Christmas is a time for indulging and eating plenty, and the royal family are no exception. They certainly don't do things by halves. Not only do the royals sit down for Christmas lunch, they also tuck into an afternoon tea and a buffet dinner. So what's on the menu? Former royal chef Darren McGrady, who has worked for the Queen and Princess Diana, has cooked around seven Christmas dinners in his career. They're always traditional, and they always feature turkey.
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"It was the same meal every year," Darren told HELLO! Online. "They're actually boring when it comes to festivities! They didn't do hams or anything, just traditional turkeys. We did three turkeys for the Queen and her family in the royal dining room, one for the children's nursery and then more for the 100 or so staff, so everyone had a Christmas lunch." While the Queen and senior royals would dine in the main room, the young Princes and Princesses would eat in the nursery, looked after by their nannies.
"The children always ate in the nursery until they were old enough to conduct themselves properly at the dining table," said Darren. "So for the Queen there was never a case of putting a high chair at the table with a little baby squealing and throwing food. It was Victorian. The children's place was in the nursery and Nanny would take care of them. It's your modern day Downton Abbey."
The family would dine on "turkey, different stuffings – sage and onion, chestnut – and the traditional sides like roast potatoes, mash potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts," added Darren, and then Christmas pudding for dessert. "The pudding was made in pudding basins, turned out, decorated in holly, doused in brandy and then the palace steward would carry it, flaming, into the royal dining room," said Darren. "It was so traditional."
After lunch the royals would go for a walk around Sandringham Estate, then come back to watch the Queen's speech.
"Not long after they'd go in for afternoon tea," said Darren. "It was always the chocolate Yule log, which was a twist on the chocolate birthday cake, scones, mince pies, different types of sandwiches and the Christmas cake. We'd make one big Christmas cake for the Queen and the royal family and then another smaller one for the nursery for Prince William, Prince Harry, Zara, Peter, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. It was always fruit cake – royal icing, marzipan and the traditional fruit cake."
The last meal of the day would be the evening buffet, which Darren describes as "even more elaborate" than lunch. It was also the only time the Head Chef would go into the dining room to carve the meat. "The buffet was when they brought out the whole spread," said Darren. "When I was there Harrods would always give them a whole foie gras en croute. They'd have a whole Stilton cheese. We'd take the top off, pitchfork the top and pour port into it. It made this gorgeous spread for the crackers. It was really opulent. There was also a big York ham that was decorated.
"Then after carving all of the meat, the Queen would then ask the steward to pour the Head Chef a drink and he'd get a whisky and they'd toast him and say thank you, and that was them saying thank you for the whole year."
Darren, author of Eating Royally, also worked for the late Princess Diana until her death in 1997. He saw the boys, William and Harry, grow up at Kensington Palace. His favourite memories, naturally, involve the People's Princess. "I always used to enjoy when Princess Diana was there," said Darren. "She'd come into the kitchen and she used to love the crepe soufflé dessert. I'd always put that on the menu because I knew it was her favourite.
"She would have lunch and then – bless her – she would come down into the kitchen once everyone had left the table and say, 'Ooh, is there any of the crepe soufflé left?' When the tray came back I'd always put it in the warmer because I knew she'd be down. She said, 'I love this pudding and I'm too scared to ask for seconds in front of the Queen!'"
Darren has also shared one of his favourite recipes – Walkers Smoked Pork and Jalapeno Cream Cheese Mini Crunchy Oatmeal Cookies with Peach Jam.
Makes about 25 appetisers
1 4.4 oz pack Walkers mini crunchy oatmeal cookies
2 cups whipped cream cheese
1 jalapeno, (seeds removed) finely diced or 2 TBS drained, canned jalapenos
8 ounces smoked pork (or chicken) – shredded
½ cup peach jam
Cilantro or micro greens to garnish
Fold the jalapeno to taste, into the cream cheese and spoon or pipe with a star tip onto the cookies. Top with pieces of the shredded meat and finish with a little peach jam. Garnish with cilantro or micro greens.