East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

Food fit for a Queen…

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a roast turkey for dinner – or so said 87% of people surveyed recently by the British Turkey Information Service, which spends much of its time around now fielding queries about how long a turkey will take to thaw (as two out of every three turkeys now sold in the shops are frozen) and how long to cook it. 

The Temple Magazine, December 1896

It is King Edward VII who is credited with making turkeys fashionable fare for Christmas dinner, just as his father Prince Albert is said to have introduced the Christmas tree to Britain from his native Germany. The Royal Christmas was widely reported in the press by the end of the 19th century, so we know that in 1896 Queen Victoria and her guests at Osborne on the Isle of Wight dined not on turkey but the traditional trio of a baron of beef, a boar’s head and a woodcock pie, albeit on a more modest scale than in the past. 

The Temple Magazine tells us that ‘the more modern arrangements’ of the kitchen at Osborne House ‘do not admit of such big roastings’ as were customary when the Queen spent Christmas at Windsor Castle, where the ‘famous baron of beef… cut from an ox bred and fed on the Queen’s own farm at Windsor… is roasted at an immense open fireplace, a relic of olden times before modern ranges and gas stoves came into use… when its capacious grate was filled with burning fuel it must look a veritable Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. When the baron of beef and the boar’s head – which latter has for the last few years been sent by the Emperor of Germany – are in process of roasting, the cooks busy with their ladles and two men tending the huge fire, one might imagine oneself back in the days when the Norman kings hunted the red deer in Windsor Forest and the spoils of the chase found their way to the spirts before this same great fireplace’.

The kitchen at Ayscoughee Hall, Spalding

The woodcock pie was itself cooked at Windsor and sent to Osborne, ‘and there is some competition amongst the royal sportsmen as to who shall supply the finest birds for it’. This was said to be a successor to the peacock pie served to the Tudor monarchs, in which the peacock ‘with its tail spread out, its head elevated above the crust and its beak richly gilded, was brought into the feast upon a handsome dish’. Even this was rather modest by comparison with a recipe for a pie given in a newspaper in 1770. This was made from:

2 bushels of flour (1 bushel = 8 gallons) 

20 lb butter

4 geese

2 turkeys

2 rabbits

4 wild ducks

2 woodcocks

6 snipes

2 neats’ (calves) tongues

2 curlews

7 blackbirds

6 pigeons

When baked, the pie measured nine feet in circumference and weighed 12 stones (76.2 kilos). It was ‘fitted in a case upon wheels, and required two men to put it upon the table’. The occasion for which this particular pie was baked is not recorded, but at least Queen Victoria herself was not suspected of gluttony. Indeed, said The Temple of the beef, boar’s head and pie: ‘We do not suppose that Her Majesty takes more than a formal taste of these wonderful dishes…’.


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A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.