What's on the menu?

What's on the menu?

Illustration of the Royal Kitchens at Kew

Discover the gastronomical tastes of the day and who ate what in the royal household

Feeding the royal household

King George III’s kitchen cooked for all those in the royal household who had an entitlement to eat at the sovereign’s expense.  

Besides the King’s family and guests, they included equerries, pages, the queen’s and princesses’ attendants and servants. In February 1789, this also included the King’s doctor, Dr Willis, his assistants and of course all the kitchen staff.

Although a special diet was prescribed for the King during his illness, the daily menu carried on much as usual, with three courses, each of six or seven dishes. 

Small birds such as blackbirds and larks appeared regularly on the menus, especially for the younger princesses, who also had a fondness for dumplings.

As status declined, so did the array of food. The kitchen staff, footmen, dressers, servants and grooms all had just one course – although it was usually roast or boiled beef or mutton, in generous proportions and probably with all the trimmings. Nothing went to waste – heads, tails, marrow bones, ears, feet and lambs’ fryes [testicles] were all consumed with relish.

'Their Majesties Dinner'

Served between 16.00 - 17.00

First course - Soup with additional dishes of meat stews and pies, poultry and sometimes fish. 

Second course - A joint of meat – beef and mutton were the favourites, but a haunch of venison was also popular and was often presented from a hunt.  

Third course - Sweet and savoury dishes. Perhaps a blancmange and gateau de millefeuille served alongside stewed asparagus, spinach, potatoes and anchovy salad with roasted pheasant or truffles. 

All the dishes for each course were put onto the table at the same time so that you helped yourself to what you fancied. When this course was removed, all the dishes for the next course were set out. 

Purchasing food in 1789

Purchasing food for the royal household was the responsibility of the Clerk of the Kitchen, who consulted with the Master Cook on menus to be served and reported expenditure incurred to the Board of Green Cloth. This ancient organisation, whose name comes from the green baize covering on the table where the money was counted out, authorised the purchase of all below-stairs provisions.

Food was purchased from a range of established purveyors and the Board of Green Cloth ensured low prices and good quality were obtained.

Thomas Seear was a supplier of meat, Mr Gilbert of poultry, Louis Ramus supplied dairy produce and a man by the curious name of Savage Bear was the regular royal greengrocer.

A few of the purveyors were women: Elizabeth Wilton delivered oysters and Elizabeth Maishfield, fish, whilst Elizabeth Whetten sold lemons and Ann Winckles brought jellies.

The public still bought their fresh food from markets where they could, although grocery shops were beginning to appear.

Well cooked, good quality food was a major perk for the employees in the royal household at a time when oven or roasting facilities were still outside the reach of many. For others, their only means of cooking was still the stewpot, although for special occasions they could take their food to the local baker to be oven cooked.

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