Hampton Court Palace's kitchens were last used for royalty during the reign of George II, who died in 1760. © Crown copyright and Historic Royal Palaces
If you’ve ever wondered what was on the menu at an old-fashioned king’s banquet, then Hampton Court Palace is the place to head. Its Georgian Treats weekends, running throughout the year, are aiming to show what the grace and favour residents at the palace ate more than 250 years ago.
The Whitsun Bank Holiday saw the first of these culinary weekends and the kitchens will also be bringing Georgian delicacies to life on July 2-3, September 3-4 and October 1-2 2005.
“The work we do here is best described as ‘experimental archaeology’,” explained Marc Meltonville, who heads the interpretation team at the kitchens. Marc has worked at the kitchens for the last five years in what is being termed ‘educational theatre’ providing both entertainment and learning for thousands of visitors, and also bringing the kitchens to life.
The 'interpreatation team' at the palace have travelled extensively in their search for historically accurate recipes. © Crown copyright and Historic Royal Palaces
“We base the interpretation around preparation and presentation, we wear costume and use props appropriate to the period, but it’s the kitchens that are very much the star of the show,” added Marc.
All members of the team (who incidentally are all male, as historically and physically these kitchens were no place for women) are involved in the preparation of the food. It is made to original recipes, researched by Marc and his colleague Richard Pitch, both of whom have travelled extensively in their quest for historical authenticity.
On arriving at the kitchens I was instantly mesmerized by the sight and smell of a chocolate making display. One of the main features, it has the female guests agog, according to chef David, who was wielding the solid marble roller that crushes and melts the cocoa beans.
The chocolate making display is a firm favourite with visitors. © Crown copyright and Historic Royal Palaces
Onwards to the main course, chickens were being stuffed with bacon, herbs and anchovies, all heading for the grand fire to be spit roasted. Lumps of pure beef, skimmed of all bone, fat and gristle and fashioned into generous cakes were jokingly introduced by Richard as Georgian ‘burgers’.
After preparing the food the team sit down to actually eat everything that they have cooked, with visitors encouraged to come up and ask questions.
“We aren’t taking on roles, we are simply there to answer any questions. People can be a little shy, but we want them to come right up, see the food, learn about its preparation, and I like to think that we inspire some people to go home and try out some of our recipes,” said Marc.
It's not all slaving over a hot stove - the team get their creations as well. © Crown copyright and Historic Royal Palaces
The re-enactment aims to show the meals made and served in the kitchens at the time of King George II, who reigned from 1727-1760, which was the last time that they were used for the royal household. The menu was varied but heavily meat based, and the spit roast chickens turned in the great fire were a focal point, with team member Ross enthusiastically getting eager youngsters to have a go at turning the spit - no easy feat, as many of them discovered!
The proceedings are kept as authentic as possible, with period-style cutlery and cooking utensils, but certain sacrifices have to be made. “We obviously don’t use original items,” laughed Marc, “I’m not sure that would go down very well with the palace.”
Actually seeing the kitchens in action adds so much to them and with books and television programmes ever devoted to food and its presentation, it is good to know that our predecessors were just as passionate about what they ate as we are today.
So with recipes firmly under my belt, I headed home to try and create my own gourmet delights.