Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ho Ho Ho, It's [Finally The] Christmas [Plans]

Snow, snow and more snow....there's a turn up for the books! All this white stuff that's covering the country (about a foot in the front garden) means that the meeting to sort out the niggles over the Christmas event has had to be postponed until the weather improves....which means not this week for certain. As this meeting won't be for a while, it's kind of unfair to keep the poor old kitty suffering in the bag and to be honest, any potential changes to the plans don't really impact on the bulk of what's planned for the kitchens, so I think it's safe to let the moggy free and spill about Christmas!

From a very broad point of view you could say it's business as usual for the event...people will be able to visit the kitchen where they will see a meal being produced ready for the latter part of the day and this meal will then be served and eaten using period manners in front of the public, the kitchens will then prepare for the next day and the whole thing will repeat for the 7 days of the event, 27th December 2010 - 2nd January 2011 (inclusive). But that's where any similarity to the past 19 or so years ends!!
For the first time at Hampton Court for a number of years (please note the intended lack of detail here) the Tudor kitchens will prepare and cook a meal that will be served in the Great hall for the 'King' to eat each day.

Interpretation work will begin within the kitchens at 10.30 each morning and from then until 4.00 the kitchens will be active, cooking the meal and available to answer any questions as would normally be the case. The meal we will be cooking is based on the 1st course of the supper menu for the King as specified in the Eltham ordinances. I've had to fettle and fudge a little to get a meal that will work as we simply don't have the requisite number of staff or the time to be able to prepare an exact copy of the meal each day....and we won't dwell on the fact that some of the detail in the ordinances regarding dishes and quantities is 'sketchy' at best. The meal will be the same each day with the exception of the potage of flesh, which will change each day in order to give us a little variety, both in work and in eating as we get to eat the same menu but unlike previous years this will happen after the Palace closes and you've all gone home.

Why the change?

Simple really, the aim of all the work at Historic Royal Palaces is to present to the public the most accurate picture possible of life within the Palaces under the various monarchs and in the case of the vast majority of the interpretation at Hampton Court this means showing life at the Court of Henry VIII. For the past 20 years, the one thing you'd have heard more than anything else come the meal time within the kitchen was the phrase "this is showing you what it could have been like when the meal was served within the Great Hall, we're only eating within the kitchen as we're currently not allowed to do it in the Hall itself". Well for a number of years now, the aim of the interpretation was to enable this to happen, ideally with large numbers of diners to give the required sense of scale and purpose, but for now we'll make do with one diner....and if I was a visitor I'd want that diner to be Henry VIII, handy really. So this year we're implementing a prototype plan to see if we can make it work, with the aim of building on the results for the future.
There are of course slight problems, not least the public opening hours which don't allow us to show the meal at the correct time of 4.00 pm, the number of visitors also mean that we need the meal to happen earlier to ensure that people can move about the Palace freely and are not having to be coerced out of the building in order for it to be locked for the night, something that has happened in the past with the meal in the kitchen (for some reason people just want to stay and chat!). So this year the King will take the opportunity afforded to him by his position as monarch to dine at his convenience and he will eat at 2.30 within the Hall, a meal that will last approximately 30 minutes, before he retires and leaves the Hall for other purposes. This means that the day for the kitchens runs a little like this:
Start cooking at 10.30 (having started work behind the scenes at 9.00)
Food begins to leave the kitchen by 1.50 pm, heading for the Hall.
The table is laid between 2.00 and 2.30 at which point the king enters and dines.
From around 3.00 the table is cleared and the team then goes back to work in the kitchens until 4.00 when we stop for a tea break and to allow the Palace to begin to close. We'll then finish clearing up when you lovely people have left and set up ready for the next day.

Now as I said earlier, we're a little shy on staff, so in order for this all to work there are certain things we won't even bother to try to do. So you won't see the table being laid as the Hall will be shut to the public while the table is laid and the food served...we simply don't have the staff, clothing or budget to do this 'correctly' in front of people yet, so the visitors will walk in to a Hall with a laid table, the King will then enter, sit and dine. Unlike previous years, you won't be able to get close to the diner to ask questions about the meal, not only would that never have happened, he's the King after all....and as I said this is designed to give a better idea of what happened at Court....and we're entering a huge 3rd person 1st person crossover's also part of the concessions laid down by the Conservation and Collection Care department and rightly so in my opinion. They have to ensure that there is no chance of food spillage in the Hall (it's one of the reasons this has never been done before) and keeping the visitors at 'arms length' is one of the rules...still, there will be plenty of other costumed people in the room to ask, or you could ask any of us in the kitchens too.

There's probably a ton of other things you should know that I haven't said, like what the menu is, but it's that time of the night when the brain is going fuzzy, so I'm away to bed now before it all degenerates into drivel....will have a re-read tomorrow and add details like the menu, as needed.
If you've got any questions then fire away....don't forget you can always ask at the forum, you'll probably get a quicker answer there as other team members can add their 2d more easily......and I can do that via my phone, which has problems in dealing with the blog site....but I'll leave that entirely up to you.



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