From Ed­ward VII’s overblown lunches to Ge­orge V’s favourite cur­ries and a shock for our cur­rent queen – a cap­ti­vat­ing book shares de­li­cious rev­e­la­tions about how gen­er­a­tions of mon­archs have taken their meals

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - DYNASTIES PART TWO -

The Queen is not a fussy eater, but she once left a terse re­proach to her kitchen staff af­ter her meal. On a torn- off sheet from the com­ments book that con­veys her ap­pre­ci­a­tion – or not – to her chef, Her Majesty had care­fully po­si­tioned a dead slug. ‘I found this in the salad – could you eat it?’ the Queen had writ­ten on the pad.

Mostly, how­ever, the book re­mains blank as she is not one to com­plain. The Queen’s taste in food is much sim­pler than you might think, as Din­ner At Buck­ing­ham Palace – a fas­ci­nat­ing com­pi­la­tion of recipes, menus and rem­i­nis­cences from a royal ser­vant whose ca­reer spanned sev­eral reigns – re­veals. Most royal dishes are so un­com­pli­cated, de­spite their French names, that they could be pre­pared by any rea­son­ably com­pe­tent cook. The foot­men who take dishes to the royal ta­ble main­tain that it’s the sort of food you would ex­pect at a good but rea­son­ably priced restau­rant. The fact that a dish may be writ­ten down in the royal menu book as Côtelettes d’Agneau Jar­dinière doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean some­thing ex­trav­a­gant – it’s still lamb chops with veg­eta­bles.

The Queen reg­u­larly se­lects menus from a list of sug­ges­tions writ­ten by the royal chef (cur­rently Mark Flana­gan), pre­sented in a red leather-bound book. She marks her se­lec­tion in pen­cil, strik­ing out dishes she doesn’t want and writ­ing in al­ter­na­tives. When a menu book is full, it is sent to the palace li­brary where scores of th­ese books are filed. With their pen­cilled-in notes and sug­ges­tions, they form a unique record of the eat­ing habits and fan­cies of many gen­er­a­tions of Bri­tish roy­alty.

The menu book of­fers three cour­ses a meal – fish, meat and a sweet or savoury to fin­ish – but when the Queen dines alone she of­ten or­ders only one course, or even just a snack like flakes of smoked had­dock in scram­bled egg on toast. It’s a far cry from the past when her an­tecedents grazed on a gar­gan­tuan spread of elab­o­rate dishes at ev­ery meal.

Din­ner At Buck­ing­ham Palace re­flects the culi­nary habits of the Royal Fam­ily from the reign of Queen Vic­to­ria to El­iz­a­beth II. Its author Char­lie Oliver, like his fa­ther be­fore him, was part of the Royal House­hold serv­ing the needs of the monarch. Born c1884 (no one knows ex­actly when), Char­lie would have known – if only from a re­spect­ful dis­tance – Mon­sieur Juste Alphonse Me­nager, who was chef to Queen Vic­to­ria dur­ing the last decade or so of her reign and later to her gour­man­dis­ing son Ed­ward VII.

Char­lie was fas­ci­nated by the royal kitchens, keep­ing end­less notes, record­ing ev­ery de­tail and amass­ing a vast col­lec­tion of recipes and menus, from in­ti­mate fam­ily meals to grand royal oc­ca­sions. Hav­ing been gravely wounded dur­ing the First World War – the only break in his long royal ser­vice – he de­vel­oped a speech im­ped­i­ment which brought him even closer to the royal fam­ily cir­cle as ‘Ber­tie’ – later King Ge­orge VI – also had a stam­mer. Char­lie’s dili­gence and end­less good hu­mour en­deared him to the king and his wife El­iz­a­beth Bowes- Lyon (the Queen Mother), and by the 1940s he was right­hand man to the Mas­ter of the House­hold, Sir Piers Legh, who was re­spon­si­ble for all the do­mes­tic work­ings of palace life. Char­lie’s am­bi­tion was that his culi­nary mem­oir should be pub­lished as ‘a cook­book with a dif­fer­ence’, his only stip­u­la­tion be­ing that this should not hap­pen un­til af­ter his death. In fact, af­ter he died in 1965, his vast col­lec­tion lay for­got­ten in an at­tic un­til the 1990s.

