Sunday, February 12, 2012

'All The King's Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace" by Peter Brears

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  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press; Second Edition, September 1, 2011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285638969 
  • Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches 
This is an absolutely fascinating little book - well maybe not so little - about what it was like to supply food and beverage to the legions of court followers during the time of Henry VIII. I think we think little of what it was like to work in the kitchens and cellars of this vast Palace and how it was that the thousand upon thousands  of people who attended the Court daily were wined and dined. 

The books takes on a well written, easy to read look at the legions of workers and ingredients that were required each day.  

The chapters, as laid out in the geography of Hampton Court) include:

The Counting House (the hub of it all)
Serving The Courts (numbers, quantities and costs)
The Outer Court (poultry, bakehouse & woodyard)
The Green Cloth (counting house) Yard (jewels, spicery & chandlery)
The Pastry Yard (saucery, confectionary, pastry)
The Paved Passage (larders, boiling house,work houses)
The Hall Place& Lord's Side Kitchens (boiling, broiling & roasting)
The Privy Kitchen (food for the Rex)
Dining In The Chamber (etiquette & ritual)
Recipes !
Preparing For Dinner (pantry & cellars)

The book opens with a detailed diagram of The Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace with each area delineated on a numbered chart. That alone is pretty fascinating!

Cooking on this scale is something that none of us can really appreciate. Meals were served in what were called 'messes' - which got me to wondering if that is where our modern term "mess hall" came from. Different messes were meant for different groups and each group was allotted a certain amount of food and beverage a day - obviously the higher your rank the better, and greater quantity of daily sustenance, you were given.  There were maximum provisioning prices set per person - and the personnel of the Green Cloth were given a monumental daily task of working within their budgets to supply the ranks with their vittles!

The book is illustrated with many black and white images and a selection of color photographs that include Hampton Court Palace and the entrance to the Green Cloth area, photos of recreations of  Tudor fare and kitchen workers. I think that Tudor era confections are what truly amazed me the most. I have always been a marchepane fan but the Tudors did their sweets with style! Finely detailed figurines of knights and ladies - all colored to perfections. I think I might have wanted to collect these sweet treats rather than eat them!

I found this to be a fascinating book that should hold wide appeal for historians, Tudor fans and gourmets. The only thing that could have it better would be more color photographs! It's really an amazingly fun read!

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