The Royal Family dynamics have changed a lot in recent years, but until the passing of Queen Elizabeth II the way they celebrated Christmas at the Sandringham Estate in north-west Norfolk hadn’t changed a lot since Victorian days.
Darren McGrady, personal chef to The Queen for fifteen years, revealed that the Royals tucked into the traditional bird with all the trimmings for their Christmas Day meal at Sandringham – and then settled down in front of the TV to watch Her Majesty’s traditional message to her people.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr McGrady said, ‘Right from my first Christmas, I was in love with and enchanted by Sandringham’.
Mr McGrady revealed his experiences in a fascinating insight.
The Royal Family met on Christmas Eve for afternoon tea at 4pm, often in the ornate saloon with its exquisitely painted ceiling. The tea could include a ginger cake or honey and cream sponge, small cakes and scones, sandwiches (crusts off, served in squares) filled with ham and English mustard, Sage Derby cheese and Branston Pickle or Coronation Chicken, with a pot of Earl Grey.
If you didn’t know, Coronation Chicken was created by renowned florist Constance Spry and cordon bleu chef Rosemary Hume in 1953 to celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth II. It is believed to have been inspired by the Jubilee Chicken created for George V’s 1935 Silver Jubilee and was designed to reflect ingredients of the Commonwealth.
The Royals enjoyed the German tradition of Heiligabend Bescherung, literally ‘Christmas Eve time for exchanging gifts’. The gifts were likely to be jokey and inexpensive.
On Christmas Day, the ladies had a light breakfast – fruit, toast and coffee – delivered to their rooms around 9am, while the men had a traditional breakfast in the dining room at around 8.30am – eggs, bacon and mushrooms, kippers and grilled kidneys.
After church, pre-lunch drinks were served – Veuve Clicquot for everyone, but The Queen had a gin and Dubonnet and Prince Philip used to like a beer. There would be nuts to nibble.
Seats for Christmas Dinner at 1pm were unassigned – even for The Queen.
There was no starter, and the meal was a traditional affair – turkey with mashed and roast potatoes, chestnut or sage and onion stuffing, cranberry sauce and bread sauce, with Brussels sprouts, carrots and roast parsnips.
The turkey traditionally came from Scoles of nearby Dersingham.
The Queen liked to have German Gewurztraminer wine with the meal.
The Christmas pudding, doused in fine brandy and decorated with holly, was carried into the dining room at 2pm by a steward and lit. It was served with brandy butter and brandy sauce.
There were no coins or trinkets in the pudding – for obvious reasons!
This was followed by a cheese course served with port.
The corgis had their own menus, usually involving fresh rabbit, beef or chicken with rice and cabbage.
After Her Majesty’s Christmas address on TV, an afternoon tea was served of Christmas cake, chocolate yule log, mince pies with brandy butter, scones and sandwiches. The favourite chocolate biscuit cake of Prince William, The Prince of Wales, might have featured too.
A dinner buffet of traditional English cuisine was served at 8.15pm and might have included a stuffed boar’s head, ox tongue and boiled and roasted hams, salmon and game, potatoes tossed with hollandaise sauce, sliced tomatoes and green leaves. A separate table had Charbonnel et Walker chocolates and The Queen’s favourites, Bendick’s Bitter Mints.
The men went shooting on Boxing Day and the ladies joined them in a cottage on the estate for a lunch of beef bourguignon or venison stew with mashed potatoes, braised red cabbage, apple pie and Christmas pudding slices fried in unsalted butter.
The evening meal was likely to be venison with dauphinoise potatoes and carrots, followed by a chocolate marquise or a chocolate pie made of cream, meringue and cinnamon.
Lovely food and wine, and the great thing is that Norfolk’s coast and countryside has lots of opportunities to walk it all off!
Read the Mail on Sunday story here.