Char­lie had wit­nessed an era of great change. For King Ed­ward VII, af­ter a sub­stan­tial cooked break­fast, lunch for six peo­ple might in­clude cold pheas­ant, a cou­ple of par­tridges, two hot roast fowls and hot beef­steaks. Din­ner al­ways fea­tured a choice of at least two soups, whole salmons and tur­bots, vast sad­dles of mut­ton and sir­loins of beef, roast tur­keys, sev­eral kinds of game such as wood­cocks, plovers and snipe, a large ar­ray of veg­eta­bles, per­haps some dev­illed her­ring and cream Left: cur­rent royal chef Mark Flana­gan at Wind­sor. Above: the Wind­sor kitchens as drawn in 1894 cheese, an as­sort­ment of pas­tries and enor­mous Stil­ton and Cheshire cheeses. This would be ac­com­pa­nied by an abun­dance of wines, fol­lowed by nuts and pre­served fruits, then Madeira, port or sherry.

Even when he vis­ited the the­atre, Ed­ward in­sisted on a one-hour in­ter­val so he could do jus­tice to the six sup­per ham­pers de­liv­ered to his box, con­tain­ing del­i­ca­cies such as cold clear soup, lob­ster may­on­naise, cold trout, plovers’ eggs, cold duck, chicken, lamb cut­lets, ham and tongue, a se­lec­tion of sand­wiches, plus a choice of some four desserts and Parisian pas­tries – all served on gold plates.

But af­ter Ed­ward’s death, royal ap­petites be­came more re­strained. Ge­orge V, who’d spent time in In­dia, loved Bom­bay duck (which is ac­tu­ally dried fish, not duck) and was happy to eat curry, pre­pared by In­dian staff, ev­ery day. And then the First World War changed ev­ery­thing. The king and queen in­sisted on ra­tioning in the palace even be­fore it was in­tro­duced through­out the coun­try in 1918. Queen Mary al­lowed no more than two cour­ses for break­fast, and when the king pro­hib­ited al­co­hol, the royal chef, scan­dalised, asked what he should serve in­stead. Queen Mary wrote back, ‘Sugar wa­ter. Serve wa­ter, boiled with a lit­tle sugar.’ And this is what guests drank un­til ra­tioning was grad­u­ally lifted by 1920.

The present Queen’s fa­ther Ge­orge VI was an­noyed when, dur­ing the aus­ter­ity years that fol­lowed the Sec­ond World War, a chef got drunk and burned the din­ner he was pre­par­ing for a small pri­vate party. As the royal cup­board was bare, the king is­sued an in­struc­tion to send out to the near­est ho­tel for a take­away for four. Noth­ing more was said and the chef was for­given.

Like her fa­ther, the Queen is no foodie and her taste is for quite

or­di­nary food. She rarely has break­fast in bed and prefers Spe­cial K ce­real with fruit or toast and mar­malade, served with tea ( Dar­jeel­ing, Earl Grey or As­sam) and a jug of fresh or­ange juice. If she has eggs for break­fast, she in­sists that a brown egg tastes bet­ter.

On one morn­ing visit the Queen’s

host­ess, a diplo­mat’s wife, of­fered cham­pagne or sherry – but the Queen spot­ted a sil­ver teapot and con­fided, ‘ We are nearly al­ways of­fered some­thing al­co­holic when we visit peo­ple in the morn­ing, you know, but what I re­ally do like is a nice cup of tea.’ Prince Philip would al­ways pre­fer to have a gin and tonic or a lager to cham­pagne.

For at least three gen­er­a­tions, the Queen’s tea ser­vices and sil­ver­ware were jeal­ously guarded by an el­derly, be­spec­ta­cled spin­ster known as Mag-

gie Smith, whose un­of­fi­cial ti­tle was Queen’s Tea Maker – though, in fact, she did no such thing. She kept ev­ery­thing locked away in a cab­i­net that no­body, not even Prince Philip, dared to go near. Her finest hour each year was at Christ­mas at San­dring­ham when she be­came of­fi­cial toast-maker for the royal caviar. The Royal Fam­ily don’t of­ten in­dulge in caviar but it’s al­ways a Christ­mas treat. Mag­gie would en­sure that the toast was just right, pac­ing the kitchen and in­sist­ing

that the un­der-but­ler re­mained on hand to trans­port it as soon as it was ready.

