Dec 182013


Today is the birthday (1707) of Charles Wesley, English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley. He was father of musician Samuel Wesley and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Despite their closeness, Charles and his brother John did not always agree on questions relating to their beliefs. In particular, Charles was strongly opposed to the idea of a breach with the Church of England into which they had both been ordained. John Wesley was the principle founder of the principles of the Methodist church, Charles is now more known for the hymns he wrote.

Charles Wesley was the son of Susanna Wesley and Samuel Wesley. He was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. At Oxford Charles formed a prayer group among his fellow students in 1727 which his elder brother, John, joined in 1729 soon becoming its leader and shaping it to his own notions. They focused on Bible study, methodical study of scripture and living a holy life. Other students mocked them, saying they were the “Holy Club,” “Sacramentarians,” and “the Methodists,” being methodical and exceptionally detailed in their Bible study, opinions and disciplined lifestyle. George Whitefield, renowned field preacher, also joined this group. After taking a degree in classical languages and literature, Charles followed his father and brother into the church in 1735.


Charles Wesley experienced some form of spiritual revelation on 21 May 1738 – John Wesley had a similar experience in Aldersgate Street just three days later. A City of London blue plaque at 13, Little Britain, near the church of St Botolph’s-without-Alders, off St. Martin’s Le Grand, marks the site of the former house of John Bray, reputed to be the scene of Wesley’s spiritual awakening. It reads, “Adjoining this site stood the house of John Bray. Scene of Charles Wesley’s evangelical conversion May 21st 1738.”

Wesley felt renewed strength to spread the Gospel to the public at large, and it was around then that he began to write the poetic hymns for which he would become known. It wasn’t until 1739 that the brothers took to field preaching, under the influence of George Whitefield, whose open-air preaching was already reaching great numbers of Bristol coal miners.

After ceasing field preaching and frequent travel due to illness, Wesley settled and worked in the area around St Marylebone Parish Church. On his deathbed he sent for the church’s rector John Harley and told him “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” On his death, his body was carried to the church by six clergymen of the Church of England, and a memorial stone to him stands in the gardens in Marylebone High Street, close to his burial spot. One of his sons, Samuel, became organist of the church.


Apart from his (unwilling) co-founding of the Methodist Church, Wesley is remembered for the over 6,000 hymns he wrote, which embody his theology. That is to say, he wrote the words, others wrote the tunes. Many of his hymns are still very popular favorites. The one that seems fitting to play at this time of year is “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

My wife (who was raised Methodist in Kentucky) and I used the term “Methodist food” for anything that was bland and made “creative” use lime jello or tiny marshmallows.  I think this was probably more a comment on southern church potluck suppers in the 60’s than on anything Methodists, in particular, cooked. There is no dish that could be termed “Methodist.” So, instead, I am turning to an 18th century cookbook I just discovered with a marvelously Methodist ring to the title: The Whole Duty of a Woman: Or, an infallible Guide to the Fair Sex containing Rules, Directions, and Observations, for their Conduct and Behavior through all Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, or Widows (1737).  It’s a great read.  The full text is here:


I found in there a suitably seasonal recipe “Plumb-Pottage for Christmas,” a dish I have known about for decades but never seen a recipe for.  It is a Christmas dish that goes back to the Middle Ages and was on its last legs by the 18th century, when it was replaced by Christmas pudding.  If you look at the ingredients for this plum porridge you will see they are virtually identical with Christmas pudding (assuming, that is, you know how to make Christmas pudding). So . . . the great debate nowadays is whether plum porridge evolved into Christmas pudding by taking plum porridge and boiling it in a bag, or was plum porridge replaced by Christmas pudding, which some claim was a French innovation. I suppose your answer will depend on what side of the English Channel your sympathies lies.

Plumb-Pottage for Christmas

To ten Gallons of Water, take a Leg and Shin of Beef, boil it very tender, and when the Broth is strong enough, strain it out, wipe your Pot, and put the Broth in again; slice six French Rolls, the Crumb only, and mittony it, that is, soak it in some of the Fat of the Broth over a Stove a Quarter of an Hour, then put in five Pounds of Currants well washed, five Pounds of Raisins, and two Pounds of Prunes; let them boil ‘till they swell; then put in three Quarters of an Ounce of Mace, half an Ounce of Cloves, two Nutmegs, all of them beat fine, and mix it with a little Liquor cold, and put them in a very little while. Take off the Pot, and put in three Pounds of Sugar, a little Salt, a Quart of Sack, and a Quart of Claret, the Juice of two or three Lemons. You may put in a little Sagoe if you like it.  Pour this into earthen Pans to keep it for Use.

Some comment is in order. First, the quantity is huge. You might think that this is a recipe for a large household, but even in that circumstance the amount is excessive if you are thinking about one meal.  Instead you must think of this as akin to a recipe for mincemeat, that is, a recipe for something you can keep and store for months and use as needed.  The “liquor” the author mentions is not alcohol, but beef broth – there is plenty of alcohol later.  With suitable adjustments in quantities I might give this a whirl this Christmas.