in brine of salt and saltpeter for two weeks. Prepare round strips of pure pork fat, rolled in spices. With a hollow auger-like instrument force the strips of fat through the beef about an inch apart. The strips of fat are then cut off even where they project from the beef, and the entire piece of meat is sewed into a cloth and boiled until well done. After the meat is thoroughly cooled, slice it thinly in such manner that the meat is dotted with the pork fat and spice.
Beef is not as delicious prepared in any other way. As a matter of fact, spiced round runs good old sweet ham a close second.
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A traditional food during the Christmas season in Nashville is Spice Round, a delicacy especially typical of Middle Tennessee.
There are several firms today that make Spice Round, one of which is the Jacobs Packing Company. Mr. William Jacobs who founded the firm came originally from Whittenburg, Germany. In 1865, at the end of the war, he received his discharge from the army and returned to Nashville, In 1870, he opened a stall in the old Market House. In the 1872 City Directory he is listed as one of the city's butchers.
Mr. George Jacobs tells us that the Jacobs Packing Company packs about 30-40 thousand pounds of Spice Round every season. His recipe came from Hart and Hensley, a packing house established by two Englishmen at lst Avenue and Madison. They packed only in the winter months. The city directory of 1872 lists them as one of two pork packers in the city and gives their location as 725 Market Street.
According to Mr. Jacobs the Maxwell House had Hart and Hensley's Spice Round on the menu around 1865. On the Maxwell House Christmas menu for 1879 there is listed "Hart and Hensley's Spice Round of Beef, en Sockle, Ornamented" and also "Hart and Hensley's (new) C.C.C. Hams."
Another firm whose name has long been a familiar one in the city as a packer of this delicious food is Alex Warner and Son . Today, the firm is operated by two grandsons of the founder of the firm.
The first Warner started in the meat business in Nashville about 1850. The great grandfather of the present owners having come over the-mountains from North Carolina after emigrating from Germany. He had six sons and one daughter who were also in the business with him.
One of the sons, Alex Warner, had married a Swiss miss from the settlement called Little Switzerland which was centered at Tenth Avenue, South and Caruthers Avenue, the present site of Waverly-Belmont School. In 1867, he established his own business at what is now 17th and Heiman Streets. Its large windmill was a landmark in the fast growing city. It was there Mr. Warner originated his famous recipe which is as yet a closely guarded secret by his two grandsons. There are only two people who have the recipe and it is kept under lock and key in the vault at the present location of the firm at 1609 Charlotte Avenue.
Mr. Howell Warner is of the opinion that his grandfather originated the recipe for Spice Round along the idea of the Boar's Head so famous in England. However, according to Mr. Warner there were other German families--the Jacobs, the Fehrs, and the Powers--who had settled in Nashville and had gone into the meat business. They were a closely knit group and possibly discussed together a method to cure and preserve beef.
Mr. Howell Warner says that the famous recipe was developed from necessity. In September of each year the butchers would get a long run on beef round. To take care of the over supply, the rounds were put in brine and as there were no refrigerators, stored in the potato cellar. Then in October at "hog-killing time," there was a run on pork resulting in a surplus of fat from the back-strip. So even in the early days of our city there were surpluses but, thanks to the ingeniousness of our frugal ancestors, the surplus resulted in new and different food treats.
Spice Round is made out of a round steak, not necessarily the choicest piece of beef, cut about ten times as large as a normal steak. The spices were ground in an old coffee grinder, the same method used today, the surplus fat larded throughout the spiced beef with horns, the same sized ones used today. The original recipe called for salt petre, sugar and-salt; however, a commercial curing agent is used today, the basis of which is sodium nitrate. The rounds are then cured, not in the old potato cellar, but in modern refrigerators, from two to three weeks.
The first Spice Rounds were given by Mr. Warner to his friends and customers in boarding houses, restaurants and hotels at Christmas time. Word of mouth advertising spread the praises of this unusual delicacy and people began to try to buy them for their Christmas dinner. This same type advertising has continued until now. The rounds are shipped regularly to Honolulu, England, Austria, Alaska, Canada and practically every state in the forty-eight.
One day the present operators of the business received a call from a prominent lady in the city who had just returned from an extensive trip to Europe. In Vienna, she had been visiting friends and had dined in the most famous restaurants of the city. One evening before attending the opera they decided to dine in the friend's home. To the surprise and enjoyment of the Nashville lady, the piece de resistance at the dinner was a Spice Round cured by Alex Warner and Son in her own home town. (Transcribed by Debie Cox)
Hart and Hensley
General Commission Merchants and Curers of the Celebrated CCC Hams
Bulk meats, bacon, lard, flour, etc.
CCC Hams -- CCC Breakfast Bacon
"Rolled Spiced Beef" and the celebrated pastry lard in all the various sized packages.
Warehouse and Office #72 South Market Street
Pork House - Corner, Front and Madison Street
There was also in this directory a list of butchers in the city some of whose descendants are still making outstanding contributions to the food tastes of our city.
BUTCHERS LISTED IN NASHVILLE CITY DIRECTORY IN 1872
Coe, Adams - Stall #1 Market House
Coleman and Doubleday
Corbett, J. K.
Frith, J. H.
Grizzard, W. T.
Hoff, George & John
Hoffman, A. J.
Houser, F. G.
Jacob, W. M.
Johnston, L. H.
Laitenberger, C. C.
Lopp, L. Lopp, Louis
Majors, W. T.
Power, C. P.
Warner, L. A.
Warner, W. M.-Stall Central Market
Warner, W. M.-25 Market House
Warren, J. G.-Central Market
Hart & Hensley-725 Market St.
Phillips, Hooper & Co.-56 S. Market
The article was published in the Nashville Retropect December, 2009 issue, by Debie Cox. Article was revised and updated for the Nashville History blog by Debie Cox December 2014. Copyright 2001 and 2014.
Spice(d) Round and other Nashville Christmas Traditions by Debie Oeser Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.