It’s been a busy few weeks.
The final edits are being made to my next book Fool’s Gold: The History of British Saffron (out in July 2022); I’ve been researching the Watercress Queen (yes, there really was such a person) for a television documentary I’m involved in; and there have been countless enquiries about the ubiquitous coronation chicken and jubilee food.
The problem with ‘jubilee’ food is that it doesn’t really exist, well at least not in the sense that most journalists would like it to. For George III and Queen Victoria’s jubilees several towns and cities roasted whole ox’s to celebrate (you can read more about this here but that’s not the most practical thing to serve at your street party in 2022). Old cookery books are filled with red herrings on the subject. Jubilee Cherries for example may or may not have been ‘invented’ by Auguste Escoffier for one of Queen Victoria’s jubilees. Food historian Ivan Day explains that the Jubilee Cakes which appear in Agnes B Marshall’s Cookery Book (London: 1885) ‘have nothing to do with royal jubilee celebrations, as the word ‘jubilee’ can encompass other meanings.‘
In the absence of any concrete jubilee dishes the focus naturally shifts to the famous Coronation Chicken, that chicken-in-curried-mayo combo invented by Rosemary Hume and Constance Spry. This was served to foreign dignitaries to celebrate the coronation but was billed on the menu as the much grander sounding ‘Poulet Reine Elizabeth’. There is an assumption that the whole country sat down to eat this dish when Elizabeth was crowned. But again this simply didn’t happen. Not only was rationing in place in the UK in 1953 but chicken was not the commonplace food that it is today (that wouldn’t occur until the birds were intensively farmed in later decades). As far as I can tell the recipe for Coronation Chicken did not appear in print until the Constance Spry Cookbook was published in 1956.
The American’s actually pipped the British public to the post in the coronation food stakes. The US Poultry and Egg National Board created a coronation chicken dish to be eaten on coronation chicken day (you can see the recipe on my Instagram feed). It featured chicken and vegetables in a creamy sauce served in half a pineapple (without even a whiff of curry). You could even visit the hair dresser for a coronation coiffure as Americans were apparently gripped by coronation fever (which seems a little odd given that they couldn’t wait to see the back of the monarchy in 1776).
The closest us Brits got to a coronation themed chicken was on 9 June 1953 when The Guardian reported that ‘Two days after the crowning it was announced that a red, white and blue chicken had been bred at Barnsley, and was being offered to Prince Charles. This is a little more startling than the red, white and blue pigeon previously announced.’ Sadly the article did not include a picture of either bird.
The Plant Based Option
Coronation Chicken is all well and good but given that so many people are choosing to follow a plant based diet these days I thought I would share a plant based version of ‘that’ famous chicken dish. The sauce is essentially the same as the Hume/Spry original. Think of it as a spicy celeriac remoulade. I will be making this and several other dishes that feature on Spry’s original coronation banquet menu at a Garden Museum cookery course on 12 June. Click here for further details.
Vegan Curry Dressing (Serves 4)
1 tbsp vegetable oil ½ onion, finely chopped 1 tsp curry powder 1 good tsp tomato puree 4 tbsp red wine 3 tbsp water A bay leaf Salt, sugar and a touch of cayenne pepper A slice of lemon and a squeeze of lemon 4-6 tinned apricot halves (you need 2-3 tbsp apricot puree for this recipe) 90g vegan mayonaise 60g vegan coconut greek style yoghurt 1 celeriac root c. 450-500g in weight
Heat the oil, add onion, cook gently for 3-4 minutes, add curry powder. Cook again 1-2 minutes. Add tomato puree, red wine, water and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, add salt, sugar, pepper and the lemon slices and juice. Simmer with the pan uncovered for about 5 minutes or until slightly reduced. Strain and cool.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of the cooled strained curry sauce to the mayonnaise with the apricot puree to taste. Adjust the seasoning, adding a little more lemon juice if necessary. Finally add the vegan yoghurt. Peel and coarsely grate the celeriac. Mix with the curry dressing. Adjust the seasoning according to taste adding more salt, pepper and lemon juice if required.