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The Great Tudor kitchens

How did the great Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace function? Watch Marc Meltonville explain more.
Hello, I’m Marc Meltonville and I’m a food historian for the Historic Royal Palaces. And I’m stood here today in the roasting kitchens of King Henry VIII. One of our most impressive sites. If you liken this to a massive hotel, then this is the side that the guests don’t see. So over in the pretty side of the palace, you have all the courtiers, the great hall, the chapel, all the pomp and ceremony. Somebody has to make that work and that’s the job of the kitchens. So we aren’t just cooking down here, we’re preparing the laundry, stacking firewood, keeping stores of charcoal, candles. Someone has to light the palace. It’s all the job of the hidden half of the palace.
If you want to find a kitchen, go into any of the spaces and you will have found a group of men who would have been working away on one small job that’s going to become a great meal or a feast. So there are pastries, bakeries, roasting rooms, boiling houses, lots and lots of departments. We think at least 19, all of which made up one big kitchen unit that twice a day put out a meal for hundreds of people. People always ask, what are they going to be eating? Is it going to be anything special? Would I recognise it? The thing about everything at court is it must be magnificent. That’s the word they used. So the halls are magnificent.
Their clothes are magnificent. And the food must be magnificent and magnificently served. Storage here at the palace was very well designed and for the most part very brief. If you’ve got 500 or 600 people eating twice a day, they get through more food. That’s your problem, not storing it, but getting it here. Once it’s here, we have a selection of stone stores in an area that’s now called Fish Court. It used to be called Pave Passage. It’s open to the air. It’s orientated east-west, so the sun doesn’t shine down there very much. It stays damp and cold. We’ve had thermometers in there for a while, and it sits not far off a modern, legal walk-in fridge. So it’s all fine.
Your problem is keeping those full with those numbers. So fresh food is going to be deposited from outside into these little stone stores for 24, 48 hours. And then, brought straight into the kitchens and used. There shouldn’t be any reason why anything goes off unless you’re very forgetful. One of the big events here at Hampton Court was the christening of what will be Edward VI. They will have had the roasts and bakes and boils of all of the great meals. So, the better birds, the lighter cuts of meat. But sadly, the only thing we do know that was served at that christening was a selection of wafers. And then these were spiced with cinnamon and ginger.
So the whole thing was quite an exotic little dish of sweets to be given out to all the guests.
What was on the menu at Hampton Court Palace? How did the kitchens function? In this video Marc Meltonville, Food Historian for Historic Royal Palaces, explains how catering for the court was a mammoth undertaking.
If you’d like to see Marc recreating some of the wafers he mentions, then you can visit this blog hosted by Historic Royal Palace’s Chief Curator, Lucy Worsley. Please note! Marc asks you to be careful if attempting these at home: the wafer iron needs to be very hot, so great care needs to be taken.
You can follow the journey of provisions from courtyard to table at Hampton Court Palace on this PDF.

Marc Meltonville

Marc will be answering your questions between 13.00 – 14.00 (GMT) on Wednesday 25 April on this Step. If you would like Marc to respond to one of your questions, please post them in the comment section below before then. Don’t worry if you miss the session for any reason – you can see Marc’s replies in his comment feed by looking at his profile page.
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A History of Royal Food and Feasting

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