An Elizabethan Extravaganza Of Sorts

Those of you who have been paying attention can’t help but have noticed that Hampton Court Palace has been celebrating its 500th birthday this year. We’ve had interpretation all through the Palace looking at many of the different slices of history that Hampton Court has been host to and we’re finishing off the year with the reign of Elizabeth 1st.

Upstairs in the State Apartments you’ll be able to join some of Elizabeth’s courtiers as they celebrate Christmas at the end of the sixteenth century with gift giving, dancing and music; whilst down in the Kitchens we’ll be turning our hands to banqueting stuff as well as the staple of roasted meats. We’ll have beef roasting each day of the 8 day event (27th December to 3rd January inclusive) where you can come and experience the life and work of one of Elizabeth’s kitchen galapines, turning the spit for yourself and seeing just how difficult or easy, not to mention hot, the job would have been. Twice in the course of the week we’ll be firing up our multiple armed spit to roast some chickens…

multi-armed spit being used to roast chickens
Need to roast a *lot* of chickens but only have limited time and one fire? Use a multi-armed spit and get the job done in one fell swoop! Photo by Robert Hoare

It’s a reconstruction based on images found within Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi, Cuoco Secreto Di Papa Pio V, seen here in the 1570 edition which you can find online HERE

Scappi's kitchen tools
Kitchen tools from the 1570 edition of the Opera by Bartolomeo Scappi

Although Scappi was the private cook to the Pope, his ideas and writing did travel and we find reference to the multiple armed spits in The Jewel House of Art and Nature by Sir Hugh Plat from 1594; a copy of a later edition can be found online HERE for those interested. In Plats work he refers to the spit as a method for “How to turn five spits at once with one hand, whereby also much fire is saved” and explains that “This secret I have borrowed out of Pope Pius the fifth, his Kitchin”…and we in turn “borrowed” it too in order to have one reconstructed to try out. It’s a bit of a beast and needs a lot of meat to fill it, making chickens the most cost-effective means of demonstrating it (prompting all kinds of discussion about our modern obsession with cheap meat, most specifically cheap chicken and all that brings with it!)…I’m still not sure which days we’ll have the multi-spit on the go, it’s been in store unused for over 10 years (which is how long it’s been since we looked at the kitchens in the reign of Elizabeth I) and needs a damn good clean before we can use it so it’ll be at least the 2nd or 3rd day of the week before it sees action, and we’ll fire it up over the last weekend as well, presuming that the second delivery provides all the chickens we need to use it with. If you want to see it in the flesh, keep up with my Twitter feed (@Tudorcook) and I’ll let you know then when it’ll be in operation but fret not if you miss it or can’t get to the Kitchens to see it in person, I’ll pop images up on Twitter and possibly here after the fact so you can see what we did.

So roasting aside, what else is planned? Well, I said banqueting stuff and so we’ll be trying to make a large table decoration or subteltie out of sugar over the course of the 8 days. It’s planned to take the form of a Tudor knot garden with sugar “hedges” and grass and gravel paths and in-fill made of comfits and other sugar sweets as well as hopefully some jam tarts and pies, and possibly some sugar beasts for a final flourish; though I’m contractually obliged to point out that I’m promising nothing and this could all be pie in the sky as the main task is to talk and interpret for the visitors so if they’re interested and ask lots of questions the result is a little less gets finished. Again, keep an eye on Twitter for progress reports and such like.

Initial planning for the design was started over the last working weekend at the beginning of December when Jorge took designs and inspiration from The Gardeners Labyrinth by Thomas Hill, 1577 and roughed out a basic design on paper

roughing out the plan on to paper
roughing out the plan on to paper
Jorge uses designs from The Gardeners Labyrinth to plan the sugar garden
Jorge uses designs from The Gardeners Labyrinth to plan the sugar garden
Jorge starts roughig out the design for the sugar garden using photocopies and sketches
Jorge starts roughing out the design for the sugar garden using photocopies and sketches









apparently this is waht Jorge means by "rough out a design"
apparently this is waht Jorge means by “rough out a design”

To be honest, I’ve not really got much idea what the final design is going to look like as I just put the idea of the garden to Jorge and the guys and left them to it. They seem happy enough with what they’re working on so I’m confident it’ll all come good in the end but as with so much of what we’re doing at the moment, only time will tell!

So that’s the plans for the next 8 days, or at least the bits the visitors will get to see, we’ll arrive at work and start setting up on Boxing Day and then crack on from the 27th. On top of all of that we’ve the audit of the stores to finish with contents of the store room shelves to double-check and then labels for them to create, planning for the February cooking weekend and if that wasn’t enough there’s some behind the scenes training for one of our apprentices, with 2 of the others doing some hands on learning in front of the public…no pressure then!