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The fascinating history of Christmas bread sauce

The fascinating history of Christmas bread sauce

Christmas is a time for cherished traditions and culinary delights that bring families together. Among the myriad of festive dishes, there are certain culinary traditions that have stood the test of time and have a rich history stretching back centuries. One such tradition is the enigmatic Christmas Bread Sauce, a relic from the Middle Ages that continues to grace the tables of British households during the festive season.

The origins of Christmas Bread Sauce

Despite its name, Christmas Bread Sauce is not a sauce for bread, but rather a sauce made from bread crumbs or bread remnants. Its roots can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when bread was a staple ingredient used to thicken stews and sauces. At a time when flour and butter roux were not readily available, bread crumbs served as a convenient and effective thickening agent.
At medieval banquets, slices of bread were not only eaten as part of the meal, but were also used as ‘trenchers’ or plates on which to serve the food. The wealthy would discard these savoury slices, which were then given to the less fortunate. The versatility of bread in its various forms allowed it to play a crucial role in balancing the temperatures and textures of a medieval feast.

The making of Christmas bread sauce

The process of making Christmas bread sauce is wonderfully simple. Stale bread is simmered with milk and infused with a medley of flavours, including onions, cloves, garlic and bay leaves. The result is a thick and creamy condiment that adds depth and complexity to a range of dishes. Although it may be unusual in American homes, bread sauce remains a popular accompaniment to the traditional British Christmas dinner.

Christmas Bread Sauce on the Modern Table

Over the centuries, bread sauce has waxed and waned in popularity. In the present day, it continues to hold its place on British Christmas tables, providing a link to the past and evoking a sense of nostalgia. However, food historian Annie Gray notes that the popularity of bread sauce is gradually waning, perhaps due to the rise of alternative condiments such as gravy or a perceived lack of sophistication.
Nevertheless, for those who embrace tradition and seek the comfort of the familiar, bread sauce remains a cherished Christmas delicacy. Its ability to complement a wide range of dishes, from succulent roast turkey to crispy roast potatoes and vibrant Brussels sprouts, makes it a versatile and welcome addition to the festive spread.

Preserving a time-honoured tradition

As the festive season approaches, it is worth reflecting on the enduring appeal of Christmas bread sauce. Its humble origins and connection to medieval culinary practices make it a fascinating piece of gastronomic history. While some traditions may fade with time, the persistence of bread sauce in British homes is a reminder of the importance of preserving cultural heritage and the joy of passing on cherished recipes from generation to generation.
So when you gather around the table this Christmas, consider adding a touch of nostalgia and authenticity to your feast by incorporating this ancient culinary relic. Let the aroma of the spices and the creamy texture of the bread sauce transport you back to a time when simplicity and tradition reigned supreme. Embrace the flavours of the past and create new memories that will last a lifetime.


Christmas Bread Sauce is more than just a condiment; it is a bridge that connects us to the culinary customs of our ancestors. Its enduring presence on British Christmas tables is a testament to the power of tradition and the comfort of familiar flavours. So this festive season, why not pay homage to the past and savour the taste of history with a generous dollop of Christmas Bread Sauce?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Christmas Bread Sauce?

Christmas Bread Sauce is a traditional condiment that dates back to the Middle Ages. Despite its name, it is not a sauce for bread, but rather a sauce made from bread crumbs or scraps. It is typically made by boiling stale bread with milk and adding flavours such as onions, cloves, garlic and bay leaves.

Why is it called bread sauce?

The name “bread sauce” can be misleading. It is called bread sauce because it is made with bread as one of the main ingredients. However, it is not a sauce to be poured over bread, but rather a savoury condiment to be used with a variety of dishes.

What does Christmas bread sauce taste like?

Christmas Bread Sauce has a creamy and slightly thick consistency. It has a subtle, comforting flavour with hints of onion, garlic and spices. It adds depth and complements the flavours of the dishes it accompanies, such as roast meats and vegetables.

Is bread sauce only served at Christmas?

Although bread sauce is closely associated with Christmas in British culinary tradition, it can be enjoyed at other times of the year. However, it is most commonly prepared and served during the festive season as part of a traditional British Christmas dinner.

Can I make the bread sauce in advance?

Yes, Bread Sauce can be prepared ahead of time. In fact, allowing the flavours to meld overnight can enhance the taste. Simply store in an airtight container in the fridge and warm gently before serving.

Can I change the flavour of the bread sauce?

Yes, you can customise the flavours of the Bread Sauce to your liking. While the traditional recipe includes onions, cloves, garlic and bay leaves, you can experiment with additional spices or herbs to suit your taste. Some variations include nutmeg, cinnamon or even a touch of white wine for added complexity.

What dishes go well with bread sauce?

Bread sauce is a versatile condiment that complements a wide range of dishes. It is traditionally served with roast meats such as turkey, chicken or beef. It also adds flavour and creaminess to roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables. Feel free to experiment and discover your own favourite combinations!

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