Book Review — The Greedy Queen – Eating With Victoria

The Greedy Queen – Eating With Victoria
Annie Gray
Profile Books, 2017

Queen Victoria was one of the most interesting characters in history, whether you look at her from the perspective of royalty, parent, or politician. But what about Victoria’s life in food? She certainly did love to eat, as food historian Dr. Annie Gray points out in this detailed work about not just Victoria’s own meals but about how food was procured, prepared, and eaten within the royal palaces during the Victorian era.

From corruption and theft to kitchens that often flooded with backed-up sewage, right down to the variance in menus for staff, courtiers, and the royal family (the kitchens sometimes needed to turn out thousands of meals per day, most with extensive multi-course menus), Gray covers it all, from Victoria’s first meal as Queen to her last.

Along the way, Victoria, like many women of her day and for every generation since, struggled with her weight and her heavy, multi-course meals caused her endless indigestion and weight gain as she aged. Despite the many dishes, plus an omnipresent groaning sideboard -— you know, an extra roast or two, just in case you’re still a bit peckish — accounts of dining with Victoria don’t sound particularly pleasant; she reportedly wolfed her food and wasn’t a great conversationalist.

Gray offers extensive exploration of the royal kitchen accounts, including the difficulties in keeping quality staff, and spends a good amount of time discussing farm and garden initiatives implemented by Victoria and Albert at all the castles, including the Swiss Cottage built at Osbourne for the royal children with its own smaller-scale working kitchen. Food was obviously important to Victoria.

There are places where Gray seemingly contradicts herself — Victoria was a daring eater, with a love of Indian food and and a willingness to try new things, or she was set in her ways (it took her decades to agree to change from French service to the now-standard Russian, she ate lamb or mutton at most meals) — but there was undoubtedly a lot of information, menus, and recipes to sift through.

Gray includes a collection of recipes for some of Victoria’s favourite dishes, modernized, thankfully for current kitchens and palates.

While The Greedy Queen can get a bit dry in places, it’s mostly a fun look at Victorian kitchens, cooking techniques, and trends. The insight into Victoria herself is less revealing, but I’m not sure that matters much.