Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Victoria very rarely mentions food in her journals, which I find quite interesting because she clearly loved it. And there are many, many references in some of the other sources for her life, the letters and things like that, which make it quite clear that she was seen as rather greedy, that she ate too fast, that she was prone to relying on food. She does, however, mention one particular set of foods, which is fruit in particular. And she seems to have been something of a fruit junkie. When she’s on royal progress in the 1830s, whenever she gets a chance she visits the kitchen gardens at the houses she stays at.
Skip to 0 minutes and 40 seconds Now at this point in time, kitchen gardens were very much divided into two types of areas . So there were those that the aristocracy would visit and kitchen gardens were very much a part of the whole estate. So it was something that you would visit. And then there was the area of the kitchen gardens that you wouldn’t visit, so the bits with the dung heaps and sort of vast quantities of manure and all the gardener’s tools. But Victoria would wander around these kitchen gardens and often comment on the fruit that she saw. So we know that she saw mangoes. We know that she would have seen pineapples growing.
Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds And here at Kensington, there were royal kitchen gardens as well that were sold off eventually to make what is now Kensington Palace Gardens. But she would visit those almost certainly. So she would have been exposed to a lot of fruit, seen it growing. And because she was an aristocrat, she would have been able to eat fruit completely out of season. I think today we tend to have this idea that everybody in the past ate seasonally. But if you were rich enough, you certainly wouldn’t do that.
Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds And so when Victoria became queen and there were reports written on the world kitchen gardens, we know that there was a huge scandal because there were not enough punnets of strawberries ready in January, because she couldn’t get asparagus in December, because there were no nectarines to be had in February. But there was a glut of over 300 pineapples in July. So we know that she would have been eating fruits completely out of season. And the most exotic fruits that you can imagine. And she loved them. Right up to the end of her life, she was renowned for her love of fruit.
Skip to 2 minutes and 1 second And indeed, one of her ladies in waiting in the 1890s commented on the Queen’s appetite for giant apples that would have cowed even somebody of rather better digestion than she had.
In this video, Food Historian Dr Annie Gray continues to focus on Victoria’s eating habits and examines her love of one particular type of food… fruit!
National Fruit Collection, Brogdale
Home to one of the largest fruit collections in the world, the National Fruit Collection is curated and maintained by the University of Reading in collaboration with the Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST). If you get a chance to visit Brogdale during the fruit picking season, you’ll see a stunning display of apples, quinces and pears, including many historic varieties. We imagine some of these would have made their way to Victoria’s table.
© University of Reading and Historic Royal Palaces.