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A real fir tree glitters in every room, fires roar and footmen hurry through endless corridors.On the table in the dining room is a spectacular feast – ox tongue, roasted hams and a stuffed boar’s head.She’s given two options for each course for every meal over the festive period, except for Christmas Day when a traditional turkey dinner is served.The only forbidden ingredient, at the Queen’s request, is garlic – perhaps with its anti-social effects in mind.What, I wonder, will this 36-year-old American make of the festive ritual that is by turns irreverent and formal – and unlike anything she has seen before.Will Meghan enjoy the meticulously calibrated, somewhat Victorian machine that is the Sandringham Christmas? Princess Diana, for example, found it too stuffy and claustrophobic, as she would explain when, escaping the formalities, she would come down to natter in the kitchen.Even the corgis – there were 12 when I was chef – have individual menus, usually involving a rotation of fresh rabbit, beef or chicken with rice and cabbage.We’d jokingly refer to the footmen responsible for the dogs, both named Paul, as ‘Doggy One and Doggy Two’. If Prince Andrew was coming, she would make sure we served his favourite Mango Melba – mango ice cream with sliced mango and raspberry sauce – while William’s favourite chocolate biscuit cake would feature for afternoon tea.
Unsurprisingly she is immensely respectful of Christmas tradition – as I know from experience.The Duke of Edinburgh wandered into the kitchen and was poking around, asking questions.‘It’s from the Prince of Wales,’ I said. It involves a large cake, usually a ginger cake or honey and cream sponge; a fruit cake would clash with the following day’s Christmas cake.Small cakes and scones feature alongside finger sandwiches (crusts off, served in squares) filled with ham and English mustard, Sage Derby cheese and Branston Pickle or Coronation chicken, with a pot of Earl Grey tea.So she’d sneak to the kitchen later where we’d give her some more.There was great anticipation over the Harrods hamper, sent in those days as an appreciation of the Royals’ business.
The first time the Royals congregate on Christmas Eve is for afternoon tea at 4pm, often in the ornate Sandringham saloon under its exquisitely painted ceiling.