I eat George III’s dinner

Marc and Robert from Historia, the food historians who work at Hampton Court, were cooking dishes from a 1789 menu for George III for Lauren Collins of the New Yorker. Who could resist coming along for a taste? Certain not me and my fellow curator Susanne.

Selecting just the highlights from the great list of dishes served to king on one particular day, we roasted a leg of mutton on the spit in the Great Kitchens at Hampton Court.  Potatoes were roasted in the drip tray below.  Lauren and I turned the spit while the boys were busy in the buttery kitchen upstairs getting the rest of the menu together.



dinner 10Our light lunch began with barley broth, made with the richest beef stock ever … ‘good gravy’ was how it was described in the recipe that we used.  There are no explicitly ‘royal’ Georgian recipes available, so Marc used various contemporary cookbooks.  But we’re not really talking about recipes as we know them – amounts are not measured, timings are pretty inexact.



dinner 12Once the soup was eaten, it was replaced with the fish – in this case, crayfish served with a butter sauce. The butter sauce actually came from a ‘recipe’ for morels (mushrooms) but it seemed equally appropriate to crayfish.  I have to say, they were a bit chewy!  And they floated around rather unattractively in their sea of butter. (Sorry, Marc.)



partridgesAlong with our roast mutton and potatoes, we also had three roast partridges – served with a sauce made out of gravy, boiled bread, and truffles.  I didn’t actually get round to trying the partridges, as I was fully occupied with the roast mutton. But this is the point of a royal meal – there’s superfluity, the table’s bound to contain something that you fancy.  The leftovers will be the prized perks of some lucky servants.

For vegetables, we had a dish of spinach, cooked with ‘sweet butter’, about a pint of cream, and topped with fried bread and poached egg.  It was possibly the least healthy vegetable dish I’ve ever eaten.  (This one Robert’s work).  We carried all the dishes along the cloister and up the 51 stairs to our office, however, burning some of the calories off.

We also had some sharp young claret, and water in our glasses. The food was mostly rather delicious – but amazingly rich, so much so that I found myself in the unprecedented position of not wanting my dinner that night. One point which really struck us all was how similar to modern French cooking this tasted – but how crude and rough and kind of murky it looked.

Today we really eat with our eyes, being surrounded by pretty pictures of food in advertising, and our food is accordingly nice to look at on the plate.

Here are Marc and Robert sampling the claret, once we three ladies had finally persuaded them to stop being our footmen and to sit down!

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