The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray (Book Review)

by Sam Bilton on June 2, 2017 No comments

To say that I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book is an understatement. And it didn’t disappoint…

The image of a dumpy woman, clad in black who was perpetually “unamused” is cemented in most people’ minds as that of Queen Victoria. But Victoria was not always the dour widow and even after the death of her beloved Albert she loved her food, a passion she had had since her youth.

What is the essence of the book?

‘Plump as a partridge’ at birth with a propensity to ‘gobble’ her food and a penchant for curry, Queen Victoria’s life is explored by food historian Annie Gray through the food she ate. From state banquets to tea parties at the Swiss Cottage in the grounds of Osborne House with her children, the queen had a varied ‘diet’ to say the least. Gray strikes a good balance between the facts the reader may already know about Queen Victoria which are ancillary to this telling of her life story (e.g. her unswerving love for Albert) against some of the contextual information (like the difference between service à la Française versus service à la Russe) which helps the reader gain a greater understanding of the queen’s dining habits. The book also examines the lives of those who helped feed the queen and her retinue, such as the cooks (many of whom deserve far more recognition than Mr Francatelli who spent most of his life cashing in on his brief tenure at Buckingham Palace), which it emerges could be a very perilous career indeed. After reading this book Buckingham Palace will never seem the same again…

About the author

Annie Gray is an historian, cook, broadcaster and writer specialising in the history of food and dining in Britain from around 1600 to the present day. She has worked at Audley End among other historical kitchens, and regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet. Lucy Worsley calls her ‘the queen of food historians’ and deservedly so.

Who will like it?

Whether you are a keen reader is food history texts or just enjoy history in general then I think you’ll appreciate this book. It’s an interesting way to approach a reign about which so much has already been written.

Who won’t like it?

Clearly if you’re not a fan of history, or in particular Queen Victoria, then you’re not likely to pick this book up. Equally, if you’re expecting a book crammed with period recipes you’ll be disappointed (although there are a few. For a real tome of historical recipes take a look at Regula Ysewijn’s offering).

What do I like about the book?

Some people have the ability to regale people with tales that effortlessly trip of their tongues enthralling and entertaining their audience as they go. Other people’s mutterings meander on ceaselessly never seeming to reach the point, or at least when they do so, everyone listening has lost interest (or the will to live…). Fortunately, Gray falls into the first category which is one of the reasons why I have enjoyed reading this book. The tone is informal making the reading of The Greedy Queen more like having a chinwag with a mate over a pint rather than a drawn out dry lecture on social history. Gray clearly knows her subject inside out and her enthusiasm and natural wit are evident on the pages of this book making it a pleasure to read.

Is there anything I’m not so keen on?

I’d be the first to admit that the Victorian era is not my favourite in terms of culinary history, but I enjoyed this book nonetheless.

Where can you buy it?

The Greedy Queen: Eating with Queen Victoria by Annie Gray (Profile Books, £16.99)

Sam BiltonThe Greedy Queen by Annie Gray (Book Review)

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