Thursday, September 11, 2008

Royal Review: Royal Entertaining Books

I don't think I've ever entertained more that 15 people at one time. And even then it wasn't a fancy affair: filled with a mish-mash of dishes, place mats, cutlery, and store-bought lasagna. However, if I ever decided to gather 150 of my closest friends, relatives, acquaintances, enemies, former co-workers, and third cousins once removed, I would use these books as a starting point for what to do in that unlikely scenario. Each one one covers different aspects of royal entertaining, such as proper cutlery, meals to prepare, and the appropriate attire for the liveried servers. One thing they have in common is the insight into the lives of the royal family. Of course, were I to start entertaining on such a grand scale I would have to buy a larger table, more stemware, cutlery, dishes, place mats, napkins, pots, pans, and change my criteria for buying wine (Under $20 and must have the word Chateau in the name). Other than that I'm sure I could adapt if the need arise.

Eating Royally by Darren McGrady. Out of the ones listed, this is my favorite. And I think it's the best too, mainly because it's the classiest and the most personal. Along with that, part of the proceeds went to charity. Darren McGrady worked as a royal chef for fifteen years, four of which were spent with Diana, Princess of Wales. Although there is a chapter focusing on his work at Kensington Palace, the majority of his reminisces come from working for the Queen at the various royal residences. One notable error is McGrady mentioning that Charles and Diana were married in 1982! (The date was July 29th, 1981).The anecdotes are very interesting and humorous, the recipes are made accessible and accompanied by beautiful photographs. Reading this book you almost get the sense of being in the royal kitchens with McGrady. There are a few recipes I'm looking forward to trying, mainly the one for mashed potatoes and Balmoral Strawberry Jam.

In the Royal Manner by Paul Burrell. Before you prejudge this book as just another attempt to cash in on Princess Diana, note that this was his first attempt. And a classy one at that. Take out his name, all of the royal personages and estates mentioned, and you might have a book Martha Stewart would have written. One thing about this how-to book on royal entertaining is that all of the tips could easily be incorporated into any dinner party: appropriate wines, folding a napkin into a perfect Fleur de Lys, when to use certain glassware and cutlery, table manners (Don't' talk with your mouth full or sit with your elbows on the table) and how to remove lipstick stains. Step by step seasonal flower arrangements with helpful photographs as guides. It has a very charming section on parties for children (A Bug's Party). Recipes are included, appropriate to each season, along with an overview of royal events and residences. Details for weddings are also covered: engagement announcements, the ceremony, reception, seating arrangements, flowers, wedding cake, etc. The only error that I can see is that Burrell lists Charles and Diana's wedding day as 29 June 1981 (What is it about their wedding date?) I'm looking forward to trying the recipe for Deep-Filled Apple Pie.

Dinner at Buckingham Palace by Charles Oliver I've already reviewed this book and I recommend it. It starts with a history of royal cooking along with recipes used from Queen Victoria to the present Queen. The anecdotes are interesting and there are some nice casual photos of the royal family (the Queen wearing pants!). The recipes far outweigh the anecdotes, but that's OK. Sometimes there's too much detail in the recipes- such as how to make turtle soup. (Oh, so that's the way to boil a turtle - I've been doing it wrong all along!). For the Royal Table (below) features a similar recipe with the killing and prepping of the turtle replaced with 'Prepare and Joint the turtle'. The end of the book lists menus for food served at State banquets in 1841. Along with ones for every month of the year, helpfully broken down by size of the dinner party. Now I'll never have to worry about what to serve 16 people for dinner in July!

For the Royal Table - Dining at the Palace from The Royal Collection. This recently released companion to the current exhibition at Buckingham Palace gives an insight into royal entertaining on the grandest scale imaginable - State Banquets. At no point is there any attempt to bring dining down to commoner levels. With detailed information on practically every aspect of State banquets, this book should answer any questions you may have. There are a few How-to's: folding napkins and carving a pineapple, along with some recipes (Turtle Soup anyone?). An interesting behind the scenes look into the preparation for State Banquets up to details of the actual event.

© Marilyn Braun 2008

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