Mag­gie’s pre­cious tea things were counted in and out to en­sure that noth­ing went miss­ing. Only two cups and saucers were left out overnight, those used for the drink that Prince Philip makes for the Queen be­fore they set­tle down for the night.

The mag­nif­i­cent gold and sil­ver plate is only used on oc­ca­sions like state ban­quets. But the Queen likes to serve dainty sand­wiches on gold plates when she en­ter­tains her guests with film shows at Buck­ing­ham Palace. The Queen’s drinks tray, too, is quite a con­ver­sa­tion piece when she has guests: it fea­tures pho­tos of four of her favourite race­horses along with their jock­eys.

The Queen gives eight or nine in­for­mal lunches ev­ery year for guests from a wide va­ri­ety of back­grounds. They sit down to four cour­ses and a typ­i­cal menu of­fers smoked salmon, roast veal with peas and car­rots, ap­ple meringue and cheese and bis­cuits. ‘ I had thought it would be a tof­fee-nosed af­fair, but it turned out to be a happy fam­ily lunch,’ com­mented one busi­ness ty­coon. ‘The Queen made me feel ab­so­lutely at home. She took me to the win­dow to look at the gar­den and laughed a great deal when I said it would be a prime site for devel­op­ment.’

From an early age, Prince Charles was in­ter­ested in cook­ing and regu-

larly vis­ited the kitchens to help by fetch­ing and car­ry­ing and weigh­ing in­gre­di­ents. He would also stand guard over ket­tles and saucepans to warn when they were com­ing to the boil. Princess Anne was far less keen and only helped spo­rad­i­cally. While at board­ing school, how­ever, she ac­quired a taste for fish and chips, served the tra­di­tional way – out of news­pa­per. The chil­dren’s treat when their great-grand­mother

Queen Mary was still alive was to be al­lowed to choose a choco­late from the big box that she al­ways had be­side her as she was work­ing her tapestries.

Prince Philip of­ten used to re­turn from vis­its abroad with new recipe ideas. One royal chef, Ron­ald Aubrey, knew that if a new dish didn’t ar­rive at the ta­ble ex­actly as the prince re­mem­bered it, there would be a visit to the kitchens and a

dis­cus­sion about what went wrong. It was Prince Philip who in­sisted that Mr Aubrey go on a course at the Ritz in Paris to im­prove his skills.

Some­times the prince ex­per­i­mented for him­self. His most am­bi­tious dish was snipe, which he plucked, cleaned and pre­pared af­ter shoot­ing it at San­dring­ham. The meat and game larder in the cold stone base­ment at Bal­moral fea­tures a row of huge re­frig­er­a­tors stocked with all man­ner of joints and plucked birds; there’s prob­a­bly also a cou­ple of stag car­casses hang­ing in sea­son.

In Lon­don, the staff ball at Buck­ing­ham Palace is the so­cial func­tion of the year for the Royal House­hold, and mem­bers of staff are al­lowed to in­vite a guest. At one staff ball soon af­ter the war, Ge­orge VI and Queen El­iz­a­beth en­tered with the princesses – and the queen launched into con­versa-

tion with a young man, ask­ing ‘Where do you come from?’, ex­pect­ing him to name a royal res­i­dence where he was in ser­vice. In a panic, the young man – who was a news-ven­dor from Vic­to­ria Sta­tion in­vited as some­one’s plus-one – blurted out, ‘Ele­phant and Cas­tle, Ma’am.’ The queen smiled and moved on. But he can’t have been as em­bar­rassed as a foot­man at San­dring­ham one New Year’s Eve. As mid­night ap­proached, the Queen Mother was blind­folded to play a kiss­ing game – and in­ad­ver­tently planted a kiss on the blush­ing foot­man in­stead of a fam­ily mem­ber. The Queen Mother laughed louder than any­one – and the foot­man re­cov­ered to join them all in a toast to the New Year.

Adapted by Mary Greene from Din­ner At Buck­ing­ham Palace by Charles Oliver, pub­lished by John Blake, priced £12.99.

‘Charles would stand guard over saucepans’

The Queen tucks into a pic­nic and (far right) the Queen Mother with Princesses El­iz­a­beth and Mar­garet

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